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My Moral Dilemma – Yes, I’m Still Talking About Racism

 

 

Four years ago I felt compelled to get involved in national politics in my local riding in New Brunswick. I always paid attention to the goings-on in the world, but from a safe place sitting on the sidelines. My passion for women’s equality, coupled with a drive to do something to make a difference in my community, my province, and my country, spurred me to randomly hit a volunteer button on a Facebook page one day while I was scrolling through my news feed. It was a political candidate page for Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey. I knew nothing about Matt prior to stumbling upon his advertisement to recruit volunteers. After reading up on who he was and the objectives he set out to accomplish, I listened to my gut instinct and delved in further. Something made me press that button that day. I had never done anything of the like before. I honestly thought that my name would be one along side many, and that I would likely never be contacted. Instead, twenty minutes later I received a call from his volunteer coordinator asking me to get on board. I reluctantly said “yes.” Much to my surprise, she asked me if I could meet them that evening and join Matt going door-to-door to talk to residents in the riding. That day was a significant turning point in my life. It ignited the spark that was lying in wait. Matt was someone I could easily get behind, and the ideologies of the party lined up almost perfectly with my own sense of what is right and what is wrong. The spark that was ignited that day has turned into a raging fire. It’s an inferno I am not able to extinguish. I have been actively involved in volunteering for Matt’s team every time I am asked, no matter what the request is, unless I am working, injured, or travelling. This is a party for which I feel immense affiliation and loyalty. There have been some mistakes made along the way, we are not perfect, but overall I am happy with our party, and our vision of what Canada is, and should be. You see, I was raised by an educated, community-involved, socially concious family. There are many snippets of wisdom I can recall my father imparting on me when I was a youth as I was on my way out the door to hang out with friends. “Keep your head on straight” was something I frequently heard. Another, oft-repeated lesson he impressed upon me was, “there is a right thing to do, and a wrong thing to do.” At the time it seemed fluffy and philosophical; it didn’t impact my way of thinking immediately. I was a teenager, I had bigger things to worry about. As I aged and made mistakes, especially colossal ones, those expressions my father recounted to me when I was young would spin around in my mind like a neon sign, reminding me of my roots, reminding me of the values they instilled in me; values that grabbed a firm hold inside and grew exponentially through every difficult situation and moral equivocation I have ever had to consider. It is what made me sit for months every day with my developmentally challenged aunt while she was dying of brain cancer, despite the initial instinct to want to protect my own mental health with physical distance. It is what demanded me to take on a corporate giant all alone for ignoring discriminating practices in the work place against women… and win. It is what made me sit for over an hour on the side of a dark, deserted highway with a young girl that slid in the ditch, waiting for her parents to arrive, because I couldn’t leave her alone and vulnerable. There is ALWAYS a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do.

