Anti-racism rally in Port Colborne

For those of you who wanted to but were not able to attend, here’s what I said at today’s rally in Port Colborne:

I was 18 years old when I met James, the man who would become the father of my children.

When he asked me if his being Chinese was going to be a problem for me, I couldn’t fathom what he meant. Why in the world would it be a problem for me?

Two months into dating James, we were walking up Clifton Hill, and I started to learn what he meant. I won’t repeat what was said to me that night, and I will also never forget it.

Over the next ten years before I had my son, we encountered racism regularly enough that James told me I had to learn to shake it off; that he was used to it and it was just people being ignorant. I’ll never forget how sick I felt when he told me he was used to it.

Then, I had my children – a boy and a girl – and what I had already experienced took a turn I couldn’t have anticipated.

“Where are they from?”

“You’re such a caring babysitter.”

“What region did you get them from?”

“Oh, mixed kids are so beautiful!”

“It’s so generous of you to have adopted two little Asian kids.”

“I’m not even going to bother trying to say HER name.”

“Oh, they’re half Asian, THAT’S why they’re so polite.”

And, of course, sadly, the horrifying, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

There’s more. There’s so much more. And there are racial slurs that I will not repeat.

My heart breaks every time someone questions my relationship to my children.

My heart broke when my son was just six days old and I overheard James say to him, “It’s good that you don’t look more like me, maybe you won’t have to go through what I went through.”

My heart has broken so many times and in so many ways over the last 20+ years.

And my heart broke again when I learned of what happened to and in the Benners’ home.

Ruby and Jayden, before I continue, I want to tell you that I stand with you.

I was standing with you before I even knew of you.

You see, it bothers me so much that we need to have this rally. It upsets me so much that there are people in this community – or anywhere – who will do what they did to the Benner home because they don’t like who someone is dating.

I am uncomfortable speaking here today, because none of us should have to be here at all and also because I am acutely aware of the problems with a white woman getting up and talking about racism.

Racism has touched my life. It has affected me deeply, viscerally, but I will never; I can never understand what it is like to be the subject of racism.

For nearly 12 years, people – always white people – have interrupted my children and me going about our daily business – in grocery stores, in coffee shops, in dentist offices – because they see a white woman with Asian-looking children and they are compelled to find out how such a thing happened.

Some of the comments might seem like they are kind, but they come about at all because of systemic racism. No one is going into grocery stores and interrogating monoracial families about their relationships to each other.

I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t almost cry the first time a complete stranger – in a Shoppers Drug Mart – told me how much my children look like me.

These are the kinds of impacts that everyday casual racism has on individuals and families.

My heart aches for what happened to the Benner home, and has ached for so long about what I and my children have endured and what racism does to individuals, families, and communities.

But, today, my spirits are buoyed by the support the Benner and Hannigan families have received from their families, friends, the school, and the wider community.

Thank you for standing with Ruby and Jayden and their families.

Moving forward, in an effort to quash the kind of rhetoric that leads to these kinds of events, I suppose I would just ask everyone to be more thoughtful about what they’re saying and who they’re saying it to; to speak up when you hear someone saying something racist; don’t just say you’re not racist, be anti-racist.

Call out comments as racist. Tell people you will not tolerate discussions that are racist. Walk away from those discussions. Let people know that casual, everyday racism is no more acceptable than hate crimes, because it is the casual, everyday racism that paves the way for hate crimes to happen.

Free speech does not equal consequence-free speech.

Silence about racism, brushing incidents off as anomalies, or making excuses for it paves the way for hate crimes and then rallies like this one.

Standing up against racism every day, in every way that you can is what will make the difference for your friends, classmates, neighbours, and communities.

Ensure that everyone knows that racism is not welcome here; it cannot thrive.

Only by speaking out against it, can we deliver that message.