I’ve followed the killing of Ahmaud Arbery the last few days and it’s made me sick to my core.
For those that haven’t heard, he was a black man in Brunswick, GA that was out for a run, and shot and killed in cold blood by 2 white men, one a former police officer. There was a video that has been widely circulated of his death.
It wasn’t until there was a national outcry this week that the two men who did this were arrested and charged.
I will be honest, I have lived the majority of my life in total ignorance.
I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, surrounded by kids of different races, religions. My own parents were immigrants, and I had friends in my neighborhood and at school of all colors, religions and countries of origin.
To sum up my blissful childhood ignorance, I didn’t know one of my best friends in high school was Muslim until I got to college and in a class about religion, listened to the professor talk about how Muslims went to church on a Friday night, and didn’t celebrate Christmas.
As the professor spoke my mind wandered, thinking about how I always waited until he got home from Church on a Friday so we could go out, and how he was away in Hawaii every Christmas because he didn’t celebrate it.
I called this friend back in Canada, weeks into our freshman year when I came home from class that day and asked him, “Hey, can I ask you a question that I should probably know…. are you Muslim?”
He replied: “Ciara my name is Aly Sidi, it doesn’t get more Muslim than that. How the f*ck did you not know that?” And then we laughed about my lack of paying attention to details.
But until that moment I didn’t know.
I honestly didn’t pay attention.
In my world, I chose/still choose, my friends based on kindness, sense of humor, and people that are fun to be around. I got one of my best compliments when at one point someone took a look at a picture of my friend group and said, “Well if this isn’t Ciara in a nutshell.”
When I asked why, they said, “look how many colors are in that photo.”
But I’m sad to say, I have failed my friends.
I have looked at the world, and I have felt that since I don’t see race or religion or sexual orientation, it can’t be that bad. Of course if I hear anyone say anything that would be offensive I would say something and stand up for my friends, but other than that I’ve done little.
It’s not something I ponder like I would if I was hurt on a daily basis like I’m realizing more and more my other friends of color are. They are not so fortunate to live in such a blissful existence. I’ve come to realize that just because I don’t experience it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
That feels painful to type but I’ve lived with lack of fire on this topic compared with others, because I haven’t been fueled of my own first hand experience.
I had my first kick in the face with my privileged ignorance riding the Skytrain to the 2015 World Cup Final.
I was with 2 of my best friends who are African-American and lived on opposite ends of the US. They spoke casually about the racial profiling that they regularly endured for no other reason besides being dark skinned.
One was a doctor, the other a Division 1 Head Coach.
I was floored listening to their experiences that they relayed with a wearied acceptance.
Then I had a conversation with a good friend who I grew up in Canada with who is Southeast Asian. She spoke about what it was like for her existing within a white culture. We grew up around the same people and it blew my mind to hear she had such a different and hard experience.
Then around this time of awakening to my embarrassing ignorance, I crossed the border with a friend.
She looked at me in amazement after we went over the border with a full U-Haul that the border guard didn’t even look inside.
“Must be nice to be a pretty girl” she said wistfully.
“What do you mean?”– I asked, totally ignorant, thinking it was just my good sense of humor that allowed for these often found situations to unfold with ease.
“Ciara I get pulled over and searched every single time I cross”.
I started to think about what it would feel like to be in all my friends shoes.
To exist in the worlds that they live in. Realizing with a sense of shame how my easy existence and good overall treatment by the world had little to do with my personality and everything to do with how I looked.
And I realized how angry I would feel if I always felt I was mistreated because of the color of my skin, or my sexual preferences or my religion.
And I felt pretty disgusted with myself that because I felt that the world I lived in was pretty much ok, and I didn’t see overt racism or homophobia in front of me, that I didn’t really give more than a passing glance to the odd time something was horrendous enough to make the news.
I haven’t really fought for a better world for my friends who deal with this bullshit and racism regularly.
I really just didn’t know any better.
After a lot of introspection over the last couple of years, I truly understand what white privilege means.
It’s the privilege of that ignorance.
I had a friend reach out to me this morning. One of my best friends from college, he’s African American and has gone on to be a successful lawyer.