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When I recently heard about leadership candidates rumoured to be running in New Brunswick for my party, I decided to look into things a little further. I had been hearing conjecture up until that point without any evidence, so I started scrolling through Facebook to glean some information. Like that day four years ago, I felt something I couldn’t explain. I felt nervous, if not somewhat unsubstantiated apprehension about one possible candidate. The other candidate gave me a good feeling, but I still didn’t know enough. I messaged several candidates and asked pointed questions. Just to be clear about something, I am not a person that gets a “gut feeling” very often. I believe in science-based evidence and reasonable conclusions based on logical hypotheses. Almost every gut feeling I have ever had has been related to a man. Perhaps my past childhood trauma, inflicted by a man who had power over me, forced me to consider subtleties very closely. I know I am not the only woman who experiences this. After a few weeks of talking to random people about the candidates, comments about one candidate, such as, “a black man will never win” started to make my stomach clinch. I knew that we were openly racist years ago. I thought we were over that kind of thinking, other than the pockets of knuckle-draggers that embrace overt racist ideology. I really thought the general population of New Brunswick had grown over the years and embraced diversity. We talk about it all the time. We espouse it in our advertisements, in our language, and in our schools. We all say the right things at the appropriate times; but when it comes right down to it, we all still hold onto our prejudice. If we confirm these biases with the language we use, are we not embracing racist ideology? By saying, and agreeing with, “a black man will never get elected in NB”, we are giving weight to and instilling that very concept. A concept that states, it’s okay to be a person of colour and live here; live here and contribute to our economy, pay taxes and help us build, but for God sakes do not for one minute think about leading our white province. No Way. If you have deceived yourself into thinking, “it’s not me that thinks that way, it’s everybody else. It’s just the way it is”, then I have some questions for you. How do you think others came to this conclusion? Did you take a poll? Did you talk to every New Brunswicker? Was there a news story I missed that addressed these issues then came up with this conclusion? People have reached this conclusion because they have discussed it. They have discussed it, and are okay with it. They have accepted this way of thinking as being okay. It’s not. It’s far from okay. It’s downright embarrassing and disappointing. I do not want to leave our children with a province that is known to be racist. We are better than that. We are New Brunswickers. We are Maritimers. We are supposed to be the most friendly and welcoming people in all of Canada. We can’t just give the best opportunities to white people. We can not afford to stick our head in the sand about this isuue any longer. I thought I had a good handle on our provincial “temperature.” I thought we were inclusive and accepting; until I started to “unofficially” help a black political candidate. My reality was shaken to it’s core; it was a direct assault to my senses. Every politician of every political stripe knows how badly we need immigration to help build our population, our economy, and our province. Why would others want to come here if they are going to be treated differently? How can we invite other people to live here, and then treat them like the enemy when we do? Maybe more people would settle here if they felt welcome, and included, and accepted, not judged.

I agonized for weeks over whether to assist a candidate with a campaign. Initially I had no reservations, but after hearing so many negative comments because of the colour of his skin(even one from my own family), I felt inner turmoil. I was told not to waste my time. I was told a black man won’t win. I was told to wait and get on board with the “winning” team. I was told that New Brunswick was just racist and not to stress myself out by giving too much thought to it. I felt the barrier like it was a tangible thing; like it was a WALL.  I was comfortable with my decision initially because I was woefully ignorant about how we really think in New Brunswick. I had my head in the sand. When I first saw this candidate I didn’t even give a thought to what colour his skin was or where he was born. I looked at his education, experience, qualifications, and his level of compassion and dedication towards those that are disadvantaged and less fortunate. I saw a person that demonstratively cares about the little person and felt good about that; then others started filling my head with doubt and comments that caused me anxiety. It was only a few days ago that I realized the source of my anxiety. My granddaughter is a visible minority with brown skin.

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Proud to be Grammy to this little girl from the Saint Mary’s First Nation

 

I suddenly made the connection. She was going to face the same kinds of awful things other non-white people do who live here in New Brunswick. This realization hit me like a brick in the face, and triggered a primal, maternal instinct in me that is an incredibly inexplicable, powerful force. This is now personal. The internal struggle that was fiercely battling inside me ended the moment I realized I was fighting for the future of my grandaughter and others like her.  The values my family instilled in me demand I live up to the those expectations left with me. Everything changed for me a few years ago, the moment I realized I would be leaving this legacy to my own children. I have to show them and my granddaughter that doing the right thing is hard sometimes. It can be isolating, and can leave you feeling vulnerable. I’ll be perfectly honest, up until I realized what was at stake for my granddaughter’s future, there was a part of me that wanted to give in to the external pressures I had been facing; to make life easier for myself. Herein lies my dilemma; do the easy thing, or do the right thing. I know I’m facing an uphill battle but it’s one I will gladly climb for the sake of my children, my granddaughter, and for the future of New Brunswick. I’d rather take the loss than live with the regret; otherwise I’m rejecting the very same values that I, and those I hold most dearly, treasure the most. Win, lose, or draw I am on #teamwinner. I choose the side of right over might.

 

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