Why Being Non-Racist Isn’t Enough

A PSA for White People

I realized that this website is dedicated to my cancer journey, however, this issue is too important to me not to speak up. I am so very angry but so very hopeful. As a human who knows what it’s like to feel marginalized by disability, discriminated against, alone, different, in danger and helpless, I hope that you can see the commonalities in the experience of racially marginalized people and just how different we are not. I hope you will join me for this article and the others coming after it, to tackle this issue. I hope you will join this revolution. The time is now.

Ahmaud Aubrey – murdered by two white men while another filmed the whole thing on February 23, 2020 after a video is posted to social media on May 6, 2020 showing what can only be described as a modern day lynching. Prosecutors refused to press charges until worldwide pressure for justice. Occurred outside Brunswick, Georgia.

Beonna Taylor – murdered by police two months ago while sleeping in her bed. Police acquired a no-knock search warrant looking for drugs they never found, sprayed her home with bullets shooting her 8 times. She was a certified EMT in school to be a nurse. No charges have been filed. Louisville, Kentucky.

Christian Cooper – victimized by a white Canadian woman named Amy Cooper (no relation) living in New York. She didn’t like him asking her to leash her dog in an area of Central Park that requires dogs to be leashed. She called the police and told them she was being threatened by an African-American man as she strangled her poor dog, which she eventually leashed. She has been fired from her senior corporate position at Franklin Templeton. She surrendered her dog. New York City’s Commission on Human Rights launched an investigation into the verbal dispute. No charges have been laid and she got her dog back after no one would legally confiscate it.

George Floyd – on the very same day Amy Cooper exercised her white privilege and white supremacy, George Floyd was arrested by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a white officer pressed his knee into George’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, George died. After public outrage, global outrage including public officials all over the world, all four officers were arrested for murder and accomplice to murder.

These are just 4 recent instances of black people in America being victimized and murdered. I debated for too long whether I should include anything related to their interactions with law enforcement because frankly, it doesn’t matter. However, it is worth mentioning that George Floyd is the only one of these 4 people who was being arrested for suspicion of a $20 counterfeit bill. He paid with his life for $20.

Remove yourself from your privileged perspective for a moment – Imagine you are a black parent explaining to your children how to protect themselves out in the world. How do you think that conversation would be different? How can black parents, in the best interest of their children, tell them to run TOWARD the police if the police are as much a threat as what they are running away from? The complexity of such a dilemma is disastrous. It is inconceivable that black youth be expected to respect the law, abide by the law, when the law doesn’t do what they claim to; serve and protect. While I do not condone the violence that has been taking place in America, I have to ask myself, is it understandable? Abso-fucking-lutely. I also have to ask myself, is the violence against peaceful protesters across America understandable? Abso-fucking-lutely not.

I have watched police officers pepper spray a 10 year old child (click here to watch). I have watched police shove people so hard they fly or fall backward and crack their head open on the pavement (click here to watch). I have seen the remnants of Donald Trump clearing a peaceful protest with rubber bullets that left….I can’t even describe it. It was straight out of a horror story. In fact, the violence has been so severe I have felt physically ill, I have felt so uncomfortable and ashamed, I have cried. The emotional pain of watching so great I’ve had to delete my social media apps from my phone. I need a break. As you may have read in one of my recent posts, In Pursuit of Repressed Emotions: The Journey Back to My Authentic Self, the fresh emotional vulnerability has made the impact so great it is affecting my mental health. So, even though I believe it is my responsibility to bare witness to these atrocities (and the hopeful stuff too), the viewing has been incredibly painful. And really, who the hell do I think I am even making such a statement? My pain is irrelevant.

With 400 hundred years of history of black oppression and murder. Who can blame African Americans for being so angry they are willing to burn things down? When their lives are treated as lesser than property, how can anyone expect them to care about that property. And to be clear, if I watched someone, cop or not, murder my child, I would BURN THE WORLD. Somebody would have to stop me as surely as they stopped Breonna from ever graduating nursing school.

