Staying Silent is Not an Option

I once had a comedic friend who regaled us with jokes. His company filled us with laughter until he cracked some jokes at our expense: racial jokes. The joke I remember most often is ‘the Jamaicans have moved in. Everybody lock your doors.’ At first, I laughed. He made jokes about everybody. But the second and the third time weren’t funny. Then I noticed other things he said. “She was black but attractive.”  Or when he made reference to someone being a lazy Jamaican. He would lower his voice to a whisper when he said the word ‘black person’ as if the very word made him uncomfortable.

I often wonder why I never told him how his racial jokes made me feel: annoyed, reminded that society thinks people of colour are inferior, that we’re stereotyped the way the dominant race rarely is. Was it because I wanted to avoid confrontation? To be liked? To show I had a good sense of humour? To avoid stirring up conversations that make us all uncomfortable? Probably all of the above. It’s akin to someone hurting you but you stay quiet so that the behaviour continues. How will the person ever know that they’ve done something wrong? Now that the world has become aware of how pervasive racism is in our institutions and belief systems, it’s time for us to have those uncomfortable conversations. Yes, there will be awkward moments as we start challenging hurtful behaviours and words, but I, more comfortable at home than in any protest, think we need to be activists, acting to make the world a better place for everyone. Like the saying goes, ‘you’re not growing if you’re not uncomfortable.’ It was hard for me to publish this blog. I’m uncomfortable but silence is not an option. Not if we want a a fairer more equitable world for everyone.

3 replies
  1. Kelly Williamson
    Kelly Williamson says:

    This is good to read, Peta-Gaye. For the past few months I have been in the trenches with my colleagues trying to bring awareness and change to our professional association. Before George Floyd’s murder we just talked about music and teaching. When we started talking about racism I was horrified to hear the words that some people were saying. You don’t know what you don’t know… this is the truth. And the reality in our organization is that the people who are in charge of finding solutions don’t have the first understanding of what the problem is. They don’t know that they themselves are placing more bricks into that racist wall every single day, while they aren’t conscious of their own bias. It’s so hard to accept that we are still here in this place after all this time – but it is good to take part in the work since we are here. As you say, there isn’t another option.

    • Peta-Gaye Nash
      Peta-Gaye Nash says:

      Thank you so much for this Kelly. It is very difficult for anyone else to understand unless you’ve been through it. My hope is that by sharing, we can all come to a place of empathy with each other.

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