Writer, Broadcaster

Category: Life (Page 1 of 21)

I Burst Into Tears. Let Me Explain.

Tom Pelphrey as Ben

(This post contains spoilers for the third season of Ozark)

The other day, during a walk with my wife, I burst into tears.

During the pandemic we’ve gotten into the excellent habit of going for long walks. We find them therapeutic. On this walk, I was telling Lynda about some family history we’d never really got into before.

“He was my favorite cousin,” I told her, and then I burst into tears.

I actually stood hunched over on a corner racked with sobs for what felt like several minutes before I regained control. The last time I cried anything like that in public was twenty years ago, during the end credits of Life is Beautiful, the movie with Roberto Benigni.

This time also had to do with popular entertainment, but it’s much deeper than that.

Three nights earlier Lynda and I had finished watching the third season of Ozark. The season had begun by introducing a character who quickly became my favourite on the show, the brother of Laura Linney’s character. His name was Ben (played by Tom Pelphrey), and it soon came out that the character had bipolar disorder. This became a major plot point, and in the season finale things did not end well for Ben, so much so that I was devastated. I did not cry then, but I was wounded, and it lingered with me for three days, until Lynda and I took our walk, and it all came out.

Apart from the incident with Life is Beautiful, I’m not normally in the habit of crying during or after movies or TV shows. I’m usually immune to entertainment’s emotional manipulations. But this one hit close to the bone. It was more than Ben’s fate that did me in. It was reality. My reality since about the age of twelve.

No, I’m not bipolar. I’ll try to explain, the way I did to my wife during our walk.

When I was about twelve my parents gave me a gift. It was a book. They told me it used to belong to my Uncle Bill.

I wasn’t aware I had an Uncle Bill, and said so.

I don’t know how much my parents told me that day, but over time I learned that Uncle Bill had been institutionalized for schizophrenia back in the fifties. He spent most if not all of his life institutionalized. It’s my understanding that he experienced electroshock therapy during his time in the institution, back before they perfected that. I never met Uncle Bill.

When my parents gave me Uncle Bill’s book something was said. I don’t remember what, exactly. But it was something like Uncle Bill was creative and so are you so it seems appropriate that you should have this book. It was a perfectly innocent remark and it was meant as a compliment. But it had the inadvertent effect of creating, in my young, impressionable mind, a link between Uncle Bill and me.

Around this time, at the age of twelve, my best friend Kevin Brown moved away. A slew of friends I’d been friends with since Grade One drifted away. I found myself isolated. Some jerk at school began bullying me. I got moved out of my bedroom upstairs into the basement while my father built a new bedroom for me. One night, alone in the basement, just before I drifted off to sleep, I experienced the unmistakable, unfathomable presence of evil in the form of absolute despair.

That’s what it felt like, anyway—a fleeting glimpse of horror, of utter hopelessness. It lasted only a few seconds, but it shook me to my core. I had not known it was possible to feel such abject terror.

It was a long time ago so I don’t remember the exact chronology. But around then I decided I no longer wanted to go to school. Every morning, within minutes of waking up, a pit formed in my stomach. I lost the ability to eat breakfast. I just couldn’t eat. It would be eighteen years before I would be able to eat a full breakfast again in the morning. For a while there I couldn’t talk either, in the mornings. I remember reluctantly walking to school with my sister Susan while she tried in vain to understand why I wouldn’t talk. I wouldn’t have been able to explain even had I been able to open my mouth. I could only nod or shake my head at her questions. Once, or twice, or maybe thrice, I felt so weird during class that my mother had to come to school to take me home. She wasn’t happy about it. She didn’t understand. Neither did I.

I thought I was either crazy or about to go crazy, but I couldn’t tell anybody about it. I had to deal with it myself. I was absolutely certain that what had happened to my uncle Bill would happen to me. I didn’t know it but I was grappling with the inability to prove a negative. There was no way to prove to myself that I wouldn’t go crazy. Because I could have! Logically, if Uncle Bill had gone crazy, if people could go crazy, then it could happen to me. Only time would tell. This fear, together with the increasing isolation of my social circle, did me in, for a while.

