February is Black history month, where we stop and reflect as we learn about Black history here in Niagara. We should be proud of the part Niagara played as the final stop on the Underground Railroad, its anti-slavery legislation, and the contribution of Black settlers and soldiers to the Niagara Region.
I would like to give you a perspective on this important annual event today, and what we need still to learn from it.
I lived with a Black man for 12 years and quite often when we were at events people would ask him where he came from and he would answer, “I’m Canadian.” They would ask again, “No, where did you come from?” Again, the answer, “I’m Canadian.” Again, “No, where did your people come from?” His answer again was Canada.
Here’s the thing — he was more Canadian than I am. He is from Halifax, and his ancestors came to Canada in the 1600s, while my ancestors fled the holocaust in Armenia in 1906. But no one ever asked me where I or my family came from. I’m white, and everyone assumes I and my ancestors have been here since the beginning of Canada.
So, the lived experience I have is that if you are white, why would anyone even think to ask where you came, from but if you are Black it is assumed you must have come from someplace else. Of course, let’s also not forget who the true inhabitants of this country were before the white man came here. The Indigenous peoples were here long before any of us were.
Yes it is Black history month and we need to educate ourselves to the important contributions the Black people have made to Canada over the years so that we do not forget the struggle that they have experienced in the past.
But I also want to talk about white male privilege, which does exist in Canada, and it is something that many of us are blind to. White male privilege is not about money or accomplishments. It is not about beauty, religion, social status or even how you present yourself.
If you are a white male, I want you to think about. . .
When was the last time you were asked that simple question as to where you or your people came from?
When was the last time you spoke and the person you were speaking to looked surprised, and commented that you spoke very good English for a white man?
When was the last time you were followed around a store by security people thinking you might steal something?
When was the last time you and two or three of your white buddies were walking down the street and the woman approaching you held more tightly to her purse? Or more importantly walked across the street to avoid you.
When was the last time you looked around the room and realized you were the only white person there?
When was the last time you were stopped by a police officer and was asked for identification simply because of the neighbourhood where you were walking?
When was the last time you were driving that nice new car and you saw someone give you that look that said, “to drive a car that expensive, he must be a drug dealer?”
I have white male privilege, and that is the lesson I learned and the reality I want others to think about, not only during Black history month but all of the time.
When you see any person of colour or any person who looks a little different than you, simply smile and nod. You will be surprised how many times you receive a big smile back with a knowing nod that says, “Thanks, you noticed me and acknowledged me.”
Ted Mouradian is an author and professional speaker. He is president of the 2% Factor Inc. and his videos can be seen on TikTok and Instagram. Ted can be reached at [email protected]