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COLUMN: When your 'Aha' moment becomes another person's 'Ouch'

"If you really need to talk to somebody about your anti-racism journey, reach out to your white friends. Because the fact of the matter is, everyday people of colour have conversations about race thrust upon us, with or without our consent. It would be nice if those around us didn’t add to that load."
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Columnist Jesse Lipscombe.

A lot has happened since the Racial Reckoning of 2020, aka the months after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The number of articles and discussions surrounding the pervasive and systemic nature of racism has increased. The demographic of people looking to create meaningful change in their lives has expanded.

But, as is common in a period of such relatively rapid awakening, there have also been some unexpected realisations for people of colour that are both worrisome and disheartening.

For the vast majority of “new members” on this journey, there have been some hard conversations – with themselves and those closest to them. In these conversations, many have had their very own “aha” moments and are eager to share them with their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) friends and colleagues. It is promising to see so many white people beginning to understand how their previous interactions and racist behaviours have negatively impacted the people of colour they say they love and care about. It is also hopeful to see how many of those people want to reach out and have in-depth conversations about these revelations.

But here’s the thing: When you decide that you want to celebrate your newfound righteousness, you are also triggering a lot of pain in that BIPOC friend you are confiding in.

Because, you know what? We’re having an “aha” moment of our own.

When you say that you’re finally getting it, I’m wondering what took you so long. And it hurts.

While you’re vowing to do better, I’m connecting the dots – wondering why you didn’t do better before. How you must have thought of me and people who look like me. Did it really take another Black death at the hands of police to make you see that racism is real? And if so, why did you insist on ignoring it for so long?

You might feel relieved and unburdened while you share all the ways you went left when you should have gone right. Meanwhile, I’m reliving the times that I’ve been in your house, shared meals with you and the feeling I’m getting is like a punch to the gut. It’s disheartening to know that we’re only getting on the same page now.

This is not to discourage the journey – it’s never too late to make positive change. But be mindful and compassionate about who you’re sharing it with, when you’re sharing it, and how it might make them feel. After George Floyd’s murder, a lot of Black people got messages from members of their community. To hear from a loved one is one thing – to hear from that guy who hasn’t seen you since Grade 6 and wants to unburden himself ... is very much another.

If you really need to talk to somebody about your anti-racism journey, reach out to your white friends. Because the fact of the matter is, everyday people of colour have conversations about race thrust upon us, with or without our consent. It would be nice if those around us didn’t add to that load.

Happy Black History Month.