It lasted until the summer. Sometime after school let out, my parents got us a puppy, Sarge, and took Sarge, my three sisters and me on a three week long trip around the Maritimes. We camped in Prince Edward Island, drove the Cabot Trail, visited my old friend Kevin Brown in Sydney, Nova Scotia, visited relatives in Norton, New Brunswick, and visited more relatives in northern New Brunswick. The trip was sufficiently eventful and fun that I forgot all my fears and returned to normal. I especially enjoyed visiting my cousins in Johnville, New Brunswick, including my cousin James, who was the same age as me.

James was a lot of fun. He and his brothers taught my sisters and me how to play many card games, and one night we camped outside their old farmhouse on the old Mahoney homestead. That night James told me the funniest joke I’d ever heard up til that point in my life. “What’s big and hairy and sticks out of your pyjamas?” he asked me. 

I laughed and laughed, and I hadn’t even heard the punchline yet.

“What?” I asked.

“Your head,” he said.

I just about died at the age of twelve laughing.

James was my favourite cousin, I decided.

By the time I started Grade Eight, I had recovered from my anxiety, and no longer thought I was going crazy, and replaced all that with an almost but not quite crippling case of self-consciousness, especially around anybody I thought was better than me, and girls. I thought just about everybody was better than me, especially girls, so I was pretty much self-conscious around everybody. Still, I’d replaced the old set of friends with a new set and with thoughts of my poor uncle out of my mind I was more or less happy for the rest of my teens.

I don’t remember seeing much of cousin James until later on in my teens when we visited my Aunt and Uncle’s cottage on Skiff Lake in New Brunswick. James and I found time to do a bit of canoeing around the lake together, and I quickly discovered that he wasn’t quite the same James as I remembered. He told me tales of a trip to Toronto that did not sound quite right to me, adventures so fantastic and prurient that I did not think they could be true, and that whether true or not I found disturbing. I found I couldn’t relate to him, and alas he became no longer my favourite cousin.

On January 17th, 1985. I was attending Ryerson Polytechnical Insitute (it wasn’t a university yet) in Toronto. I was a long way from home, in a completely new environment, with a whole new set of friends, but I was having a good time. By this time I was keeping a journal. On that date I wrote:

“I am susceptible to two different kinds of depression. One I’ve felt all my life; I call it the ‘Black Irish Mood.’  …the other depression borders on clinical depression.  I’ve felt it three times that I can remember. I get it when I’m extremely tired or physically run down. I felt it for a large part of grade 7, for the last few weeks of summer, and I feel it occasionally now. It scares me. It is characterized by feeling totally out of control of my life. I feel at the mercy of unknown forces.”

I would come to think of that first year in Toronto as one of the best years of my life. Still, that journal entry hints at some dark clouds assembling on the horizon.

All remained well until I returned home to the island for the summer.

On May 5th 1985, I wrote:

“Since getting home I haven’t been feeling like myself.” 

This was a bit of an understatement. On June 17th I elaborated:

“This last week has been one of the strangest weeks of my life, at least psychologically speaking.  All Wednesday night I felt real uncomfortable, and it wasn’t the first night I’ve felt like that. It was like a feeling of anxiety or nervousness.  I had to go plant strawberries at Burn’s Poultry Farm on Thurs, so maybe I was a bit apprehensive.  Why I don’t know; I couldn’t control the feeling. …for some reason I was gripped by anxiety, a pit in my stomach. I thought I was becoming depressed, but there was no reason for it.  Weird ideas and thoughts came unbidden into my head (e.g., suicide, not something I would ever consider seriously).  It crossed my mind that maybe I was on the road to a nervous breakdown or insanity.  I tried to reason with myself, but the pit in my stomach wouldn’t leave. I think it is gone now…I never want to experience it again.”

