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Privilege – Time for Change

All over the world, people are rising up to demand an end to racism. Why now, when the problem has existed for centuries? You know the names all too well: Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery in the United States (and they’re just some of the more recent examples in a shockingly long list). Their deaths caused hundreds of years of injustice and frustration to boil over into demonstrations, even here in Kawartha Lakes, where a peaceful march led by young women of colour has led directly to important dialogue with local police on racism in our community.

Canadians are grappling with evidence of deeply rooted racism against people of colour, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people as a result of the deaths of Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore, both First Nations people, at the hands of the RCMP in New Brunswick. In all of these instances, people are facing uncomfortable questions about how it is that they feel safe where others don’t.

At Women’s Resources, we have an excellent working relationship with local police. These officers are very often the ones who alert us to the situation where a woman is being abused by a man in her life, and they are also frequently the ones who help her get out of the home and into our shelters.

But there’s a bigger issue here, one that society is finally starting to confront: the question of privilege. All over the world, white people in particular are start to do the hard work of evaluating why it is that nothing in their lives has ever been made harder because of their skin colour, when it’s obvious that’s not true for others. As many people of colour have noted recently, it’s truly a privilege to educate yourself on these issues rather than knowing them intimately because you live them every day.

White people really do receive the benefit of the doubt in myriad situations, from simple social interactions to job interviews. And for far too long, the experiences of Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour have been dismissed — they were told they were imagining a racist remark, that nobody else felt slighted, that they were being too sensitive.

These are the tools of privilege — to minimize and dismiss the real experiences of those who do not share that privilege, ensuring that unfair power structures remain in place. The privilege of being male in our society is still powerful, but we’ve seen enormous progress in our lifetimes. Good people of all genders are working for a world where male privilege, along with white privilege, no longer tilts the scales of justice.

This reckoning with inequality in all aspects of our lives is long overdue. We fervently hope that the day is coming when privilege related to skin colour and gender disappears, along with discrimination and injustice in all its forms, such as gender identity, ability, language, religion, age, sexual orientation or any other of the insidious ways we judge each other. That no one gets an automatic edge when it comes to renting an apartment or being followed around a store or being given the chance to live up to their potential in school or at work or in their community. When that day does arrive, we will all be better for it.

By Nancy Payne