Home > Government, Prejudice, Quebec politics, Racism, stereotyping > What I Learned From My Elders About Dealing With Prejudice, Discrimination And Racism

What I Learned From My Elders About Dealing With Prejudice, Discrimination And Racism

What are you teaching your children about prejudice, discrimination and racism?

What are you teaching your children about prejudice, discrimination and racism?

 I am a 59-year-old black man and I have lived in Quebec for all of my 59 years although my work has taken me all across Canada from coast to coast to coast. The only reason I mention those few facts is so the reader can understand what I base my opinions on when I say that I have found it interesting to look at the way discrimination and prejudices were perceived and dealt  with by my family from one generation to another in my house, in my community and by me.  I think that it would be safe to say the everyone feels that at least once in their lives, that they have been unfairly treated as a result of discrimination, or reversed discrimination, whether it be  cultural, linguistic, religious, or ethnic, everyone claims  that one of these things have had a negative impact in their life.  I find it  interesting that we as people are only really able to see the suffering caused by prejudice and discrimination when it affects us in a personal way. I believe the because none of  us was capable of seeing  discrimination towards others as a real problem that needed to be dealt with as a priority is the main reason we could not get together as a community to eradicate prejudice and discrimination from our lives. One of the key reasons for our blindness in my opinion, was the government kept most Canadians ignorant of the facts in our history that would have opened our eyes.

In my time and in the generations before mine the negative effects of racism, discrimination and prejudice perpetrated against others quite frankly were not known to the majority of Canadians, because government after government in Canada conspired to keep Canada’s real history as far as prejudice, discrimination and racism was concerned from the average citizen of Canada. Not learning Canada’s true history in these issues in school has kept Canadians in the dark and ignorant of important facts needed to establish feelings of empathy, sympathy and the need to change the plight of those suffering the abusive behavior. Growing up with grandparents and parents not knowing  about the discrimination and prejudices that others faced it was not a topic for home discussion either and so the two most important teaching and learning vehicles responsible for turning out well-adjusted, balanced human beings failed generation after generation, by either teaching lies, or half-truths as was the practice in schools, or nothing at all at home, because of insufficient knowledge.

For Example:

  • I was never aware as a child that there was a problem between the French and the English in Quebec, or that the majority of the Quebec population was French and felt that they were being discriminated against. I therefore found nothing wrong that when I was looking for a job in Quebec as a teenager, that it was more important that I was able to speak English and although speaking French was considered asset it was not a necessity. I was also not aware, or did I care that as a result of these simple hiring rules for the most part that the majority of the population was forced to receive all of its services in a language other than its first language and that if they were to succeed in Quebec although they were a majority of the population they would be forced to speak English. It was not taught in English schools, not spoke of in English schools and so was not perceived by anyone in my world as anything wrong.  I mean the very real prejudice and discrimination that the French people of Quebec were going through every day culturally and linguistically were never discussed, in school, or at home and so the only sense of prejudice and discrimination that my family recognized was  the ones we were forced to endure personally as  black people  living in a white world.
  • I was not taught about the plight of this country’s aboriginal people in school, or at home, other than they lived on reservations and that after years of doing battle the European settlers won out and Canada was created. Indians and Eskimos as the indigenous people of this country were referred to back then were considered drunks and inferior, a people who needed to be taught to adopt the European settlers, culture, religion and languages for their own good and be forced to do so by any means necessary. We were never taught that what ever necessary was forced relocations of whole communities of Inuit, forced separation of  First Nation’s children from their parents where those children were sent to “Residential Schools”, in most cases vast distances from members of their families, paid for by the government and used as a method to strip those children of their language religion and culture, or as they called it assimilate them as soon as possible into the Canadian culture. We were also never taught of the torture, rape and degradation that these children had to endure and so we only saw the homeless, drunk Indians on the streets of our communities and deemed what we were told about them to be true.
  • Nor were we taught about what happened to the Chinese people who worked and died building the railway that connected Canada by land from east to west. Neither at home, or in school did we learn of the discrimination and prejudices that these people had to endure during and especially after our government of Canada no longer needed them and so I grew up only learning about the discriminatory practices utilised by white people to keep black people from gaining independence found in equality that would empower them and have them seeking political power. So I like most folks referred to and acknowledged discrimination and prejudice as solely a black and white thing only.