I would experience it again many times. It was a bad summer. And a bad fall. It was everything I’d felt when I was twelve years old multiplied by one hundred. I became distant from my friends. I became concerned for my state of mind. I was afraid I was going crazy. I WAS crazy, kind of. I thought about how I was feeling constantly. I could hardly concentrate on my summer job. I told no one but my journal:    

July 23 1985

“I still suffer the occasional feelings of anxiety or depression or whatever the hell it is.”

On September 4th, on my way back to Toronto for my second year at Ryerson, I experienced my first panic attack:

“Well, when I hit the plane I wish I knew what hit me. I had a really scary attack of the nerves, at times really bad, that lasted until about 2 hours after I landed.  No reason, no warning, nothing.  Scared the hell out of me. Feeling of total emptiness, of despair, and I knew that if it kept up, a total breakdown, & maybe suicide, was inevitable.”

From that point onward I lived in fear of more panic attacks. I was right to be afraid, because they kept coming. I would have them at night. I would get up and run around my apartment trying to make a panic attack go away, or keep it at bay. I would drink a glass of water, not because I thought the water helped, but because the act of getting the water and drinking it distracted me. I would have panic attacks in the morning after waking up, and run around the apartment like a madman, out to the balcony for fresh air. I would have them during the day, alone, with friends, in class, the entire time convinced that I was going crazy, that it was only a matter of time until I suffered a complete nervous breakdown, whatever that was.

I kept the way I was feeling entirely to myself. I pretended I was okay. There’s a picture of me with my friends and roommates on Thanksgiving after baking a turkey. We’re all standing around the turkey smiling at the camera. My smile is too big, unnatural, entirely fake. What was going on outside was entirely at odds with what was going on inside.

One day one of our professors at Ryerson paired each of us students up for an exercise.  I was paired with a young woman whose name I wish I could remember now. She was nice, I liked her. We were told to interview one another. Ask one another a bunch of questions, get to know one another, and afterwards, share our impressions with the rest of the class. I was a mess, but I got through it okay.

“What were your impressions of Joe?” the professor asked.

“Calm,” she said. “Confident. In control.”

Anything but, I was shocked that I came across that way. But the turmoil I felt was completely inside. I did not let anything out, except rarely. I told two friends how I felt, but they were too young, had no experience in such matters, and could not help me. One of them teased me about it later, while I was still in anxiety’s horrible grip. I mention it, but I don’t hold it against him.

I went to see Ryerson’s doctor, explained my symptoms. I remember him as being older than I am now, writing this, though he might not have been. We might as well have been on two different planets. He attributed my symptoms to stress, which sounded too much like, “it’s all in your head” to be of any help to me. He couldn’t—or didn’t—help me.

I remember long, long walks at night, around enormous city blocks in the cold, to chill the fear out of me. It kept the panic attacks at bay but did not otherwise help much.

Still, a part of me resisted this invisible, relentless foe. Though I could see no end to my suffering, tiny nuggets of hope occasionally appeared to sustain me. A grandmother wrote to an advice column that she had suffered depression all her life, only to have it mysteriously lift in her old age, and now she could enjoy her grandchildren. If it could happen to her, it could happen to me. Maybe I would be fine in my old age. It was something to cling to.

One night when I decided I needed professional help. I visited Princess Margaret’s Emergency department. The emergency physician asked me several questions. The only one I remember is whether I was gay. I guess he figured maybe I was struggling with that. That wasn’t it. I asked if I could see a psychiatrist. He said the waiting lists were long, but he’d put me on one. I never did hear from anybody.

I went home for Christmas that year, barely holding it together. Fake smiles, fake Christmas cheer. I felt better when I drank, so on occasion I drank a lot. One night at the local hot spot in town—it may have been the Regent—it was Zombies. You know, to turn me into a zombie. I drank one after another. They had no absolutely effect on me until suddenly they did. My mother was waiting up for me. Even less impressed than when she’d had to retrieve me from school back when I was twelve. The next morning we had our family picture taken. Shortly before the shoot I was in the bathroom puking my guts out.

