Birthdays, memories, and reminiscences: what children learn, and what they can teach us

Concerning racism and bigotry

 I grew up in rural Newfoundland, perhaps I’ve mentioned that before? It was a very tiny community where everyone knew one another. It was settled by mainly the English and the French. There were no women when fisherman first settled into the area so many married Mi’kmaw women, the people who are indigenous to the East coast of Canada. There were prejudices while I was growing up, religious bigotry was common as was prejudice of the English to the French and vice versa, as well as toward our Native peoples. My father worked on the American air force base (built in nearby Stephenville during the Second World War) for most of my childhood years. He was what’s been termed a “cradle Catholic” while my mother had been raised Anglican. From the get go there were issues for my parents as both sets of grandparents were not happy with their union.  “Yellow belly Protestant” and “Dirty Mic” were a couple of the derogatory terms slung about. I also remember never having seen a person of color until American airmen of African descent were posted to the base. I remember being fascinated with the color of their skin and asking my mother why their skin was so much darker than ours. I remember her explaining how skin color has a lot to do with hereditary genes and how the sun burned some people but others would tan deeper shades of brown. She was very matter of fact about it and explained in ways I could understand. She made nothing of it; it was no big deal. At the Catholic school I attended we were taught that all people – ALL people, were our sisters and brothers. Those lessons were reaffirmed at home. I am grateful for my parents and for my teachers and for their lessons of acceptance and understanding.

Fast forward to when I had grown up, married and had children of my own. Today is actually my daughter’s birthday. She is the eldest of our three children, and as often happens on birthdays, I find myself wandering back through the years. When my children were born, we lived in Brampton, Ontario. At that point in time it was a small town, predominately white. We seldom met people of other nations or people of color. It was a nice day and we had been out doing a bit of shopping for groceries and sundry items. Afterward we went to McDonald’s, my daughter was two years old at the time and our son was six months old. We got our order and were headed to a table when she spied a black couple sitting with their children. They had a new infant and my daughter ran to see the baby. My daughter was a very friendly child and would talk to anybody and everybody! This was not always welcomed. At any rate, she excitedly called back to me, “Mama, mama! Come see the little brown baby!” I hesitantly approached their table apologizing for her intrusion as I came. I remember the parents just being so kind and delighted with my girl. I remember the pride on their faces as we cooed and ah-ed over their little one. They also had a toddler about the same age as our daughter. In our short exchange it was more about what we had in common – our children. Although it is now so many years later, I remember how proud I was of my daughter and relieved at their acceptance of her.

Acceptance is something children readily display, until they are taught racism, bigotry, and prejudice by misguided adults.  Let us look to the children, they can teach us much! And let us not lead them astray!

Resisting labels

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is so very easy to judge, isn’t it? So easy to allow fear, anger, and the blame game to take control. I am so disturbed by the ongoing penchant to blame China for the present pandemic. Memes on social media scold the country for eating “gross, contaminated sh*t” . Let’s take a step back, shall we?

 Let me tell you a little bit about me. I was born and raised in Newfoundland & Labrador – Canada’s most eastern province.  I grew up in a rural area on the island of Newfoundland. Visitors (tourists) to the province were often surprised by local culture, especially cuisine. Many would perhaps say that some foods are “gross”. While many people who visit my native province thoroughly enjoy the hospitality, music, and the sense of humor that is unique to people there, others cannot understand the culture or the way of life. Back in the day there were many jokes that denigrated the people and the province, labeling us as “stupid Newfs”. So, perhaps that has made me more sensitive to prejudices of any kind – including those that disparage the Chinese people, having experienced unfair and untrue labeling myself.

Labels are something I resist mightily. I believe we are all one race – the human race, regardless of what we call ‘home’.  I believe we are all connected and we need to face this pandemic together, after all it is no respecter of borders or false divisions such as the color of our skin or our religious leanings, or whether we practice any particular spirituality at all. As my mother would have said, “try walking a mile in their shoes”. When we refuse to practice empathy or compassion. When we are unkind. When we allow racist statements and ideas to take root, we ALL lose.  That is a more dangerous contagion than that of the virus itself. It leads to hardened hearts. It leads to hate. It leads to divisions and ultimately to fighting and to war.

Let us focus on fighting this pandemic. Let us have faith in the ingenuity and intelligence of human kind, and in its inherent goodness. Let us have faith in a power much greater than our own, a higher power.

 “Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light”. – Helen Keller

Why I believe in human rights

Several years ago, I was studying journalism and as part of the program we students were tasked with creating and writing a blog – of which this is a continuation. I had decided to make the nucleus of my blog human rights. My instructor wanted to know why I chose that as the key reference point for my blog.

Now, I have never traveled outside of Canada. The knowledge I have gleaned about human rights and the abuse of same has totally come from books and newspaper stories and from people I have met. I grew up in rural Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, not a locale well known for human rights activity. However, I was also raised Roman Catholic and the emphasis on brotherly, sisterly love and the ‘golden rule’ was often preached at the school I attended as a child. Added to that was my mother’s faith and belief in the equality of people everywhere – regardless of skin color, religion, or nationality. I took these messages to heart.

When I was eleven years old the family moved to Ontario. I experienced “culture shock”, if you can call it that. I was horribly homesick. I missed my classmates, the sisters who taught me at my old school, and the ocean that cradled our island home and the trees that surrounded it. Added to these challenges was the horrid bullying that made going to school a miserable experience for me. Yet, I am thankful for it because I learned what it feels like to be judged on where you’re from and to be stigmatized and labeled. It made me passionate about speaking out for others who may be experiencing unjust behaviors based on the color of their skin, religious belief, or their nationality.

I also remember watching the television commercials that showed images of starving children and the abject poverty so many were living in, when I was just a child myself. It ripped my heart to pieces to think of children living in squalor and hunger.

I believe passionately in human rights; in the just distribution of wealth; that every person deserves dignity; that we are indeed sisters and brothers of millions of different mothers and fathers, but one human family nonetheless.

I am grateful to live in Fort McMurray, a city populated by peoples from all over the world. I may not have it in my power to change the world. But I hope I do all I can to make my little corner of the world a happier, better place for my neighbours, family, and friends. For “there, but for the grace of God, go I’.