To do — a not-comprehensive list for me, a white Canadian writer in 2017:Donate to groups who will support and defend human rights in the US and other countries.
I’m fortunate that I can afford to give money to people who know how to use it better than I do. I wish I knew how to fix all the problems in the world — and I wish that I had skills or assets that are more valuable to those in need than cash — but I don’t. Since I am a non-citizen, non-resident who nevertheless feel the political ripples of American policy, this is the most effective way for me to “vote” against sexism, racism, and other bigotries in the US.
Continue to donate to organizations in my community.
When I was younger, I fell for the fallacy of the suffering Olympics. How could I try to help struggling middle-class families when there are homeless people on the streets of my city? How could I try to help the local homeless when people in some developing countries don’t have access to clean water? How could I try to help the people in that developing country when the citizens of this one are not only impoverished but also living in a war zone?
The suffering Olympics is bullshit. I should live up to the responsibilities of being a global citizen, yes, but I can’t forget about my local community either. If my neighbours and I don’t support each other, who will?
Resist the urge to make the US the scapegoat.
My fellow white Canadians know what I mean when I say that, north of the border, we love to compare ourselves favourably to white Americans. We have free health care! We’re more socially progressive! We’d never elect someone who campaigned on racist messages!
Working to eradicate unfair burdens of systematic oppression is something to be proud of. But pretending that Canada and Canadians have no problems with racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. is dangerous and naïve. We had internment camps. We committed fucking genocide. And we continue to accept systematic injustice against many of our citizens. We can’t allow ourselves to pretend that white supremacy, white nationalism, and bigotry of all flavours are “their” problems: white Canada must acknowledge them as ours too and fight against them.
Keep listening, and always get better at it.
I want to talk. I want to share my opinions. Here on my blog, which is my space for my purposes that nobody else has to visit or read, it’s okay to do that.
But my proportion of talking to listening should be very, very tiny. All I know is my own experience. I have no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant or (inclusive “ors”) a person of colour or a person diagnosed with autism or a single parent or an Indigenous person or a transgender person or a working-class person or a Muslim person or a person in a wheelchair… etc.
Even though I think I know my home, my neighbourhood, my country, I know them only from my own very narrow perspective. I cannot be so arrogant as to think that even with compassion and diligence, I can imagine others’ perspectives better than they can. And I must be aware that because of the disproportionate power I wield based on my position in society, it’s too easy for me to silence other voices.
It’s time to seek out. To read. To listen.
(Especially in this year of earmarked to celebrate events that aren’t so happy for everyone.)
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
I am afraid. But that fear isn’t for others’ well-being, it’s for my own reputation and self image, and I need to get over it. To give a small, everyday example, sometimes I bend over backwards to avoid using students’ names, not because I don’t know them, but because I’m only 95% instead of 100% sure that I’m remembering correctly. What if I look like a fool and hurt that student’s feelings by mixing them up with someone from another section? What if my mistake is racist because they’re a different race than I am?
What if I suck it up, accept that I am never going to be certain at 8am on a Friday morning, and use their name to help them feel comfortable and seen in my class, because feeling invisible is worse than feeling like maybe what if someday I might say something wrong?
Whether or not I deserve forgiveness from those I’ve wronged, they deserve better than me wallowing in self-pity and guilt. That means forgiveness is my burden, not theirs. I need to forgive myself for making mistakes and having shortcomings — like every human being — and to feed my confidence that I can and will do better. I need to stay mentally healthy in my own brain so I can listen to criticism productively.
And I need to forgive myself for not being able to fight every battle in every way in every place. I am not the Chosen One. I’m a Choosing One.
It’s not enough to hold my beliefs if nobody knows I do. It’s not enough to have the words if I never use them.It’s my job to make sure all types of people feel (and are) safe around me. Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable or safe myself, but I’m fortunate enough that often, I am safe. Conversation and social navigation is hard for me in general, but I can and will explore my boundaries instead of building fences for them.
Practice speaking up.
I’m not going to magically know what to do if I encounter bigoted behaviour in the real world. I’ve got to actively seek out strategies before I need them. Esprit d’escalier isn’t helpful to anyone, and the stakes are too high to be content with it.
Take care of myself and those around me.
Caring has to be small-scale as well as large-scale. If I’m able to take care of myself and choose not to out of misguided altruism, all I’m really doing is forcing others to take care of me. If I neglect the people around me for “the greater good,” I’m saying that my ethical satisfaction is worth more than actually supporting people — because if I don’t care about the people I’m supposed to love, what are the odds I actually care about the people I say I’m fighting for?
Right now, writing fiction and blog essays about entertainment media feels like fiddling while Rome burns. Some days, I ask myself whether the world need more voices like mine, privileged in the way I am privileged. Should I just give up on making things?
But expression and art are not zero-sum games. And I’d like to think there’s an audience out there for the stories only I can tell, just like there’s an audience for the stories only other people can tell. Instead of giving up, I will keep writing. And I’ll be mindful of the ways I behave as a writer: I’ll support other creators and the diverse community of people who make stuff that makes the world better.