“We have to get our picture taken in fifteen minutes and listen to this!” Mom complained to my father outside the bathroom. I barfed, on cue, sick, depressed, but amused.

That family picture hung on the living room wall for years. Punishment, I guess.

Waiting in the Charlottetown airport to return to Toronto, I found a patch of sunlight by a window, sat in it, and reflected on my state of mind. I decided then and there that I had to beat this thing, whatever it was. There was nobody to help me, only me. I had decided this before but it never quite took. This time resulted in a subtle shift in attitude. A positive bias that hadn’t existed before. Back in Toronto things got better. Not all at once, the panic attacks didn’t quite go away—I continued to have them off and on for years—but I dealt with them better. My fear of going crazy gradually vanished. I wasn’t going to become like my uncle. I wasn’t going to become schizophrenic. I became myself again—happy.

Meanwhile, my cousin James, my erstwhile favourite cousin—the same age as me—was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He attended university in Ottawa. I don’t know the whole story, but one day after he stopped taking his medication they found his car abandoned in a field. The driver’s door was shut and his wallet, money and identification had been discarded on the passenger seat. The passenger door was ajar. None of us has ever seen James again. They never found James’ body, and they never found James.

Thirty-four years later I watched Season Three of Ozark and rooted for my favourite character Ben, who suffered from Bipolar Disorder—not the same disorder, I know, but it resonated, like all great art.

It had all ended okay for me because I’m lucky.

It did not end well for Ben, but that doesn’t really matter because he doesn’t even exist, other than in our imaginations.

But there are those who have existed, and my cousin James is one of them, and it didn’t end well for him.

Three days after I hurt for bewildered, betrayed Ben as he stepped out of that restaurant in that final episode, I stood on the street with my wife, and said, “He was my favourite cousin.”

And it brought forth such a well of long suppressed feeling that I cried for James, and for my Uncle Bill, and for my younger, hurting self, I think.

And then I had to explain it all to my wife, as I’ve just done for you.

Crash!

Thank God for airbags

It was just supposed to be a short trip to pick up some Thai take-out.

I headed south on Brock toward the FreshCo in my 2019 Hyundai Elantra. The one that I’d purchased for its safety features and drive-ability, mindful that my two daughters would be learning to drive in it.

The light turned red at Dundas. A Durham Transit bus pulled up beside me on my right. On my left, a guy crossing the street waved at me. I waved back, until I realized he was waving at the bus driver to wait for him. I smiled at my foolishness. The light turned red. The intersection was clear. I pulled out in front of the bus.

Safely through the intersection, I headed down Brock for another block. Bowman & Gibson Insurance Brokers sits on the northeast corner of Colborne and Brock. It’s a single story brick building that obscures much of what might be westbound on Colborne. It shouldn’t matter; there’s a stop sign there. You should be able to proceed north or south on Brock without worrying about anyone on the side streets.

I don’t know what I was thinking about in those few seconds between Dundas and Colborne. Whatever it was, BAAMM!!! it was violently knocked outta my head (and possibly into the next province) when a thunderous crash and an enormous impact assaulted my reality and rattled my brain. In that same instant I found myself in a sea of white, my vision completely obscured as (I realized later) multiple air bags deployed around me.

“HOLY F***!!!” I shouted.

It seemed an apt response.

Not a good day for my Hyundai Elantra (blue car in foreground)

My past didn’t flash before me. My future did. Was I about to die? Was I badly injured, crippled maybe?

I felt no pain. I knew that pain might come, once the shock of whatever had just happened wore off.

My vision in front of me and to the left was almost completely obscured by the white air bags. I don’t remember bringing the car to a halt but I found myself stopped, the car still in gear. After a few seconds I had the presence of mind to take the car out of gear, but I didn’t think to turn it off.