“That shooting of Ahmaud Arbery happened a few miles away from that Waffle House that wouldn’t serve us.”
I remembered something that I have had the privilege to forget. Something that at the time, I didn’t understand the full depravity of and how deep it hurt my friend to his core.
Because I didn’t see race in my world, and just thought it was some idiot who didn’t know any better.
In 2004, we went to our friend’s wedding in Atlanta, Georgia.
Myself and my friend Ray went that morning to a Waffle House before the ceremony.
And we sat at the counter for about a solid fifteen minutes.
And the woman looked at us numerous times- we tried to catch her eye. And she wouldn’t serve us.
“Let’s get out of here,” Ray finally said.
When we got out to the car, he was fuming, but bathed it in jokes. But even then, I understood how hurt it made him feel.
“They didn’t serve us because I’m black and they didn’t serve you, because you were with me.”
At the time I was floored and tried to explain it away. Maybe she was just busy? I couldn’t fathom it. But Ray was resolute.
And he was right.
I’d like to think my ignorance to this could be that I’m Canadian. But I’ve come to realize from listening to my friends, that Canada is no utopia and I have friends of different races and religions that speak of a less overt racism that they experience. And one is definitely not better than the other.
This bullshit has seeped in to every crevice of our society, poisoning even those of us that don’t feel outrightly its venom.
Last year is a year I will always get emotional looking back on, because I think it taught me one of the most valuable lessons that as a human being I could ever learn:
The only way in our society to create meaningful change is for the group NOT suffering the injustice to speak up.
The blog I wrote last year, was truth-telling. And the bravery to post came from a place of a desperate guttural scream of a horrible experience that was known but ignored and a deep desire to be healed in order to move forward from it.
But I know something with certainty from that experience. About the acknowledgement of what was experienced, and the subsequent change and healing that happened:
If Curva and the Southsiders (the Whitecaps fan groups) didn’t come to us and tell us that they supported us and didn’t organize the protests that resulted in thousands of people leaving the stadium things would have been very different. Their support allowed for the story to be amplified, for the needle of change to be moved a little bit forward.
That feeling of being carried by perfect strangers who had nothing to personally gain at my most vulnerable time, and in those arms be healed, will be something I will carry with me til I die.
And it’s time to give that back.
If any of us truly want change, it needs to be those of us not directly affected, those of us that experience no fear because of our white privilege, that need to be the ones screaming from the rooftops.
Because a man getting shot when out for a run because of his skin color, is so beyond acceptable, it makes me literally sick.
In this time of quarantine, I have been bouncing around to different webinars, inhaling different viewpoints, but one thing has struck me is the whiteness and the maleness of the leadership in every field.
It’s the framework that our entire society has been built on and the historical voice that has shaped most decisions and systems.
This is not to say that there isn’t space for great white males to lead and give input, but it is time for other voices to be in leadership in all facets of society. Because diversity makes us stronger. It makes us better. It allows helping hands to be given to put others into powerful positions. To have other perspectives that create acceptance and equality for everyone.
Perspectives and equality that we all so desperately need, that in the end will only make us better.
Even if it’s just the realization that those of us, such as myself, that considered themselves woke, bathed in our privilege, really aren’t woke at all. The kind of learning when voices and experiences different to us, are truly given the floor and the power to shape the world we are living in.
This change will be obvious when the day comes when my friends of color feel that they can drive a car or take a run without the fear of dying.
It starts with my friend Ime, being able to go for a run in peace.
In his words:
“A selfish silver lining of this pandemic has been the lack of anxiety I’ve felt in running alone. In my head, now most people quickly shuffled to avoid me out of fear of a hidden virus, not my blackness. Running alone has never felt so peaceful as it has during this time.
That was all snatched away this week as Ahmaud Arbery’s story and video surfaced. It hurts. Back to reality.”
I will finish by saying again: The only way in our society to create meaningful change is for the group NOT suffering the injustice to speak up.
So my call, my ask to my friends of color.
How can we support you? What can we do?
How can I use my privilege to raise you up and end this disgusting racism that permeates every facet of our society?
I for one, refuse to hide and be ignorant behind my privilege any longer.
Tell me where to go and what I can do.
Because for the love of all humans, enough is enough.