On January 6th 2021, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in a violent attempt to protest and overturn his loss in the most recent presidential election. Taking all of this in while watching the news or scrolling through social media (especially while we’re likely all still processing 2020) can be incredibly overwhelming.
Within less than a year, we’ve seen BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Colour) protestors subjected to tear gas, rubber bullets, and incarceration for standing up for Black lives while police officers take selfies with right-wing extremists at the Capitol. As we witness what appears to be democracy crumbling to pieces, despicable abuses of power, and systemic racism at play, we may experience a multitude of emotions, from disbelief, to shame, to sadness, to anger, to hopelessness.
As Canadians, it’s tempting to try and separate ourselves from events like this. We want to believe that we’re “better” than that: that someone like Trump could never be elected Prime Minister, that something like the Capitol riot could never happen here. Because of this metaphorical distance we create between ourselves and tragic events like these, it’s easy to feel like helpless bystanders. The reality is, as much as we’d rather point our polite Canadian fingers elsewhere, systemic racism and right-wing extremism are alive and well here too. We must stop taking news like this as evidence that we’re more progressive than our southern neighbours – this isn’t a window into the past, but a warning for the future.
While there are certainly many reasons to feel thankful for being Canadian, the dangers of ignoring the fragility of our own antiquated systems – and how easily they could be co-opted by extremists – cannot be understated. We know how much of an impact experiencing discrimination has on mental health outcomes and, American or not, the BIPOC folks in our communities are hurting. To create healthy communities we need to ensure that our most vulnerable are taken care of, but where do we even start?
One of the main reasons that many Canadians believe we’re more progressive than the United States is because of how widely publicized and sensationalized American politics and current events are. Every major US political event is instantly trending on Twitter and within hours it’s all our favourite influencers and celebrities are posting about. The same cannot be said for Canadian news, but just because our own displays of systemic racism or violent abuses of power often fly under the radar or get overshadowed by flashier stories doesn’t mean that they don’t happen regularly. It’s our responsibility to seek out reliable information about Canadian issues and stay informed about what’s happening here at home. You can start with following and shouting-out social media accounts that raise awareness of Canadian issues:
North99 (@wearenorth99 on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter): an independent political movement that aims to raise awareness of issues like racism and right-wing extremism in Canada and promote more progressive policies.
@wetsuweten_checkpoint on Instagram: raising awareness of Indigenous issues and colonialism in Canada and elsewhere
RAVEN Trust (@raven_trust on Instagram, @RAVENtrust on Twitter): Canada’s only NGO working with Indigenous Nations to defend their rights
Black Lives Matter Vancouver (@blm_van on Instagram) and Black Lives Matter Toronto (@blm_to on Instagram)
Call out prejudice when you witness it – even when it comes from friends and family. It can be awkward and difficult to call out hurtful language and microaggressions or have meaningful conversations about race with people whom we have a personal relationship with. But, remember: complacency is the enemy of progress. Not only is it important for people with harmful ideologies to be exposed to progressive ideas by people that they trust, you also can’t claim to be an ally and then choose to stay silent about these issues when you see them. When you do, you choose the side of the oppressor and prioritize your comfort over others’ rights and freedoms. At the same time, make sure that you’re open to being called out, too. No matter how progressive and informed you think you are, these issues are complex and ever-changing; avoid shutting down opportunities for growth in an attempt to protect your ego – we ALL have unconscious biases and work to do on them.
Put your money (or your actions) where your mouth is:
Staying informed and speaking up are only the beginning steps towards change. To make a real difference, we need to put our beliefs into action.
Donate to Canadian organizations focused on addressing racism and uplifting BIPOC folks. Supporting local organizations rather than larger national or international organizations means that your donation will go farther and that it will make a difference for people in your own area, in turn helping to improve your community’s mental health overall. In addition to individual donations, charities are also often seeking sustainable support – if you can, consider setting up smaller, recurring monthly donations instead of making larger one-time donations. Setting up monthly donations can cost less than a Netflix subscription and shows your commitment to redistribute your wealth to those in need on an ongoing basis, not just when it’s trending. You can also start your own fundraisers through platforms like Facebook/PayPal Giving Fund, become a volunteer, or sign and share online petitions.
Stay politically engaged by researching candidates platforms and make informed votes, not just in federal and provincial elections, but in municipal elections and by-elections too.
Take care of yourself and others along the way:
While staying informed is important, so is taking care of yourself. Processing news like this comes with difficult and uncomfortable emotions, yes, and although this shouldn’t be an excuse to live ignorantly, remember to check in with yourself often and know when it’s time to take a break for some self-care if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Try to keep news consumption to limited windows of time and avoid doomscrolling. Check in on loved ones to see how they’re coping. Be aware of how your team members are processing and try not to overwhelm them with fear-based news. Set boundaries for yourself that allow you to be an active ally but also protect your mental wellness.
Finally, reflect on your own privilege and internalized biases and dedicate some of your personal time to anti-racism research and education. For suggestions for movies, TV shows, videos, articles, books, podcasts, and more, check out this curated roundup of Antiracism Resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein. For more on this topic, check out our previous article on becoming an actively anti-racist ally.