I didn’t appear to be physically injured but I was pretty emotionally shaken up. I thought about getting out of the car. There was an air bag in my way. It was enough to deter me from getting out. I thought, I’ll just sit here a bit and collect myself. I wanted to get to the point where I could talk without my voice sounding all shaky. I knew it would be a while.

A guy showed up in the driver’s side window. “Hey buddy, how you doing?”

I thought he might be part of the emergency response team, even though it had only been about a minute since the crash. It was his manner, pretty calm and collected. Turned out his name was Brett and he worked at the Brock Street Brewing Company just down the street a bit further. I will be going there for a drink someday where I hope to buy Brett a drink.

“Blew through the stop sign,” Brett said.

I started to panic. “I blew through the stop sign?”

“No, no, the other guy!” Brett clarified. “He blew through the stop sign right into you. Now he’s buying some smokes in the corner store.”

I was relieved that I wasn’t at fault. There was definitely something amiss with the other guy, though… blasts through a stop sign onto a major road in downtown Whitby, crashes into another vehicle, and then before doing anything else goes into a convenience store to buy a pack of smokes.

“I’m gonna go make sure he doesn’t get away,” Brett said, after making sure that I was more or less okay.

I did seem to be okay physically. I tried to think how I could get the Thai food I’d ordered, then realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. I still wasn’t quite up to getting out of the car. I remembered a friend telling me about a similar accident and how he’d made the mistake of deciding he was okay, and telling the paramedics he was okay, only to have them all leave him alone while he gradually went into shock. I thought I would just sit tight and then get myself checked out.

Brett came back, said they’d got the guy. He suggested I turn off the car’s engine. Sheepishly, I turned it off. I told Brett I’d better call my wife and let her know that I wouldn’t be coming back with the Thai food.

“I’m okay,” I told her when she picked up. “But I’ve been in an accident. It’s pretty bad but like I said I’m okay.” I was sounding pretty shaky but there was nothing I could do about that. “Can you call Thai Delicious and tell them I won’t be coming?”

She told me she would and that she loved me. I told her I loved her too.

We resolved to give Thai Delicious plenty of business later to make up for it.

Brett gave me a note from a witness with a name and number. “She wanted you to have this in case you need a witness,” he said. I tucked it in my wallet.

A paramedic by the name of Tristan (I think) showed up and checked me out. Turned out I had a nasty cut on my right leg and some scrapes on my right arm. There was what looked like a bad carpet burn on my left elbow. Looking at the pictures of the airbags that were deployed, it’s obvious that all my injuries are a direct result of the airbag deployment. The airbag beneath the dashboard cut my right shin . The one from the steering wheel cut my right forearm. The one from the driver’s side door burned the skin off my left elbow. Presumably they all prevented more serious injury.

Later I would find other scrapes and the distinct impression of a seat belt running up my side. The paramedics took me to Oshawa hospital where I was also checked out and given a relatively clean bill of health and released back into the wild, though I was warned that some whiplash could develop over time.

I was kinda surprised that the hospital did nothing for my cuts and scrapes. When I asked about them, the doctor’s assistant just said, “Clean them and they’ll heal up nicely.”

The following day I had an opportunity to speak to the investigating officer when he kindly came to my home to return my driver’s license and insurance papers. He explained to me that no police are required for minor fender benders, but police are required when there are injuries involved. In this case the injuries turned out to be pretty minor (I don’t think the other guy was hurt at all), but at the time of the accident it looked to witnesses like the injuries would be far more serious.

All the witnesses the officer questioned thought I’d been killed, such was the violence of the collision. I had been struck on the driver’s side, toward the front of the car but the impact had included part of the car door. It had probably looked pretty darned dramatic. (Sure wish I could get my hands on some security footage, if any exists!) Our Hyundai Elantra’s safety features performed as advertised and I sure am happy about that.

Although the other guy claimed he’d been waved onto Brock by another driver, all three witnesses said he blew through the stop sign and right into my car. The police officer told me that if he hadn’t hit me he could well have struck and killed pedestrians crossing the street. It turned out the fellow was driving with a suspended license and had taken the family car without permission. He’s facing three charges, including careless driving. The other two charges are personal in nature and the officer wouldn’t tell me what they were (I didn’t pry).

