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Pickle Me This

June 26, 2020

Our Job is to Hear Them

Photo of an abandoned mall sign, spray painted in bright colours, against a blue sky.

I have been thinking a lot about how those of us who are white people can continue to have conversations about race, but also about how “conversations about race” isn’t most effective when it’s just us yelling at other white people. And this is not to say that white people don’t need to be yelled at, BUT I am not sure the white people in my feed are necessarily those who most benefit from the “Things to Stop Saying to Black People” memes that begin with, “Quit asking us if we twerk.” I have never asked anyone if they twerk. I don’t know what twerking is.

But those of us with social skills enough to, say, know not to touch people’s hair, still have thinking to do, racist biases to unpack. Which is why I keep clicking on these memes, because I want to do this work, to figure these things out. But I think that memes are not going to be where the answers are found, and that original thinking (and learning) is required instead.

And so I want to write about what I’ve learned and am still learning about listening, and about how listening is more important than understanding. (“But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean the explanation doesn’t exist.”) For a long time, my friend would talk about how conspicuous he felt as a person of colour in my hometown—and I just assumed he was being sensitive. I used to hear stories of racism, and assume there must be more to the story, because things like that don’t just happen. And then one day another friend told me that her son was being teased for the colour of his skin, and I replied, “But that doesn’t make sense.” Because so many kids in the class were people of colour, was what I meant. And she gave me this look, a look that turned my world around. In that look I saw the fact that I have no idea, and that to define my understanding of the world by the limits of my own experience is such a fallacy, that it’s ignorance. And who would want to live in the world like that?

I will tell you that when I heard about the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, killed when police arrived at her apartment during a mental health episode here in Toronto, I was unsure what role the police had played in her death, figuring it must have been an accident. Because “things like that don’t just happen.” But of course this is when the world was still reeling from the murder of George Floyd, killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. And if we hadn’t seen a video of that, would anyone have believed it?

But of course, plenty of people would have believed, their life experience having established that police brutality is an unremarkable fact of life instead of an aberration. And those of us who have remained ignorant? It’s only because we weren’t listening, because certain voices matter more than others, because we’ve been so invested in the status quo, in our comfort, that we’ve failed to read the world.

So what now? Because the point is never to be one’s own awakening. The point is what we do with our knowledge, with our power. Voice your solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Call your mayor and city councillor and demand police defunding. Support Black-led businesses and organizations. Keep learning, keep reading. (I recommend Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, and Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In.)

Keep listening.

The stories are there. Our job is to hear them.

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