Enough of what I wasn’t taught and let’s move on to what was taught to me and passed down to me by my parents and grandparents.

  •   I was taught to be suspicious of white people and that white people thought that I was inferior in all ways to them.  That thought was reinforced in me by both blacks and whites, stranger and loved ones; both sides constantly reminding me that this was how it was and would probably never change. In school and at home; at play and even at work I as a black person was never allowed to forget my heritage of inferiority.
  • I was taught that in my  parents and grandparents time, racism and prejudice against black people was talked about as simply the way things were and that there was no point in speaking out, which my grandparents thought of as causing trouble for nothing, because speaking out only caused trouble and didn’t change anything for the good.
  • I was taught that keeping silent, working hard and getting your kids educated was how they thought the fight against racial prejudice and discrimination needed to be fought. In other words what was important in their time was providing for your family the best you could and giving your children the opportunity to do better than you did through whatever means was available to them within the system.
  • I was taught that being considered less of a human being was not important and in some ways did not really bother my grandparents; they just kept on cleaning other peoples houses, washing and ironing other peoples clothes, lifting other peoples bags off and on trains and shining other peoples shoes with a big smile and a sincere yes sir or mam.

I remember my mother telling me the story of how the smartest girl in her school happened to be young black girl, who was in line to win scholarships over the white children in the school was dealt with by her teacher and the principal of that school.  The story goes like this:

Much effort by the girls teacher was put into convincing the girl to switch into a secretarial stream of education, that would assure a smart black girl like her a job in a secretarial pool and leave the scholarships to the students who could better make good use of them. The teacher went on to say that to take the scholarships would be selfish of the girl, who they would do not good for in the end anyway.  When all attempts to make the girl choose secretarial school, failed, the teacher grew very angry and called the black girl a Nigger.  A fight ensued between the teacher and the young black girl and the teacher brought the student before the principle of the school.  The principal ask, “What is what is the meaning of this behavior, why are you here accused of causing a disturbance in your class, young lady?” “She called me a Nigger” the little girl replied. “Being called a Nigger  is no reason to argue and fight with your teacher; a nigger is just who and what you are,” the principal replied. Unable to restrain herself any longer and forgetting the lessons of her parents the insulted black girl jumped up in a rage and scratched the principal’s face. For her actions the smartest girl in the whole school was not suspended, but expelled from school, her chance at reaching her full potential forever wiped out, but far worse the idea that she was inferior to white children  and that there was nothing to be done about it was reinforced.  Black grandparents taught their children that they were lucky to be able to get paid for the work that they did and for the opportunity to go to school with white folks children. That little black girl’s parents taught her to accept that it was her lot in life  to have these things done to her right now and that her reward would come in the after life, when she was freed from this world and was reunited with Jesus. That little black girl was taught that to resist and fight back as she had done would only bring her pain and suffering and gain her nothing and that she needed to stay in her place.

That was the method of dealing with racism and prejudice in  my grandparents time and for the most part in my mother’s time as well. My mother and most of the parents in my neighborhood, both black and white taught and passed on the lessons they learned from their parents, but with a twist.  Black women went about smiling, scrubbing floors, taking in  laundry and ironing and doing menial labour in the same manner as their parents, even though now they possessed degrees from secretarial schools. Where racism is concerned degrees do not matter, because no company would hire them.  What was different is that black parents began to open up associations and community centers where their children could be tutored teaching their kids that education and hard work were what  paid off in the end.  Black dentists, barbers, hair dressers, night club owners, lawyers and other professionals started catering to the black community that the whites business owners really did not want to serve and quietly started to reinvest in their communities hoping to improve the lot of black people by creating institutions of their own, like the UNIA of Montreal, The Negro Community Center, The Colored Women’s Association, just to name a few dedicated to changing how other people and government viewed their race.

This I have learned was the method of dealing with prejudice and discrimination used by our First Nations people, Jews, Orientals and Asians, because we were all thought to be complaining for nothing, because government after government deliberately hid the true facts of our history from it population, by intentionally keeping it out of the school curriculum and claiming a moral high ground for Canada as a country that it di not deserve. I did grow up and learn for myself how to deal with prejudice, discrimination and racism and my children and grandchildren now know a lot more than I did about such things going on around them in this regard. In my next post we will see how far my family has come and how far I feel we still have to go in the fight to secure equal rights for everyone in all ways.

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