Despite what happened to me and my car, it appears there were other factors at play that make me feel some sympathy for the guy, and his family… I think he has a rough road ahead of him.

Whereas I’m back on the road, a little worse for wear, but still intact, mobile, and enormously grateful to be alive.

As seen the following day

Neil Munro and Barry Morgan

I stumbled across the following recently which had appeared on an early version of this blog (July 14th, 2009, to be precise), before the blog self-destructed shortly afterward (one of a handful of blog implosions over the years). I like to recapture this sort of thing for the modern incarnation of Assorted Nonsense so that it doesn't get lost to time and also because it keeps alive the memory of some important, interesting people in my life. 

Neil Munro

aka “Inspector Nickles” (Photo by David Cooper, Shaw Festival.)

Neil Munro has passed away at 62 years of age.

I was fortunate enough to work with Neil off and on over the course of two or three years. Although they don’t mention it in the notice at CBC.ca, one of Neil’s many accomplishments was starring as Inspector Quentin Nickles in The Investigations of Quentin Nickles , for CBC Radio’s Mystery Project.

Working on these plays I had the opportunity to observe Neil’s craft up close.

You had to be a skilled actor working on these shows. Producer/Director Barry Morgan was a one take wonder. Rarely did we ever make it up to take two. So the actors had to get it right the first time, and they almost always did. If we had to do a second take it was usually because one of us technical types had screwed something up, or one of the sound effects engineers was caught on tape snoring during a brief siesta (that actually happened once).

Neil also wrote/adapted several radio plays; I remember recording and mixing two or three wild and crazy examples of his work. The names escape me now, but I recall them as full of mirth and inventiveness.

I remember Neil Munro as not only a consummate professional but as a genuinely warm and friendly man. He deserved better than to have died at 62, it seems to me. As Truman Capote said, life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.

In Neil’s case, I’m afraid someone eliminated the third act altogether.

So long, Inspector Nickles.

My friend and colleague Barry Morgan, whom I referenced in the post, responded with a comment which I thought was gently chiding in nature. I realized that I may have irked him slightly with my remark about doing everything in one take. I hope not, because Barry was a great guy and I hate the thought that I might have annoyed him.

Anyway, here's what he wrote in response:

Barry Morgan

Writer, Producer, Director, All Round Nice Guy

 Joe, a really nice appreciation of Neil.

Perhaps I can clarify the “one take” reference.

It was because Neil brought his incredible energy and focus to the rehearsal session before we ever got to the studio floor. The work was already done. And beyond that his electricity energized his fellow cast members to the point that the performance bar was raised far above the level of `excellent`.

We have enjoyed a long history of fine radio actors from the days of John Drainie, Jane Mallet, Frank Perry and a great many others. Neil Munro was certainly among the front rank of those incredible talents.

It was a great privilege to have him around to make all of us look better.

I will always treasure his friendship.

Black Lives Matter

“If you ignore the problem you are part of the problem.”

Yasin Osman, photographer, cartoonist and founder of Shoot for Peace, as quoted in the toronto star

I’m a white guy. They don’t get much more white than me. I grew up white, in a white neighbourhood, in a white town, in a pretty much white province, Prince Edward Island.

I am the embodiment of white privilege.

I’ve been stopped by the cops a few times in my life for speeding, once because I had a taillight burned out. I never thought the police would beat me up or hurt me, let alone kill me. Never crossed my mind. Once a cop in Quebec asked me to get out of the car and walk in a straight line (I’d told him I’d drunk a glass of red wine six hours earlier). I walked the line perfectly fine; he still made my wife drive instead of me . This cop was an idiot. Still, it was a peaceful encounter. I imagine now that had I been black it wouldn’t have been as peaceful.

This is just one example of how I have benefitted from being white. I could list many others. Here’s a fairly trivial one: flesh coloured band-aids. The colour of whose flesh? My flesh.

