community news

Pick up the phone, it’s your conscience ringing

Community Featured Opinion

By Angela Bowden

Special to The Advocate

Angela Bowden is a talented writer, poet and activist born and raised in New Glasgow. She is a freelance writer for the Nova Scotia Advocate. Angela delivered a TedxTalk in December 2019 where she bares her soul and encourages black women to begin the process of healing their strength and resilience trauma. She writes largely in advocacy so she may validate the untold and silenced stories of her people and highlight that pain in a way people understand. She is a former 2020 Alistair McLeod Mentorship Participant and has completed her first manuscript, UnSpoken Truth which is a poetry collection of these untold stories and the journey from historical slavery to the contemporary racism. She is a current Saint Mary’s University student working on a Masters in Women and Gendered studies.

I wish the people on the other end of this line would pick up. I remain on hold on this racism call and I wish someone would answer!

As the background music of oppression news plays on every radio station I recall more childhood memories from school, and I wonder if the white kids ever reflected upon the racism they witnessed and participated in while they were growing up.

I wonder if anyone ever thought, “Hey, I remember being in school with those black students and I remember feeling like I was better than them. I remember teachers and principals treating me better than them. I remember coaches and parents treating me better than them. I remember other students treating me better than them and in fact I wasn’t very nice to them either.”

I wonder if they ever acknowledge that, even to themselves, or if they continue on, blissful in their privilege, without a second thought?!

I would love to open up Facebook or Twitter and see a former classmate share a flashback memory of sitting in class and witnessing the mistreatment of their fellow black classmates, watching as the teacher takes the two black girls’ names and blends them together to make one and then to call them both by that blended name, Tangie, even though both Tanya and Angie asked her not to. I would love to see them so offended by the historical mistreatment of children of colour in these spaces and speak out against the systems that oppressed and marginalized them.

Surely to goodness by now some are processing their parents’ adamant and threatening directive to stay away from the black boys, aka the N-word, and surely they remember using or hearing that word to describe our young black boys and the strict punishments they received for being caught with one. And somebody besides me must remember how their parents did not allow black boys and black girls into their homes, so we had to sneak in and sneak out of their homes and their parties.

Am I to believe that not one single teacher remembers favouring all things white and frowning down on us even a little bit? You mean to tell me no one remembers the cliques and the teachers pets or the ethnic demographics of those “dummy” classes?

What about the man who yelled the N-word driving by and threw a cup of ice out his window hitting the little girl in the leg? I wonder if he ever has nightmares about his racist actions towards this young girl walking home minding her business? Does he feel bad? Does the memory creep up like it does for her with every racist reminder?

Come on! Not everyone can have a case of amnesia! What about the co-workers who went out of their way to isolate the only black employee they worked with so she ate alone in the lunchroom? Or the ones doing it now? Do they have any thoughts of their behaviour? Do they reflect on the trauma that is damaging their co-workers self esteem, sense of inclusion and belonging? Is there any remorse for how they confidently dole out this abuse to black moms, working hard just to feed their families?

What about the employers? There isn’t one out there feeling the guilt of breaking our grandfathers and fathers day after day, calling them boy, Toby and the like. They must remember these star employees doing the work no one wanted, carrying out their duties with a smile and gratitude, never giving them any trouble?

Do white families ever think of their black nanny who made their successful career and work-home balance possible at the expense of her own children? Do they ever recall fondly how she never complained and was all too happy to make meager wages so her babies could simply eat that week. Her career goals were non-existent because society made servitude her career by default.

Does it ever occur to anyone that we didn’t choose this life of oppression, and question how we remain on the bottom despite being the hardest working members of society? Surely we’re not still spewing the “hard work”, “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative that somehow erases our hard work, while forgetting about the 400 years of hard and free labour from sunup till sundown by my foremothers and forefathers. What about the manual labour of our grandfathers, who built our foundation post-slavery while fighting segregation laws and pure hate? We can’t possibly ignore the hard-earned successes that black folk continue to achieve, even with that deficit still intact. It’s unrealistic to believe that one can not see the truth behind the achievement gaps in education or under-employment in our communities. When it comes to work ethic we have one hell of a resume, but that is ignored and replaced with victim shaming and blaming for conditions not of our making.

Is there even one person out there who remembers not liking that little black boy or black girl on their team, or what about the black lady on the bus they held in contempt for reasons they couldn’t quite pinpoint but just the sight of them was enough to upset their day?

With everything going on today in this anti-black racist world, do they reflect and at least acknowledge their biased opinions, stereotypes and privileges and perhaps secretly wish to do better from their guilty and burdened soul?

Is there anyone, anyone at all who just wants to acknowledge that they were wrong in the past, but now they see the light and just want to do better? Does anyone want redemption or simply to free their soul for the role they played in our oppression?

How come no one is picking up on the other end of this racism? I know you hear your conscience ringing… pick up the phone!

This article has been reprinted, with permission, courtesy of the The Nova Scotia Advocate.