Written by one of my mentors while I was doing my Master’s Degree:
One day I reached back and found a huge glob of bubble gum stuck in my long blonde hair. I tried to get it out in vain. ‘Teacher!’ I cried, I have gum in my hair!” She invited me to her desk where she tried to work it out before giving up. She took out her big, long-bladed scissors and snipped out a large chunk of my hair. Then she lifted her gaze to Gordon and began shouting at him, shaming him. He denied responsibility but she was unrelenting. I pleaded with her. “Teacher, Gordon is my friend. It wasn’t him, and if it was, it was an accident!” She seemed inordinately angry, unfairly set on punishing him without evidence. I can’t remember if she hit him. They did sometimes in those days. She moved his seat and he wasn’t allowed to talk to me anymore.
Gordon was black. I had barely noticed.
I knew from my Sunday School lessons that whether ‘red and yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight.’ It took a while to realise that in practice, some were more precious than others. I began to realise it when my high school Sunday School teacher warned us against mixed ethnic relationships. “You don’t see a blackbird in a bluebird’s nest,” he said. We didn’t have any black kids in the Sunday School. No wonder. But I didn’t really notice.
I grew up in a neighbourhood which was diverse by Atlantic Canadian standards. It was an area of concentrated government housing that was poor and marginalized. There were a lot of African Canadians living there too. Sharing a common Loyalist heritage that worked out differently in history, we became friends with some and enemies with others, just as we did with the white kids. But I never once had a black friend over to play. And I never noticed.
Racism was part of growing up white in the Maritimes. My grandfather was particularly free with the N-word. My grandmother counseled me when I left for university to be sure to take up with my ‘own kind’. To do otherwise leads to all sorts of trouble she said. (I didn’t understand at the time that this was a comment of personal experience having an indigenous person in her own background.) I didn’t like what she said, but neither did I give it much notice.
Training for ministry I learned an immense amount from our ministry mentor who was black, as he sometimes told stories in his entertaining way about experiences of racial confrontation. In class we had a small number of colleagues who were from the African Baptist Association. The white students often would say of them, ‘they have a chip on their shoulder about race. Why don’t they just get over it?’ I hadn’t thought much about these things. And I didn’t still. It didn’t seem polite to bring it up.
In ministry, racism was rife in our area, and out in the open. There was one black RCMP officer at the local detachment. In the white communities they called him ‘the Negro Mountie’. Apparently he didn’t have a name like the others. There was a road that everyone locally referred to as the ‘N-line road’. People never batted an eye. And I understood there were many such place names throughout Nova Scotia. By now, I was starting to notice. I would squirm, and wonder if I should confront people with this. There were so many other battles to fight. I let it go. It wasn’t polite to notice. And under the veil of politeness, racism flourished.
So why did I start to notice?
Source: It’s Time White People Noticed: The Maritime Provinces are Full of Racism by Dr. Anna Robbins