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Guest Editorial

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by Howaida Sorour-Roberts

In response to the incident at St. Mike’s regarding the racist prom proposal, the one thing that strikes me with all the responses I’ve read on the subject, is that they tend to skirt around the main point. Before I get into that, I’d like to commend Mayor Pickford on her response to the incident.

As a woman of colour who has lived in the area for more than 30 years and whose children both went to school in Kemptville, I’m glad that you recognise that there is ‘progress to be made’. Perhaps with that mindset, something will finally change.

I would, however point out that North Grenville has a long way to go before it can call itself an “inclusive” and welcoming community. Both my children are graduates of St. Mike’s. My daughter ‘passes’ for white, but my son is definitely ‘brown’. I cannot tell you the number of racist incidents and comments he endured during his tenure at the school which only ended a few years ago.

One that will always stand out for me occurred at a business next door to the school. My son and his friends (all white boys) were at a store during a lunch break. As the boys left, the store manager ran out and stopped my son – and only my son. She asked him to empty out his pockets. He complied. He had done nothing wrong, other than be ‘brown’. This was not an isolated incident. There were many more at various businesses, with local police, and on school grounds and friends’ homes.

The real issue isn’t what people say…though that’s important, it’s really what people think that has to change.

A very small percentage of the racism in Canada is overt; far more common and insidious is the unconscious bias that is rampant, not only in Kemptville, but across most of this region.

If you truly wish to address this problem, it has to start in kindergarden. Children are not naturally racist. They have to be taught those beliefs. Educating children early and well is how we change society. The young lady who created the offensive prom invitation was only reflecting back what she was taught …that her skin colour makes her superior.

It is not an uncommon belief, and it’s not entirely without merit. Certainly her skin colour bestows upon her a certain privilege. She was only reflecting that awareness back.

The point is that no apology will ever make that incident right. Apologising for words is not the same as changing the thought process. As to the students who photographed and posted the image, I would like to say thank you for making that incident public. No, it was not funny or fun. It was/is hurtful, offensive and just plain disgusting in 2020, but I’d rather know about it than not.

What is far more offensive and alarming than the message is the belief that engendered it in the first place. Suggesting that people need to be more careful about what they say is censorship….it doesn’t deal with the underlying problem – belief.

And please, welcoming a handful of refugees into a community does not in anyway prove inclusivity. Harsh as this may sound, it only proves privilege, and while it is commendable on many, many levels, it does not in any way address the bigger issue in this and many other communities. That Ms. Thompson of the NG Times interviewed a newly-sponsored Iranian man who said he felt nothing but welcome in North Grenville is just another example of blindness. What do you expect him to say?

Nor does a pride parade prove inclusivity; it only proves that some people are more willing to accept different sexual orientations than different skin colours. Ask any non-white LGBTQIA community member how safe that person feels…

Here’s a thought. Brown eggs or white eggs, still the same on the inside. Now let’s apply that to people.

Seriously, that people still SEE skin colour at all, is frankly mind boggling.

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