Karla circa 1968

This is not new to me.

I was born into a racist culture and have lived with oppression, bias, racism, inequality, and stereotypes all my life. I have a lifetime of stories to share. Situations, comments and instances, some subtle some not so subtle, that I have pushed down in order to cope and live productively.

This is not new to me.

In moments of injustice to others that make it onto the news cycle, my experiences seep out, enveloping me with the reminder that this is always part of my experience.

This is not new to me.

My kids, and my family and my friends of colour are forced to navigate the ever-present bias that we are not equal. Our outrage is not over the current incident in your consciousness. Our outrage exists because we all have a lifetime of incidents and we keep wondering when you will notice.

This is not new to me.

As a young girl, nearly 40 years ago, my sister and I were holding hands with our white dad  walking down Rue St Denis in Montreal, when a man stepped up to us, spit at my dad’s feet and called him a “sick old bastard.” His assumption was that we were teenaged escorts instead of children of a white man.

This is not new to me.

In grade 11 a boy I was dating invited me to a semi-formal party at his parents’ club. I remember dressing up, and taking the bus to his house at Lawrence and Avenue Rd. As I stood in the front entrance of his house, his parents came down the stairs to meet me, his mom stopped, gasped and told him I couldn’t go with them to their club. I wasn’t welcome simply because of my skin colour.

This is not new to me.

A few years ago, in a small-town drugstore, security followed me around, aisle by aisle as I did my shopping, lurking just far enough away that I could not ask him what he was doing. I regret not going up to him to ask why he was following me. Years of conditioning has taught me not to be disruptive or confrontational.

This is not new to me.

Last year at an upscale store in Yorkdale mall, my son and I went in to buy him a coat and could not get service from any of the salespeople. When we returned with my white husband, they immediately came over to serve him. Seeing this through my son’s eyes is always heartbreaking. We won’t shop there again.

These are the easier stories to share because they are blatant. I know you know they are offensive. I trust they will be acknowledged as racist and  “bad”.

What is much more difficult and insidious are the comments and actions that feel harmless to others. The things people question as racist or think I’m too sensitive about.

The extra long stare when my family walk into a small town McDonald’s.

People asking if they can touch my hair because it looks so soft and puffy.

People insisting how lucky I am because I don’t ever have to get a tan.

People asking me “Do you work here?”

A racist joke told in a group that everyone laughs at even if it feels wrong.

Being “randomly” searched at the airport so many more times than my white husband.

Watching people cross the street when they see my boys coming.

This is not new to me.

I pray that as I write this we are at the beginning of a new collective awareness. I am hopeful that my experiences will somehow help to crack open the silence, apathy, ignorance and lack of knowledge that has been going on for far too long. I believe transformation is possible when we lean in, learn, listen, share and act. Together we have the opportunity to create powerful change. I’m ready for something new, are you?

Much love,

Karla xo

You can read this essay and more in Lighting the North