I’m going to ask you, white people, to stick with me through this article. We have some catching up to do. It’s going to make you uncomfortable. You might not like it. But it is our responsibility to be in this space, learning and listening and evolving so we can start helping our fellow men and women thrive. I’ll explain my thoughts on why and how.

I met my best friend in 2014. We were introduced through a mutual friend. I remember being in this dive bar for another mutual friends birthday and chatting with the new girl. She had been living in Vancouver and had just moved back home to Ontario. She asked me, ‘So, Michelle, do you like to party?’ I was completely taken back by her question. It wasn’t so much the words she used as it was the tone she said them in. She was so nonchalant. It seemed she was bored. Not really the vigor I would have expected as those particular words were uttered. Little did I know, that would mark the beginning of the most unique friendship I’ve ever had. Oh, did I mention she is East Indian? Ya, she is my first ever East Indian friend.

While I wasn’t really sure what to expect that day in the dive bar, as we spent more time together – and as two single women at the time, was often – it occurred to me that she is a highly intelligent, self-aware, honest (she definitely doesn’t possess a sugar coating cell in her body) and the most non-judgmental human I’ve ever met. After some time of having very thought provoking conversations together, I started realizing things about myself. About a year into dating my (now) husband, we decided to buy a house and move our family in together. To manage our hectic schedules with our children and commuting for work, we move from a large diverse city to a small town known for white supremacy (although most won’t admit it and eerily I can’t find any evidence online).

We got possession of our house on Friday August 16, 2016. We were super excited! The kids were super excited. It is a beautiful, quiet neighborhood with lots of friend potential for the girls. The evening we got the keyss, my husband and I were at Wal-Mart to grab cleaning supplies for our house. There was no time to waste as our move in date was two weeks later and there was a lot of work to do. The kids were not with us. As we walked down an aisle to head to the checkout, three teenage white boys walked into Wal-Mart and walked up the middle aisle where various displays were set up. There was an East Indian man with his two sons looking at something on a display. His sons may have been between 7-10 years old. One of the teenage boys pushed one of the others into the East Indian family. Two of the boys burst out laughing as the one who was shoved into the family shuddered and made sounds of utter disgust.

We were here for less than a full day and we already felt unwelcome.

I explained to my best friend my experiences moving to this new town. When meeting locals for the first time, often times I was alone. No one ever assumed I might be married to a brown man when we spoke. So they spoke freely. They spoke with such fierce determination in the name of protecting Canadian tradition, which they do an amazing job of preserving. No one outright said, ‘we don’t want coloreds ’round here’ (not sure why I have a heavy southern accent when I say that in my head), they just said things like, ‘We take Canadian tradition seriously here’, ‘Hell yes, we celebrate Halloween and say Merry Christmas! Let’s see ‘them’ try to stop us’, ‘Our veterans better be respected’…and honestly, don’t even get me started on the Don Cherry poppy thing. Barf! People in our little hockey town were pretty mad about that whole situation.

What I heard those people say was, ‘These are things we value and we are afraid to lose them’, and this caused such a strong feeling of conflict for me; I agreed with them. I have felt the same; been infuriated about this in the past. Some Canadian traditions have slowly been taken away from some communities. But these interactions also made me feel that my family, who celebrates Canadian traditions and non-Canadian traditions, wasn’t welcome. It made me feel that some of those people, who quickly learned my family isn’t all white, believed that we are a threat to their sameness. While I agreed and want to preserve Canadian tradition, I felt the need to protect and defend my family.

I began to realize that I was part of the problem. A racist? No. But benefiting from being white? Yes, definitely. Becoming consciously aware of that? Yes. Had I ever spoken up about it? No. Never.

