Personal Update: June 3 2020
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
So much has happened since I last wrote that it is hard to know where to begin. I am tired, sure. But others have been tired for longer. My productivity is down, sure. But it is my privilege that allows me to chip away at things at all.
Throughout this pandemic, I have thrived on the fact that to do my part was a largely passive endeavour. Stay home. Read an extra book. Write more. Catch up on TV. I missed people, but not nearly as much as I expected to. I made my to-do lists longer and got to work.
Now, however, we find ourselves in the midst of something quite different. A swell in a struggle that has raged on since before I was born. A moment that calls for more than passivity. That pushes action and decision upon all of us.
It is no longer enough to just stay out of the way. It never really has been.
Like most of those I engage with online, I am Canadian. And like many Canadians, I find myself torn between the distinct but related problems facing my own country and the knowledge that what’s happening south of the border represents a titanic shift in global politics. The need to enact significant policy change at home and the desire to prepare my actual home for the very real possibility of American refugees.
I have donated. I have shared the posts. I’ve started reading and educating myself on a deeper level. And still, I wonder how I can possibly write about Smart Cities at a time when people are begging for basic safeties in those same spaces. Torn between the desire to keep up the fights I’ve already started and the fact that so many of these fights are interwoven and inseparable from the violence being pressed upon Black people across North America.
Though I have always tried to stay educated and sensitive to the struggles of those around me, this is the first week that I have put any deliberate effort into amplifying those struggles through the mediums at my disposal. Already, I have had people tell me that I am being too rude, that I’m being insensitive to the struggles we all face, and that I should calm down and take a breath before I burn myself out.
And the last one, I get. Because I am tired. The amount of time I’m spending online is unsustainable. I’m not sleeping well. I’m burning bridges that I thought could withstand anything.
But it’s only been one week. Black and indigenous peoples have had to fight this fight everyday of their lives. Their tones, their bodies, their cares – policed by a world that would rather stay comfortable and powerful than listen.
If you are one of the people worried about me, please know that I appreciate it. But don’t tell me to calm down or let it go. Instead, help me. And more importantly, help those who are fighting against societies and institutions that regularly punish them for the colour of their skin. Because as much as I appreciate your concern, it is a sign of my good fortune that I can even think about ignoring the problem.
I come from small towns in Northern Ontario. Gateway towns in which the current problems can seem like they’re a world away. Even Toronto can seem like a different province, sometimes.
Yet even there, traces of what’s happening exist. The jokes get told. Accents get mocked. People identify with parts of a song and sing lyrics they probably shouldn’t sing. I know because I’ve done it, in a small world with seemingly no consequence.
There is privilege in that world. Freedom to test waters that others don’t get to test. To smoke weed before it was legal without worrying about getting arrested. Or to rough up some public property and drink behind the arena knowing that the worst you’ll get is a warning. And I’m not saying that’s wrong – moving away from a focus on penalty and punishment is good for everyone. But there’s privilege in knowing the cops in your town by name, and playing baseball with some of them in summer, and getting afforded a warning because you look the part.
There is room to breathe in the world I grew up in.
I know that Canada is not the United States. Colonialism and racism have a different legacy here, for starters. One with its own list of problems and nuances. We also have different policing institutions in place, ones with more avenues available for significant policy change and transformation. And yes, the RCMP is not the OPP is not the TPS. But the differences are not enough to excuse ourselves from responsibility. As if the fight happening in American streets hasn’t also pressed a moment upon us here.
I know that some will discard that as some ungrounded leftism, but it isn’t. It’s tangible policy options that white people continue to vote against because they are untraditional or uncomfortable or kind.
It’s the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States. It’s the decriminalization of drugs in Canada. It is unprecedented investments in affordable housing across the board. It’s changing the way we eat so that we can get rid of a system that harms migrant workers while trapping marginalized groups in food deserts across the continent. It’s accepting that a universal basic income doesn’t actually make everyone lazy. It’s affordable healthcare, and dentalcare, and mental health services. It’s things like this that transform our idea of what’s possible in the world of contemporary policing.
These things are real, and tangible, and possible.
They’re the things I find myself hoping and longing for. And yet everyday I find that people who look like me are more concerned about taxes than justice. That they have more faith in trickle down economics than they do in people.
That they’re more interested in their own comfort than being generous.
It’s been a long time since I wrote about my faith in a public forum. The truth is that, on most days, I don’t know the finer details of my belief. Yet even now I am haunted by the radical kindness at the heart of the religion I grew up with.
Haunted because I can’t quite see it in the world around me. Haunted because there is a dissonance between who we say we are and the effort we’re willing to spend to prove it.
It isn’t for a lack of opportunity. I’ve just listed a fraction of the tangible changes that could be made this week if we were to open our ears to the voices that have been screaming from the periphery. To shake ourselves free from the comfort that we’ve enjoyed, even amid our own tribulations. To give and sacrifice towards the benefit of others instead of expecting them to make concession to us.
I know there will be resistance – opposition that many people more experienced than I have already rebutted to the point of exhaustion. I also know that I will make mistakes, and have made mistakes, and maybe that’s enough of an excuse for the people who look like me to decide that I just don’t get it.
But I’m done being passive. I’m done staying out of the way. This moment requires more.
Before I leave, I thought that I might sketch out my preliminary game plan for the next few weeks in case you wanted to follow along or come up with a plan of your own. I am also putting it out there to be criticized. I know I don't have all the answers and above all else I recognize the need to listen. I've formed this plan around the suggestions that I've seen so far, but my ears are open.
Educate Myself. When I look at the media I consume, a disproportionate amount of it centers the experiences of those who look just like me. That includes the books that I read, the TV shows I watch, and the classes I take. Moving forward, I am going to make a serious effort to read more books, fiction and non-fiction, by Black and indigenous authors. First up is So You Want to Talk About Race. If you're interested, please buy a copy for yourself and we can work through it together.
Donate. Though I've donated spuriously over the last few weeks, I am going to look into making my donations a more consistent tithe. For those of you who have the resources, I would suggest starting with an organization or two that you can afford to support regularly. Here is one list of possibilities for those of you who are Canadian, like me. If you don't have the money, look into sharing lists like these with your followers on social media. Donate your time or emotional resources. Take up an offering at your church.
Act. I've highlighted a few of the tangible policy options available, but it takes action to make change happen. For my own part, I am going to work at making these conversations and policy ideas a more integral part of the work I do at school, online, and at home. I am going to do my best to stop privileging comfort over the conversations that I know need to be had with friends and family members. I am also going to try and allocate my mental, physical, and fiscal resources wisely and efficiently so that I can support this fight in the long term and not just with a few sporadic posts on my social media.