What to Wear to an Anti-Racist March

Because marches are almost always outdoors, dress for the weather, but fashionably, as there may be news cameras there.  And if it’s during a global pandemic, wear a mask.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you a story.  It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, I am in labor, and we’re on our way to the hospital.  My husband is driving.  Suddenly the car fills with a powdery smoke - from the airbags deploying (ouch) -  and we’re stopped, impeded by a telephone pole.  The front of another car has pinned my husband in (uh-oh), but I feel the baby kick (phew!).  My husband is now outside my door, letting me out, as he smashed his way out of his side of the car to come around and get me.  Police are now on the scene, they take me to the hospital to deliver, while my husband stays to answer questions and get treatment, as his arm is bleeding badly.  He misses the delivery.  When he finally arrives, around 7 a.m., he is exhausted, in part because he spent over an hour strapped to a gurney alone in the ER, despite calling out repeatedly to remind people he was there.  In his follow up a few hours later, he was asked for income information.  When he asked why, he was told, “It says here you don’t have insurance.”  Not true -- no one had bothered to ask him.  

If he were white, would have been seen sooner?  Would he have been asked if he had insurance?  The cabbie who ran a stop sign at full speed and T-boned us (accident report definitively established fault with him, given the force of his car pushed ours off the road), would he have walked off without even a ticket (as he did) had he been black?  We’ll never know.  But the data imply it’s unlikely.

So this is why I am participating in an anti-racism march this afternoon.  Because I am in Ottawa, where blacks comprise less than 7% of the population, it is likely most of the crowd will look like me - far more likely to be perpetrators of systemic bias than victims of it.  But still, it is important to show up, in great numbers, to make it clear we reject the systemic racism behind the murder of George Floyd as well as the far too many that preceded him, whose names we know and the many more whose names we don’t.  But here’s my concern:

That even if we have a million people (the entire population of Ottawa) this moment will do nothing to prevent yet another set of marches, a few years from now, because yet another black man is killed who, let’s face it, almost certainly would not have been killed had he been white.

Let’s start by admitting to ourselves that have biases, and that those biases influence our behaviour.  We treat the unfamiliar differently than we treat the familiar, and most of us live in places where we’re surrounded by people who look like us.  These are simple, unsurprising facts; neither is anything to be ashamed of.  What we should be ashamed of is not taking the time or mental energy to recognize this to make sure we check our biases at the door. 

Amy Cooper, the lady who called the police on the black bird watcher in Central Park, likely doesn’t see herself as racist.  Probably George Zimmerman and Derek Chauvin wouldn’t self-identify as racist.  Whoever called and alerted the cops to the “black man walking down the street wielding a knife” (aka my husband carrying a souvenir letter opener he’d recently acquired in Senegal for his English teacher) probably doesn’t think of themselves as racist.  No one does because we all know how wrong it is to judge someone by the colour of their skin instead of by the content of their character.  Yet we do it anyway.  Every single one of us unconsciously disregards this universal truth.

So that’s why we are marching at this protest, which, by the way, is not a riot and which is not anti-police.  Police officers are called on to manage humanity day after day when we are at our worst - a job few of us would be able to survive mentally or emotionally, let alone physically - and physical danger is part of the job description.  Our police officers need all the help they can get, so we are showing up for them as well.