My point is, many of those people in my community who so brazenly shared their intent for sameness seem far more concerned about maintaining our culture than hating anybody. Surely, some do, clearly presented in my Wal-Mart story; but not all. In fact, we’ve made some wonderful friends in our new community and the majority of our interactions locals have been positive. Not all, but most. Those people were afraid and angry that their family traditions, celebrations, right to express good tide during their beloved holidays, their belonging, will be taken away from them. And I don’t blame them. Unfortunately, often times, their fear and anger are pointed in the absolute WRONG direction. It is NOT immigrants who insist Canadian culture change. Most of them moved here to get away from unjust environments. Most are just happy to be in a civil, peaceful society that they believe will afford them greater opportunity. Some even adopt our culture as part of their own. Do all? No. But we are not an assimilated society expected to be the same. Quite the opposite. Are there extremists? Definitely. As extreme as a cross being burned on Interstate 85 in Alabama last week (Cross burning was a commonly used method of rallying KKK members and terrorizing members of the black community). Click here to read more about this incident.

As I mentioned, this is not about those who don’t celebrate our traditions. Hell, while all those well intentioned white people do or say whatever they need to to preserve their culture, they do not even realize that they compounding a systematic issue that had existed before people even started putting up a Christmas tree. This is about the Canadian government who has made preserving Canadian culture and integrating other cultures into our society arch rivals. This is NOT a matter of racism. This IS a matter of politics. Business even. The bottom line is, strangling those who celebrate traditional events is not the answer to integration and the government has FAILED everyone in this. Those who celebrate Canadian traditions SHOULD be able to say Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Eid Mubarak. We SHOULD sit with each other and break bread and be able to celebrate all of these traditions together. THAT is what Canada is about. If there is ANYTHING that Covid19 has taught us is we are one people. We get sick and die the same. We are capable of banding together and lifting each other up. Yet, even in this unprecedented time, marginalized people have experienced horrendous disparities. In fact, African Americans are almost twice as likely to die from Covid19. Click here for more information.

It has occurred to me that there is a difference between those who are afraid and angry and may or may not be educated on racism and those who have hateful thoughts and may even act on those hateful thoughts (Amy Cooper). Some are ignorant and often times only considering their own experience. Others outright don’t want social integration, consider themselves superior, ridicule and ostracize those who welcome integration. Thanks to the uprising that is currently taking place, I actually have language to explain this a little simpler. That is, the difference between racists, non-racist and anti-racists.

I maintained almost my entire life that I was not racist, therefore racism wasn’t my problem. However, what I eventually came to realize – thanks to all of those conversations with my BFF, is that while I may not have been racist, I was actually contributing to the problem. I’ve always been a non-racist but I only started learning how to be anti-racist over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, the non-racist is far more insidious than the racist. We can SEE the racist. Like we can see some who are sick and presenting symptoms of Covid19. We see them and THINK, ‘I need to stay away from that person’. But when it comes to the non-racist, those who believe they aren’t racist but haven’t done enough work to even understand what racism truly is, doesn’t bother diversifying their world, doesn’t bother saying hi in an elevator as white people so often do with each other, or even worse – grab your purse when a black man gets on the elevator with you. Or maybe when someone mistreats a marginalized person you won’t speak up in their defence; I even saw a white woman post ‘just because I’m silent doesn’t mean I’m part of the problem’. THIS is the real danger. These behaviors are so ingrained in the non-racist people they aren’t even consciously aware they do this. Do you think that sounds unlikely? Click here to check out Patrice C. Washington’s recent posts, one of which includes her racism experience on an elevator. It’s jaw dropping. Do yourself a favor and check out the chart below BEFORE you listen to her story.

To help with this understanding, here is a chart of what racism ACTUALLY looks like:

And please, don’t give me any of this ‘Canada is different’ bullshit. Just last week Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario said, ‘Thank God we’re different than the US, and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years’, (click here to see for yourself), only to walk that statement back a day later, followed up, ‘Of course there is systemic racism in Ontario’, (click here to see for yourself) after receiving swift and furious backlash. Also last week, Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, stumbled over his response to a question about racism for two minutes and twelve seconds. It was pitiful. Head over to my Facebook page for that beauty. Click here. The continued denial of racism, as is mentioned on the above chart under the ‘socially acceptable’ section, does nothing but perpetuate this problem. Let us not forget the incident during the last Canadian Federal Election with the white man who told Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP party that he should, ‘cut off your turban and you…look like a Canadian’. Canada was founded on the blood of indigenous people. Those people still fight for the recognition, respect and equal opportunity as the people who took this land from them. I can’t even get into the number of mysterious indigenous deaths that occur in Canada. As a white woman (my indigenous and African-American roots irrelevant because of the color of my skin), it is MY responsibility to stand up, speak out and protect, not only my own family but every human, especially the ones who are getting picked on. So, how can YOU be part of this revolution?

