By MIMI LILIEFELDT
July marks the one-year anniversary of Black Lives Here. Writing this column has been a journey of taking small steps toward ending racism, opening the conversation within our Beach community, and self-discovery for many, including myself.
During this year of meeting all these fascinating people and hearing their stories, I realized there was a lot, that though discussed in our conversations, was left out of the column; sometimes, the individual specifically asked me to, and other times I listened to my intuition.
Now, I want to talk about the importance of the things that were left unsaid.
Almost every person that talked to me and agreed to share their story was nervous.
Some told me it was because they were not looking for sympathy, some didn’t want their white friends and neighbours to feel hurt (this is a whole discussion in itself – they are worried about how you will respond to their oppression) and the biggest elephant in the room that no one actually said but I instinctively knew, because I worried about it myself: What if I lose business or relationships because I am daring to speak up, daring to put myself in the spotlight (albeit a small one)?
It is natural for anyone to feel nervous when one puts themselves out there.
Most people would rather not speak in public or do anything to make them stand out. This is not the kind of fear I’m talking about. This is the kind of fear and uncertainty you have when every social standard has told you, your very presence is something to be tolerated or worse feared. You do not deserve to have an opinion, never mind a grievance about any aspect of your life. This may sound blown out of proportion, but I assure you in its insidious way, the sentiment is very real.
One of my interviewees told me recently, “I discovered I felt guilty because of my race. I always wanted people to feel comfortable around me because of all the stereotypes.”
Another person told me a story of being gaslit by some people they trusted, and many ended unpleasant stories with, “but that’s just one or two incidents, most people are kind and I love this community.”
What strikes me about this generous addition is not its realism, because I know they are speaking the truth and I believe that most of the world is good. But if you’re white, imagine you’ve been verbally abused in public and you’re telling the story to someone, how often do you end with “but I know they didn’t mean to hurt me or other than that, this neighbourhood is great!”
Chances are you are firm in your belief as the victim. You feel no need to reassure anyone that your pain is not meant to make you sound ungrateful for being “allowed” to live in such a nice society.
The fact is, we are all grateful to live in this beautiful neighbourhood. I just know the lengths that some of us go to, to ensure we fit in.
In the very first edition of this column, I wrote about living here for more than 20 years and not seeing myself reflected in the community. I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to fit in.
When the Black Lives Matter movement ramped up last summer, I began to accept my Blackness and am continuing to learn how to love that part of myself. The problem is right when I was starting to feel more confident, the other half of my ethnic makeup was under literal attack.
The rise of violence against AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) hit me hard. I was brutally reminded that my Asian-ness was just as unwanted as my Blackness.
The shocking images of Asian men and women who were beaten for simply existing reminded me of my own family and how devastating that would be. I cried for everyone, I cried for me.
And though I might not be done crying, because damn it there’s a lot to cry about, I realized that I can do something.
I can share this space. We can share this space and continue to give voice and recognition to other racialized individuals. We can continue to learn from our community members and hopefully create more conversation and understanding.
I asked all the people who generously shared their stories with me over the last year to weigh in on how doing so made them feel.
Here are some of their responses:
Nella Cramer: I was nervous at first but being authentic and open and truthful made me proud to let a little of my life be seen.
Peter Gowdie: Telling my story was sort of like talking to a therapist, I never really spoke to my parents about what school was like for me, it felt good putting it all out there. I am grateful to you for shining a light on racism.
Roxanne Tracey: I felt a bit nervous as I did not know how it would be received. I felt proud once it was out there.
Darien List: I felt great telling my story. I learned that it feels good to tell everyone where you come from.
Hearing these people that I have come to know and admire, affirm the purpose of this column validates my intention of opening this column to all people of colour. There is a lot left unsaid when we don’t hear from everyone.
I, for one, can attest to the fact that we are a more multi-racial community than one would assume at first glance, and I want us all to feel proud of who we are.
I am grateful to my parents for building a life here in Canada, and now that I’ve grown up and opened my eyes, I have realized how monumental that leap of faith really was.
The name of this column will remain the same, because it still resonates, and we will continue to hear from more Black members of the community.
This is a journey that will persist in keeping our lines of communication open and hopefully transform us by learning as much as we can about our own humanity; because the fight to end racism is far from over.
Thank you to all who have participated in sharing your stories with us, thank you to all who have stayed on this journey with me, and thank you in advance to anyone who agrees to share with us in the future.
I believe these small steps make a big difference.