The news is terrible everywhere.
Sunday night it was a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City. Six people dead, nineteen injured. The shooter was a white guy, a Trump supporter.
Monday night I was supposed to go out for dinner with an old friend from high school, Joanne. She texted me to ask what time I wanted to meet up. I was torn. I love getting together with her, but I really felt the need to go to that evening’s vigil for the victims of the shooting.
After a bit of texting back and forth, Joanne and I agreed that she and her daughter would pick me up and we would all go to the vigil together.
The vigil was… like any other. Some hundreds of us huddled with our toques and mittens, clutching our jars and glasses containing lit candles, rocking on our feet and curling our toes to keep them warm during the sad and inspiring and heartfelt speeches.
At one point, two protestors interrupted the speech with their signs to condemn Canada for having removed and endangered their children, and at first it looked like they were going to be ushered off the steps of the Legislature, but ultimately they were allowed to speak. I felt sorry for them and moved by their family’s plight, and I was grateful to them for interrupting the “wishful thinking” thread running through most the vigil in which speaker after speaker almost unanimously praised Canada as being a safe haven and a place where diversity is welcome and celebrated.
Because that wishful thinking lets us off the hook. If it was that safe here, those parents wouldn’t be mourning the disappearance of their children. That mosque wouldn’t have been shot up by a racist. Our jails wouldn’t be overwhelmingly filled with non-white people, particularly Indigenous people. Companies wouldn’t be bringing up migrant labour from Mexico and housing them twelve to a trailer for the summer. Women wouldn’t be getting raped and then blamed for it. No one would be trying to degay anyone or murder trans people.
But we keep giving those speeches and we keep repeating it to each other. Because we want to believe that’s not us. We’re not homophobic or misogynist or racist or classist or ableist or transphobic or in any way discriminatory. We would never (shoot Muslims) (rape anyone) (disown a queer family member).
It’s not enough. It’s not enough to stand at a vigil with a candle on a winter’s evening, no matter how comforting it is to mourn in community, no matter how important it is to be a body in the street, to stand up and be counted, to be another face in the lake of faces when the TV cameras pan across the crowd. These are important, but they are only a small step. Showing up at a vigil does not challenge anything or change much.
It’s hard to change. Hard to change within ourselves and hard to change our behaviour to intervene when we should. There’s so much work to do to unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught and fed, the lies we breathe in, the stereotypes we drink like water.
And there’s also so much work to do to learn how to interrupt others. It’s not necessarily our job to change people’s minds, but it IS our job to clearly express what language and behaviour we will or will not tolerate. It IS our job to not remain silent. We, especially if we embody multiple sites of privilege, have no “right” to remain comfortable and safe. The idea that this is a “right” is a facet of our privilege. Say something. Say anything.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Captain Awkward’s blog. Since then, I have read every single post, and probably 90% of the comments. The blog and the community that has built up there is very supportive and insightful in terms of articulating boundaries, taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and actions, dealing with annoying or abusive people, and holding others accountable for their own behaviour.
Captain Awkward is not perfect, but she owns it. She corrects her mistakes, apologises when necessary, and is responsive to feedback from her commenters. Most of the regular commenters are the same way. It’s an interesting place and I am sharing this with you in the hopes that hanging out there for a while over time might be as helpful to you as it is to me.
Some of Captain Awkward’s posts are specifically geared to how to deal with racism and Trumpism and sexism and other forms of discrimination. Others are more about dealing with difficult people and situations in other contexts. But there are lots of recurring themes: Use your words. “No” is a complete sentence. Let it be awkward. Build and maintain good boundaries. These are valuable skills and concepts for changing the world, bit by bit.
I’d love to hear what online resources have been helpful to you in learning how to stand up and make change. The more information and strategies we have, the better—as long as we actually put them into practice.