I am a firm believer that to tackle a problem, we truly need to understand it. To recap one of the messages that have come out of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is NOT black (or brown, or indigenous) peoples job to hold us accountable to change. THEY are the victim here. When a woman is raped, we charge her perpetrator and hopefully throw him in jail. But what we don’t do is call her up after the fact and be like, ‘Miss, do you think you could pop up to the jail today and explain to Mr. Seething Garbage why he shouldn’t rape women?’ No. We don’t.


Read books. There are tons of books written to help white people understand how learned behaviors, ingrained since childhood ensure that racial disparities stay in place and what we can do to fix that. Click here for a list you can start with.

Follow black people on social media, including black rights activists and organizations trying to help bridge the gaps for black people. You can start with these ones if you need help:

My husband and I watched a TV series on HBO last year called ‘Watchmen’. The premise is masked people with superpowers who save the world. It starts with a horrific scene of an entire town inhabited by black people with all black owned businesses in Tulsa, Oklahoma that gets invaded. The town gets bombed and hundreds of black people are injured and killed. The entire town decimated. I had NO idea that it was based on a real event in American history. The 99 year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre (known in American history as a riot) was last week. Seventy-five years later an investigation showed than up to 300 people were killed and there was $1.5M in damages (keeping in mind this was 99 years ago)…and that the government had conspired with the white mob that attacked the town. It only became part of their school curriculum in 2010.

Watch black movies. You can start with:

  • When They See Us
  • BlacKKKlansman
  • Click here for a list of 10 more films recommended by experts

Do some self-reflection. Take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if your decision to be non-racist instead of anti-racist is founded in your belief that acknowledging the pain of others will in some way be detrimental to you. Or maybe you feel like speaking up makes you ‘not nice’. The fact is, you speaking up for marginalized people is a hell of a lot nicer than a black man getting lynched for jogging in a neighborhood he doesn’t live in. Perspective. You stand to lose nothing, unless you are one of those brave white people throwing themselves in front of black people being brutalized by police and white vigilantes in the protests.

Be prepared for the repercussions. Expect that this transition is going to be painful because it will be the few who have the courage to lead this change. When I decided to start speaking up against racism, I started losing friends, experiencing gaslighting and was even boo’d out of a pub by a group of white people for speaking up against their racist comments towards the Superbowl performers! Pointing out the hateful, unjust behavior of others will either force them to think about what they are doing or will let them know we see them. Ask yourself who you want to be surrounded by.

Acknowledge your privilege. If you would like examples of how you experience white privilege, when you wake up tomorrow morning, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you don’t have to be afraid to leave your house. When you go to the grocery store and you hand someone a bill, you don’t have to prove that it’s not counterfeit. When you walk into a corporate office building, people won’t assume you are lost…or worse, the janitorial staff. Also, your visible minority counterparts will only make 87.4 cents to every dollar you make (reference).

Here’s the thing, simplifying this issue to the basest of it’s core, this is about being a decent human being. As Covid19 has shown us all, all we have is each other. So do us all a favor and pull your head out of the sand. There is no time like the present.

Until next time, be well. We’ve got this!

Published by Michelle Burleigh

Michelle is a highly driven, ambitious woman who gratefully possesses a love of learning and a passion for personal growth which support her ongoing healing and career growth. As a mother of two incredible young girls, a wife, and a patient advocate, and most recently, an author, she has not allowed her December 2017 diagnosis of Acute Leukemia stop her from making and achieving goals. She felt compelled to start SoYouveGotCancer.ca to help people and their loved ones feel more empowered and informed throughout their own healing journey.

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