The Rev. Debbie
born and raised in
She was settled in
and is now in full-time ministry at
Unity United Church
in Midland, Ontario.
We won’t talk if we don’t think there is
a problem. We need to talk. And believe
me, there is a problem.
Hashtag headlines have included #AltonSterling,
#PhilandoCastile, and #DallasPoliceShooting. These
events took place outside Canada, but Canadians
must talk about racial issues.
Ikeep hearing: “We’re not like the people in the States. We have racism, but it’s not as bad.”
I heard that a lot when I was growing up; I even heard it in my church.
Well-meaning missionaries would
return from their trips and tell us
“how good” minority people had it in
this country compared to how they
lived in Africa or the United States.
I believed that. I never saw the KKK
march past my house. No one in my
family was lynched or shot. My experiences made me unaware. So did my
ignorance. So even as a racialized
child and teen, I didn’t think Canada
had racial problems.
Then I grew up.
Ask yourself this: What sense does
it make for a homeowner to check the
health of her lawn by looking out her
kitchen window at her neighbour’s
lawn? If she is really interested in the
health of her lawn, she will go outside
and look closely to see where the
problems are, and what’s needed.
Let’s take a close look at Canada’s
yard, shall we? Yes, it has green spaces,
vast prairies, and awe-inspiring mountains. But it also has a history problem
that has compromised the health of
the lawn. That problem is colonialism.
In the nineteenth century, colonialism and empire building were called
“The White Man’s Burden.” Rudyard
Kipling addresses this concept in
the poem of the same name. That
burden, according to my grade 10
history teacher, was “civilizing and
Christianizing the little brown brothers.” And by brown, he meant anyone
who was not White. Bringing civility
to non-White people reinforced the
idea that White people were culturally
and morally superior.
Fast forward to 2016.
In April, Attawapiskat First Nation
declared a state of emergency. One
hundred and one people had tried to
take their lives since September 2015;
28 did so in March. Using the language of the Canadian government,
“a state of emergency” was declared.
There was a critical failure of the
infrastructure and a significant health
That failure has existed since First
Nations people were thrown onto reservations. That failure caused children
to be placed into residential schools,
where their cultures were beaten out
of them. That failure victimized those
same children to the point of rape,
and even murder. The generations that
follow survive with unimaginable difficulty. Attawapiskat is the wretched
legacy of a racist system.
Let’s not forget the other sections of
our yard affected by the historic racism.
Xenophobia and paranoia caused our
government to inter Japanese people
during World War Two.
Africville in Halifax, a predominantly
Black community, was neglected to
the point of squalor from the late 19th
to the early 20th century. Its residents
were forced to relocate in the late 1960s.
In 2014, Immigration Watch Canada
circulated a flyer showing “mainstream
Canadians” (White) and “non-main-
stream Canadians” (Sikhs). Called
“The Changing Face of Brampton,”
it pointed out that the number of
“mainstream Canadians” had dropped
to 32. 9 per cent in 2011. The flyer was
not considered hate speech. But mem-
bers of the Sikh community described
it as veiled racism.
Veiled racism is still racism.
Comparing racisms and xenophobias
between countries accomplishes nothing. It distracts Canadians from having
necessary conversations and listening
intently to each other. We won’t talk if
we don’t think there is a problem. And
believe me, there is a problem.
Every racist e-mail I receive tells me
there is a problem in Canada. Every
time a person with “White privilege”
takes my Brown hand and says, “Now
Debbie, things are so much better
here,” I know there is a problem.
As Christians, it is a problem we
need to address—but we need to
address our own problems first. In
Matthew 7: 3–5 Jesus asks, “Why do
you see the speck in your neighbor’s
eye, but do not notice the log in your
own eye…first take the log out of your
own eye, and then you will see clearly
to take the speck out of your neigh-
Conversations are the best way to
remove those logs. Let’s begin those
conversations in our churches.