Waking Up in Canada
Until recently, I had never thought about my part in a racist society.
I always thought I was lucky to be raised in Canada, where most people didn’t think twice about the color of a person’s skin, their accent or their parent’s heritage. However, as I think back, I realize that I lived in a “white” area with other people of European descent. I was a teenager before I saw or met a person of a different race or creed.
I know now that, while I did not experience diversity and the tensions that can arise when folks encounter diversity, that did not mean that the tension was not there. In fact, I now know that there were racial tensions in Canada and that there still are. People of Chinese, Jewish and African descent, as well as the Aboriginal communities, were all at one time considered by many to be lesser humans than the average white Canadian. Thankfully, that started to change in the 1930s and 40s, before my birth. Unfortunately, that change hasn’t gone far enough, especially for the Aboriginal communities, who still live in poverty. There is much work to be done to make things better for all people in Canada, especially those who have been marginalized.
I grew up in a poor parish in the Province of Quebec, 20 miles from the city of Montreal. The house in the picture is similar to my Pere’s (grandfather’s) farmhouse. I was a white French Canadian and wasn’t aware of racism. Everyone around me was white, although the English-speaking white people felt superior to the French-speaking white people. This was a form of racism, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. We moved to Toronto, Ontario, when I was 10 or 11. We moved to another white neighborhood, though at the time I didn’t realize it meant anything.
Looking back, I realize that white Canadians, like many European Americans in the United States, felt privileged; that assumption is a spot on our culture. Many Canadians today do not realize they are racist because they are not dealing with “black, colored or African” people; they are dealing with Aboriginal people and Muslims. It is still racism, especially when we assume others are inferior. We are all God’s children and God didn’t make a mistake in making people of different colors, different languages, different faiths, different cultures.
I hope I am progressing toward full appreciation of difference. I am trying to understand issues of race, whether it be based on the color of the skin, the accent of the voice or the gender of the person. My son came out to us in 2014. We talked it over and we tried to see from his perspective. Over the years, we have grown to understand “his story” and to love his friends and partners. As we would wish for a daughter who loves a man, we just want our son to be happy and love his man.
I am trying to learn and live a better life with tolerance and love for others, no matter what their story is. We are all God’s children, and our God loves us without question. I pray that each of us will continue to walk with Jesus, who extended God’s unconditional love to all; I pray we will continue to grow, learn about other cultures, and be there for all God’s children.
Shelagh M. Wirth is outgoing synod representative to the Churchwide Board of Directors from the Synod of South Atlantic.