Here’s another one: growing up, I read positive portrayals of people like me in books, watched shows about them in TV and in movies. This was reflected in my own writing. Reading an early draft of a novel I was writing, I was shocked to learn that I hadn’t included any black characters. Even the final draft is not satisfactory. There is one overtly brown character and another character that I deliberately made ambiguous. My thinking was that she could be interpreted as either black or white or anywhere in between. I should have just made her black.

Here’s another one: if a white person does something stupid, or is lazy, or commits a crime, that fact will not be used against me and others who share our racial identity.

Here’s another one: did you know that lighting black people in movies and TV has long been problematic? Cinematographers would just light for white people. If a white person was in the frame, they’d light for that person and leave the black person in shadow. Not cool.

There are many other examples of white privilege. For other examples I suggest you do your own research. You can start with this essay by Cory Collins. The thing is, it’s a subject that requires some thought to really understand the nuances. I certainly didn’t get it right away. I probably still don’t fully understand the implications. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I will never fully understand, because I’m not black, and I can never truly understand the lived experience of being black, no matter how much I talk to people who have lived it, or how much I read about it. I can only try to deepen my understanding as much as I can.

Here’s an example of me not getting it.

Once I was in a leadership course. The subject of hiring came up. I was a hiring manager at the time. I spoke up: “I will hire the best person for the job,” I declared, “because the corporation needs the best people it can get in these jobs. I don’t care what colour they are. That doesn’t matter to me. I’m colourblind. All that matters is that we get the best person for the job.”

I was ignorant. I didn’t know any better (not that that’s any excuse). There are at least two things wrong with what I said.

First, when I went to hire someone, I would get about one hundred candidates for a single position. I’d whittle those down to about twenty and then someone would pre-interview the rest. I’d wind up personally interviewing about eight. Most of those candidates would wind up being white. Why? That’s a deeper, more complicated question. My guess is that black people weren’t getting into the schools we were looking at because of other systemic racism issues, or weren’t doing well there because of systemic racism, and so on. The fact is the deck was stacked against black candidates as a result of systemic racism. I thought I wasn’t being racist. I didn’t have to be: reality was plenty racist enough without me. So when I went to hire my “best candidate for the job”, often it could only be a white person because a black person didn’t even have a seat at the table. For me not to be racist, and to counter the systemic racism, I needed to make sure that there was equal representation amongst my candidates.

The other problem with what I said during that leadership course was the business of me being colourblind. I used to love to tell people that I didn’t see colour. We’re all the same colour, I would say. I’ve done this up until recently, I’m sorry to say. As I learn more about racism and white privilege and systemic racism, I learn more about not just how I’ve benefitted from being white, but how I’ve been hurtful and damaging as a white person. Saying that I’m colourblind is, first of all. absurd. It’s denying reality. We are all different colours. Insisting that we’re not is refusing to accept the lived experience of the people around us. It’s ignoring the reality of race and when we ignore the reality of race how can we talk about it, and if we can’t talk about race, how can we talk about and defeat racism?

I have to admit that I was afraid to write about this subject. I was afraid of getting it wrong. Of writing the wrong thing, missing some nuance and being called out on it. I was afraid that it would come off as virtue signalling. That’s why I placed that quote at the top by Yasin Osman. It spoke to me, reminding me that I have a voice, and a platform, however small, and that I had an obligation not to ignore the evil of racism, and an obligation to speak up against racism in all its forms. And more than that, an obligation to do so as a white person, even if I don’t fully understand it yet, even if I do get parts of it wrong.

I continue to learn. I don’t want to be racist. I don’t want to perpetuate systemic racism. I don’t want to see black people treated unfairly. I don’t want to benefit at their expense. I don’t want to see black people hurt and I sure as hell don’t want to see them killed.

White privilege is, in part (as Cory Collins writes), “the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity.”

I choose not to exercise that power.

I denounce racism in all its forms.

Black lives matter.

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