I was taught as a child to be “blind” to racial and ethnic differences, by a family that had fled Sweden to escape poverty and discrimination because they were Laplander in a land dominated by Scandinavian Swedes, Danes and other late arrivals to the northernmost coasts of Europe and Russia.
This “blindness” included denial by my “Swedish” family of their Lap roots to the point that I only found out by taking a DNA test through Ancestry.com that I was descended from a persecuted minority. My grandfather worked his entire life in education in first nations communities in Northern Canadian communities striving to improve the lot of Inuit and First Nations peoples in their own lands and territories.
I thought that being colour blind was a good thing, and felt no sense of difference when in the presence of people of colour. To me people were people and I judged them on the basis of their actions towards others, their level of personal accountability, and their willingness to be friendly towards me and my family.
It never really occurred to me that “colour blindness” was a symptom of belonging to the dominant race, at least visibly. By not “seeing” race it allowed me to ignore systemic discrimination against blacks, asians, aboriginals, and other people people in Canadian society who don’t get an automatic pass because of their race or color or religion.
But I have learned that it is important to see difference in people, in order to identify when they are being treated as less than full citizens or even as less than human.
Our jails are full of people who look or act differently than the dominant community – first nations, other racial minorities, religious minorities, etc. Educational opportunities to help level the playing field are seldom as equal as they seem, with economic and social barriers in place that pit all of us against everyone.
The current Reconciliation Commission and Investigation into the disappearance and murder of aboriginal women and children needs to be followed by a similar commission into the treatment of minority women and children, and their rapes and murders in Canada during the same periods of history.
Canada is NOT the United States with its history of slavery and discrimination against blacks. We have our own history, and a self satisfied attitude of superiority to American historical has allowed our nation for all too long to escape genuine self examination and rectification of serious and persistent ill treatment and denial of human rights to all too many of our fellow Canadians.
I have learned to see difference, and it shames me to see what this blindness in my country has allowed to exist, and continues to exist.