[Written June 6, 2020]
Sitting down to meditate, I inhale deeply three times, sensing my body for tension. “In,” I tell myself … “Out.” Usually my hips or knees are tense, but nowadays my entire body is. It’s hard to say given the current state of affairs, but there isn’t much I feel like doing, or capable of doing. My morning meditation is maybe the only moment of peace I’ll have the entire day. 20 minutes of serenity before a whirlwind of news, social media, and whatever horrors the world throws at me today. Of course, I bear the least of the world’s problems, today.
It’s common knowledge that the world crumbles as I write, as you read, and there isn’t any explanation for people to turn to for comfort anymore. Our explanation—the white, straight, patriarchal, Judeo-Christian one—no longer fits into the jigsaw puzzle of culture. Good! It’s about time.
Nonetheless, for the privileged like myself, it can be an uncomfortable realization, for good reason. Cultural minorities face such discomfort their entire lives, in silence, in horror, and in darkness. Perhaps it’s time the darkness reveals itself to me.
Systemic issues probably exist in every system. They are problems that exist in relation to a system but are not part of the system itself.
Here is a systemic issue sometimes referred to as the Project of Whiteness: Whether you think it does or not, the socioeconomic systems in place in North America benefit White people more than People of Colour. White people have more opportunity, face less discrimination, and achieve higher standards of living. This does not mean that White people are not poor, do not face discrimination, or necessarily live among the 1%. White people come in all flavours, and everyone faces problems, big and small, regardless of the colour of their skin. But People of Colour face more problems than White people could ever imagine.
Recently, my stepdad complained that he was discriminated against in his early years living in Saskatchewan looking for a job. Unless you were a Native American or a woman, he said, there were no positions available for you. Nonetheless, despite this period of “discrimination” we now live in a six-figure home, own five cars, and swim in our very own swimming pool. I don’t necessarily think the same can be said for the Native American or the single mom who “took his spot.” That is a systemic issue—and it cannot be solved by simply giving women and PoCs jobs instead of White people. Nowadays opportunity matters most. White people occupy positions of power. Whites elect other Whites into positions of power. White = Might = Right.
The most important aspect of the Project of Whiteness is that it is nobody’s fault. I am no sociologist, anthropologist, historian, or expert in any field, but I think it’s fair to say Whiteness dominated Western culture through a series of seemingly innocuous though often culturally detrimental ideas. Or, better, these ideas were advertised politically as innocuous and “right” (cf. Residential schools in Canada), while being used to dismantle previously empowered systems.
Culture is a strong force. With enough people behind it, there’s no stopping a cultural wheel rolling down a hill. No amount of policing, policy, or politics can stop a burning building from crashing down. Only the people can put out the fire.
The story we tell ourselves as white people is wrong. Great-grandma and -grandpa could’ve been wonderful people with a fascinating history, but most of us are tied to racism and oppression whether we like it or not. White history sought and destroyed every other history, religion, and culture in order to present itself as the only option. Being white, we are tied to the worst historical events excluding natural disasters. There are some good stories here and there, sure, but was it worth it?
What I find most disturbing about the Project of Whiteness is our own inability to see it. It is a lens we cannot see the world without. But the Project of Whiteness is more than just a pair of glasses. It’s a pistol with a flashlight attached to it, except the flashlight is so bright we can’t see in front of us, but, instead of calmly retreating and being still, we fire blindly into the Grand Whiteness, killing all and any who come near.
Systemic racism is a white problem. It is evil created by the walls, ceilings, and contracts of the system we created for everyone while it indirectly benefits us more than everyone else. This needs to change. We need to change.
Meditation has been my only solace in 2020. It is a panacea for all of my problems. But some people can’t meditate. How are you supposed to meditate if you can’t breathe? It’s literally the first thing you learn to focus on. Breathe. In. Out. The breath is a tool connecting you to the eternal present. Without it, what’s left? I’m privileged enough not to have to know the answer to that question, but I stand with any and all who’ve had to answer it.