How Do You Get Someone To Unlearn Racism?

Featured Illustration: The 360 Mag

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We have all seen the video or heard about Jacob Blake — the unarmed Black man who was shot at by Kenosha police in broad daylight with his 3 boys present at the scene. Whether you believe he was a potential threat for leaning into his car or deserved the shooting for not cooperating with the police, two of the many ignorant reasons people refuse to take this seriously, you cannot deny that 7 shots to his back was an overstatement to his alleged foreseen threat.

When the news started to broadcast more about this incident, an older adult relative of mine made a remark: “What did this Black guy do now, the police would only shoot him if he did something wrong.” I sat back in shock. How could someone I know and love say something like that? How do I respond without being disrespectful or further exacerbate their internalized racism? What do I even do?

Shortly after that incident, I reflected not only on the statement made but my response to it. I cowardly replied, “You can’t say something like that, it’s wrong.” While I was so vocal about anti-racism and colorism on social media and was quick to recognize my own prejudices, I didn’t have the words to respond to someone my senior.

Then I placed myself in their shoes. Living in Canada, a multicultural and democratic nation for over 2 decades, my relative was strategically presented with how certain minorities behaved in society. My understanding of minorities differed from them because of my diverse exposure to people of all colors in school and on social media.

White Canadians are at the forefront of political and corporate leadership. Asians and Arabs, like ourselves, are hardworking and dedicated to building a better Canada. We make up healthcare workers, engineers, or service workers, and are labeled to this day as “model minorities” for our success.

Indigenous Canadians are rarely recognized, appearing to live distant lives on their reserves, and usually, the only time Black Canadians are seen is on the news, coupled with a mugshot. I know this is harsh, but for many immigrants, this is how Canada is presented to them.

This is the issue that manifests due to a lack of representation. The way a minority is presented in the media or their prominence in leadership positions becomes synopsis with every member of that group — trust me, as a Muslim, I know this all too well. Black doctors, First Nations educators, and female CEOs do exist, but the lack of exposure to these individuals limits their value and recognition in society.

So here I was, ashamed of how I responded to this remark and also confused about how this could be avoided again — maybe I could provide a rundown of the reason the incident happened or why people are so angry about it. But, how do you change the way people view an entire group when for decades, they were only taught things one way?

How do you get someone to unlearn racism?