Even as the economic outlook of the province declined and a once almost 0% vacancy rate climbed up towards double digits, it was happening.
Even as the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Report provided a clear path towards justice, reparations and healing, it was happening.
And, even as non-settler centric Indigenous history was being taught in elementary schools, and Indigenous culture and awareness courses at Universities were filling up, it was happening.
Every day. Everywhere.
Case in point. An Indigenous parent of three children calls a landlord about a vacant apartment. Sets up an appointment to view it, only to be told, one hour later, when the landlord opens the door to view the face of the applicant, “It’s already rented.” Door closed. No explanation. And no truth to the landlord’s assertions either.
Or, a housing locator for a social services agency, knowing the challenges Indigenous families face in finding housing in our city, goes to a landlord, and, without disclosing the ethnicity of the applicant, which would be a violation of their human rights, organizes the lease on behalf of the applicant. When the family arrives, the landlord refuses to hand over the keys, stating a family emergency has lead to the unit no longer being available for rent. The Indigenous family, too accustomed to such treatment, walks away. They know their life would be hell in that apartment anyway. Why risk abuse from a racist landlord?
Or, the neighbour to an apartment building that houses low-income families specifically targets those units that house Indigenous families. He takes videos and photos of the families going about living their daily lives. Files complaint after complaint with the owners of the building, the social service agency providing supports to assist the families in settling in, his City Councillor’s office about the noise of the young children, about adults smoking on the balcony, about what he calls, ‘those people’. Yet, he refuses to meet to discuss his complaints or to learn about the program of ending homelessness, reducing poverty and building community. “I want them gone,” is his only response.
I could go on.
After almost 18 years working in the homeless-serving sector in Calgary, many of them spent doing community engagement work, the stories of racial profiling, discrimination and abuse are numbing.
I have sat at boardroom tables with community members decrying the pending presence of housing for formerly homeless individuals and families in their community. I have listened to their fears, their insistence that this housing will drive down their property values or create parking concerns, two of the 3 top concerns community members voice when opposing low-income housing, the other one being, rising crime rates. Even when the data clearly shows those fears are unfounded, the objections and the name-calling continues.
I have faced angry mobs opposing the purchase of land for low-income housing, standing in a circle around me and my co-workers, arms raised, fists clenched above their heads as they shake them in the air, yelling at the top of their voices, “We don’t want you here.”
I have listened to people call fellow human beings names that make me want me to peel off my skin right down to my skeleton to show them our blood is the same colour, and all of our skeletons are white, but that would just further enforce the notion, white is better.
And, unfortunately, their fear, their ignorance, their misconceptions and yes, their white privilege closed their minds to the fact that those against whom they railed were just like them, seeking to make a better life for themselves and their families. It’s just the circumstances of their lives had put them far, far below the poverty line to where they struggled just to catch a breath of the very same air that we all breathe freely.
“They don’t deserve the air they breathe,” has sometimes been the response.
So yes. Black Lives Matter. Brown Lives Matter.
And what we do next, the white privileged who have never known what it feels like to have our skin colour make us the target of other human beings’ abuse, disdain, fear… What we do next matters. A lot.
It’s easy to say, “But those are the few bad apples.” And, while that is fundamentally true, most people don’t support overt racism, the fact remains, we are complicit in our inaction, in our not speaking up, in our not decrying and outing such behaviour. In our not examining why skin colour matters in the first place.
And, while it’s easy to point at yourself and say, “I’m not racist,” living that truth? That’s a whole other matter.
And if you haven’t already done so, read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report: Calls to Action. It matters. A lot.