The Best Place to Start is with Ourselves

I have struggled to know what to write to the CGS Community about what has been going on in the United States, and even in our city, this past week. I have struggled to share the right words, the right sentiments, the right advice, the right direction this should take and maybe I won’t get it quite right but saying nothing would be worse. Like many of you, I have watched in horror as a spotlight has shone brightly on the tremendous injustices in our society. The oppression and devaluation of Black lives is nothing new, but in this day of instant media, it has been brought into our living rooms as never before. I sincerely hope that it has been brought into our hearts and minds as never before too. We haven’t been able to hide from the elephant in the room this week, and as horrible as it is to watch, that can only be a good thing.

I’m devastated about what I see happening, but I’m glad we’re being woken up to something that needs to be addressed by all of us. As a white mother of three adult children of colour, I have been particularly heartbroken and lost as to what to say, how to feel or how to respond. This week has been a time of great reflection for me. No one could ever call me racist. Just look at my family! But I realize now that is not enough. Not being racist is, of course, a good start, but our focus needs to move forward to actively being anti-racist. This is where most of us, especially those of us raised in white privilege, get stuck. We aren’t always sure of the difference, and if we aren’t sure, then how can we teach our next generation? Because of my personal family situation, I’ve had people reach out to me this week and ask for guidance. This is when I wish I had studied this more and could easily come up with the playbook on how to be anti-racist. How to stand up against the widespread disenfranchisement of black and brown communities, whose voices have historically not been heard time and time again, and how to address all of this with our children.

Let me start by telling you what I wish I hadn’t done in my own family. I wish I hadn’t just told my children that everyone is the same and that skin colour doesn’t matter. I wish I hadn’t told my children to pay no attention to racist comments as they were only coming from a place of ignorance. I wish I hadn’t told my boys as teenagers to never be out past dark wearing their hoods up on their sweatshirts and then leave the conversation there. I loved them. I protected them. I stood up for them when it was required and thought that was enough. I know now that it wasn’t enough because skin colour does matter, racist comments should never be ignored, and there should be more dialogue against a prejudgement of what “bad” black youth look like. Those were just a few of my mistakes, but it is now time to move and look forward.

So what can we do as a community, and how do we start? The best place to start is with ourselves. Self-reflection is the first step to being an ally in this fight. If we are honest, this introspection may hurt, and it may hurt a lot, but it is necessary for moving forward. We must commit ourselves to use our voice when we see or hear racial injustices. Being quiet might help us keep peace on our social media feeds, or at family gatherings, but it doesn’t help the cause.  We don’t all need to be activists. Instead, we can use our own family, our circles, and our communities to get the message out and begin righting the wrongs. We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We must not be ashamed or sorry for  white privilege. Still we need to acknowledge that if this is our lens on the world, it can blind us to many injustices. Let’s speak to our children. Again, it is not enough to tell them that skin colour doesn’t matter. We must share with them what many people of colour have had to endure for generations. We shouldn’t pretend to them that this is just something that happened a long time ago. When we speak to them about Martin Luther King or Viola Desmond, we need to let our children know that their fight is not over, and it is up to all of us to continue it.

Over the past couple of days, CGS has shared links, via social media, for some excellent books on the subject to add to your at-home reading with your children. If you are not on social media, please let us know, and we will send you these links. I also encourage all of you to tune in, with your children, to the Sesame Street Special “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism” this Saturday morning, June 6th at 10am. I have spent many hours researching, finding and purchasing many excellent new books on this topic for our school library. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s a start. Our teachers have opened the dialogue with our students in an age-appropriate way. This dialogue will continue in the days, weeks and months to come.

Please join me in moving forward in change. Understand another world is possible if we all accept the need for change and put in the work necessary for real change to happen. Nelson Mandela’s words that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” should be our guiding principle now more than ever. Let’s find some hope in these very dark days.

My best,

Marie Bates
Children’s Garden School