“Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad

As a part of my anti-racism journey, and aim to be an ally, I am reading works by BIPOC writers (black, Indigenous, and people of colour). There are some amazing resources available and I am grateful to these creators for sharing their time, expertise, and emotional labour. I will be featuring the books that have made a big impact on me through my BIPOC book club. I hope that you will read them and tell me what you think. The more we read and share these resources, the farther the message spreads, and the more likely we can influence meaningful change. This starts by using our financial resources to support this important work.

The first book that I am featuring is Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. She starts the book by defining what she means by “white supremacy” and presenting an invitation to the reader:

White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection and power. It is also a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. This may sicken you and cause you to feel guilt, anger and frustration. But you cannot change your white skin colour to stop receiving these privileges just like BIPOC cannot change their skin colour to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on. I invite you to challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.

Saad has structured her book around a 28-day challenge, which she first introduced on Instagram after writing a post entitled I Need to Talk to White, Spiritual Women about White Supremacy. After it went viral, she was left fielding questions from white women about what to do next. This book is the result and it is structured to be an active and engaged process. She asks the reader to not only to think about the intellectual concepts that she presents, but to journal and self-reflect upon how these ideas show up in our daily lives. The doing element is very important. Each day Saad presents a new concept and then asks you to closely examine it (e.g. Day 1: You and White Privilege; Day 2: You and White Fragility; Day 3: You and Tone Policing).

White people are not used to seeing themselves as a race. From my own experience, I’ve been very aware of being a black person from a very young age because, when you’re not part of the dominant culture, you’re always the other. And so you’re aware of the thing that separates you from being seen as ‘normal’ like everyone else. White privilege means you don’t have to think of yourself as white. You just think of yourself as a person.

~ Layla F. Saad

I appreciate how clearly Saad presents each concept and then lays out a series of reflective journalling prompts to work through. Rarely do white people, including myself, analyze their own complicity and participation in the racist system that we all inhabit. The emotional burden of fighting for equality is predominantly left to those already disenfranchised by the system. This cannot continue. We cannot keep looking away. I was personally humbled by some of the things I discovered through doing the work. When I investigated the questions that she asked, I began to recognize the invisible and pervasive nature of racism. My failure to previously see it does not make me a “bad” person. It simply reveals the inequity of a deeply rooted system designed to benefit white people; once it is revealed, however, the challenge is for us to do something about it.

It is not comfortable to admit that you are safe because someone else is unsafe or that white people benefit from structural oppression in a very real way. Anti-racism work is uncomfortable. This discomfort is insignificant, however, compared to the harm that comes from doing nothing. These conversations among white people are long overdue; and they have never been more urgent. We need to ensure that the attention raised during the recent riots, marches and #BlackLivesMatters movement are not lost with the next sensational news headline. This is lifelong work. A commitment is needed from each of us to keep actively listening, learning, speaking out and examining our actions on a daily basis.

And what I really want people to understand is that this is not a one-and-done thing, this is lifelong work. White supremacy is a system and it’s impacted people of colour for forever. And so it’s not going to be dismantled or overcome by people saying it as just a one-time thing or just a simple set of actions that they do, rather it’s seeing themselves in the practice of anti-racism every day.

~ Layla F. Saad

A Day for Reflection

Flag design by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Curtis Wilson

I am white settler woman of Irish, Scottish and French ancestry. I immigrated to Canada from the United States when I was seven years old. I love this country and I am so grateful to live here. Today is our national holiday, Canada Day. And although I am deeply proud to be Canadian, and I believe in celebrating many of the things that we stand for (e.g. universal health care), I am ashamed of the colonial underpinnings of our society. Canada’s history is full of racism, violence, cultural genocide, and oppression against Indigenous peoples. This it not a thing of the past. It continues to this day.

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its findings along with 94 Calls to Action regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. The Commission was officially established on June 1, 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian residential school system on Indigenous students and their families. It provided residential school survivors an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country.

The stated purpose of the TRC was to reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of abuse in the church-run residential schools and to guide a process of truth and healing, leading toward reconciliation within Indigenous families, and between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous communities, churches, governments, and Canadians. 

In the report, survivors note how Canada’s broader colonial history, not just the legacy of the residential schools, has affected, and still affects Indigenous communities — including the establishment of the Indian Act, the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care and adults in Canadian prisons, inferior education and health care, lack of access to clean water and infrastructure in Indigenous communities, and the growing number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

On this Canada Day, I am reflecting upon this sobering reality, committing to continue educating myself and my daughter, and resolving to do whatever I can to support meaningful reconciliation. As a citizen of this country, it is my responsibility to demand that we foster an equitable and just society for everyone: one that we can all call home.

Here are some resources that I have found to be very helpful:

150 Acts of Reconciliation for Canada’s 150 by Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph

The Indian Act, after over 140 years, continues to shape, control, and constrain the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many stereotypes that persist. Bob Joseph’s book, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

A nonfiction book for middle readers that examines how we can foster reconciliation in an accessible way. In Speaking Our Truth, we are embarking on a journey of reconciliation. This isn’t a read-and-do-nothing kind of book. It is an active exploration of Canada’s collective history. It’s about how we grow as individuals, families, communities and as a country.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Neither a traditional nor all-encompassing history of First Nations people in North America, The Inconvenient Indian is a personal meditation on what it means to be “Indian.” Thomas King explores the relationship between “Natives” and “non-Natives” since the fifteenth century and examines the way that popular culture has shaped our notion of Indigenous identity, while also reflecting on his own complicated relationship with activism.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

From 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home to attend school in an unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.