Racism is not an easy thing to talk about with white people, or so I’ve found. When I was bullied all through grade 7, shoved up against lockers and called “Paki,” my caucasian friends just kept walking, as if they’d seen nothing. I was too ashamed to bring it up myself, so we just acted like it hadn’t happened – even though it happened every single day.
Many years later, at a friend’s 40th birthday party, I sat with 3 of my closest high-school friends. It occured to me that after all these years it might be a good thing for me to share honestly with them about my experiences back in school; the struggles my family went through and why we never talked about them outside of our home.
It did not go well. I was told to stop focussing on the negative. I was told by one friend, whose father was a RCMP officer, that her experiences were the same (they, too, had eggs thrown at their house). There was no desire to hear what I had to say, so I shut down once again. I had been silenced.
Fast forward about 4 more years. Sitting in a learning circle at the Centre for Christian Studies. How did I end up there? By following that still voice within, despite my misgivings about the racist history of the church itself. I was the only non-white person in the circle of about 20 people – just like my school days. I was cautious, at first.
But here at CCS, it was different. Here we were not avoiding those uncomfortable subjects. The staff encouraged us all to go beyond our comfort zones in not only listening to but really hearing each other. And for a few days, we even joined with a circle of First Nations people, to learn from and with them.
I think it was the third day with this group that it hit me. I looked around this circle of people and saw how desperately those of European descent were trying to understand and support their First Nations brothers and sisters. There’s not a lot that can be done about the past, but the willingness to listen now, to not let their guilt stop them from hearing these painful stories, was healing.
To be heard is healing. I cried that day because I saw the beauty of all of these people. I no longer saw different skin tones or cultures. I saw one group of loving, strong souls, seeking healing together, through God. And I felt safe.
Perhaps for the first time in my life in a setting outside of my own Indian culture, I felt like I could talk about my own struggles, growing up as the only Indian girl in my school. There were many ways in which the wise, gentle staff at CCS helped to create a culture of safety, understanding and humility. To have white-skinned people listen patiently to my stories of racism was something I have not found anywhere else to date. I hope that one day the rest of our society will become as safe a place to open up about racism and its horrible, sometimes tragic, inter-generational effects.
But for now, I’m just thankful for the time I got to spend at CCS, and glad that I listened to the wise voice that guided me there.
Sita Dookeran attended CCS in 2011-2012, completing the Leadership Development Module and Pastoral Care Year. She works as a Spirit Life Coach and leads retreats for personal transformation and healing through meditation. Check out her facebook page at facebook.com/changeyourlifenow50/
Sita lives in Clearwater, BC.