Black Lives Matter

Vanilla’s presence at a BLM gathering

You can read my reasons as a white girl, living in Montreal, Canada, for showing up at a Black Lives Matter protest/gathering here.

It is with some anxiety that I went. I accompanied Beaut, ashamed to admit that I viewed him as my token by which my presence at that gathering would be deemed eligible, as though without him, I would not belong (in case that wasn’t an obvious explanation, Beaut is Black & proud of his Haitian roots). I hate discovering the little ways in which my reasoning twists and reveals hidden biases and false assumptions – it’s a constant exercise in vigilance and humility. I spent too much time feeling awkward – kind of like the first time you go to a funeral parlour to pay your respects, and don’t know how to act, surrounded by the close friends and family of the deceased who are vocally expressing their grief. How should the White Girl stand? What do I say? I am in the way? I felt like a large teenager, uncomfortable with my body occupying any space, clunkily trying to blend in with the air. I eventually managed to put my self-awareness aside and concentrate on the ongoing event.

The event was a series of speakers and poets, covering a variety of topics. Feeling helpless, so far away from the racist trainwreck and slaughters happening in the States, yet so emotionally affected by it. The personal grief. Discussing how systemic racism against Blacks manifests itself in Montreal, Quebec and Canada – a warning not to let ourselves be distracted from local issues by the urgency of the American situation. The bottled up rage. Possible actions, proposed solutions, attitudes required to eventually convince the world that Black Lives Matter. What BLM means (spoiler: it isn’t anti-cop, it isn’t All Lives Matter and it isn’t anti-white. Blows my mind that this is even a required disclaimer.) 2 things really jumped out at me:

The color-blind argument is a subtle example of white privilege

One of the speakers gave a clear explanation for why the “color-blind” argument produces such resentment amongst visible minorities. You know, the phrase,“Oh, I just don’t see color, I’m color-blind when it comes to people, everyone is just the same to me.” This statement, full of good intentions, is actually just another privileged argument that only a white person can say. We are in a position to choose if we feel like acknowledging cultural/physical/other differences, and in being color blind, it is just a less violent way of denying these people the right to be fully themselves, and different from us. It’s a refusal to tolerate difference, packaged in a politically correct statement. The REAL goal is to celebrate differences (they can’t be eliminated anyhow!) and learn to live with them.

What it means to be an ally of the Black community

What we, as white people, can do if we want to end these injustices and help the Black community fight racism. The answer is not to be quiet. We must speak up. But to speak up, first we must listen in humility to their observations and conversations, to their explanations and points of view. Yes, we must tread carefully, but we must never be quiet. In today’s world, the Black community won’t successfully manage to get their voices heard and understood, without non-Black and white people to help bridge the gap. We should not talk FOR them, but we must advocate WITH them. We must NOT be silent.

I agree. But boy, do I find that hard. I’m petrified of accidentally whitesplaining (the condescending action of explaining racism to those subjected to it, as though I could ever know more about it than them). I’m scared I’ll say something wrong, betray an unidentified prejudice within myself, and be perceived as “poor little white girl” trying and failing to do good. I must learn to live with this discomfort by continuing to listen, to ask questions, to care, and to speak up with caution.

Towards the end of the demonstration, the leaders asked if anyone had anything they’d like to say. I REALLY wanted to say,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this is what you have to deal with. That by the tint of my skin, I daily benefit from privileges that are not available to you. I try to not take advantage of them, only taking the ones I’ve earned through my own hard work. But I know that nevertheless, I still have access to freedoms that you don’t. Emotional burdens that I’ll never have to carry. And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that through the actions of people who share my whiteness, including some of my ancestors, this is your reality. I’m sorry, and I’m with you.”

But I stayed quiet. I thought I would be out-of-place: the white girl so in need of attention that she needs to divert attention to herself at an event for Black people. As Jesse Williams said in his speech a few weeks ago, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that.” I stayed put and continued to listen to the speakers.

I shared my thoughts with Beaut afterwards – including how close I’d come to taking the mic and speaking up. He told me that he thought I’d been mistaken to remain quiet. He pointed out to me that what I’d wanted to share was an acknowledgment of the situation, and that their voices, the voices of the entire Black community, were being heard. They might speak, they might gather, they might protest, but without others (mainly whites) to say “yes, yes we hear you, this matters” the process is incomplete. A good ally must not be silent.

So here I am. In writing this, I will not be silent.


P.S. I strongly urge y’all to read this article 6-ways Well-Intentioned People Whitesplain Racism (and Why They Need to Stop). I’ve definitely been guilty of a few of these behaviours in the past. And right now, on social media, and mainstream media, oh boy, does this happen ALL the time.

Holding back from correcting someone when you think they’re wrong, sitting with uncomfortable emotions when you feel like you’re under attack, stepping back when you think you could explain something better – all of this takes some self-control.There’s one strategy that will help you figure it all out: Approach racial justice conversations with humility. – Maisha Z. Johnson



Vanilla the social activist


I’m going to my first protest. Its not fully a protest, more like a social activist gathering, but imma call it a protest because it sounds more badass.

What kind of protest am I going to? Am I worked up about obscure changes to the accounting policies of leases? Am I frustrated at the pervasive lack of training in Excel at universties? Am I fed up at the insane amounts of red tap imposed by the provincial government when it comes to inquiring about tax assessments (I am, actually, and so is everyone who files taxes in Quebec)?

None of those things. I am going to a Black Lives Matters protest hosted by the Mtl chapter. That’s right. I feel like prancing about and randomly telling people,

See? See?! In this province that is always protesting, boycotting, striking, rioting about EVERYTHING, including the most mundane topics EVER, a conservative like me can still be an engaged activist, and attend protests about REAL ISSUES that matter… WITHOUT DRESSING LIKE A HIPSTER. It is possible to not look like a disheveled hippie, and still care about social causes. #ishowerandicare Ha! Breaking down biases ONE by ONE. Accountant in da house!

Except I don’t say that, because I suffer from social anxiety and people would think I am crazy.

I mentioned my intention to attend today’s protest at work, and was met by blank stares by my team (all accountants, all white). Why, they asked.

Because the last I checked, out of my close friends I have more that are visible minorities than are white. Are they all black? No, definitely not. They are a nice little rainbow of colors. But they all have stories. Facing constant ignorance, if not discrimination, is part of their reality.

Because of my gym, the most wonderful melting pot ever, a successful example of multicultural  and socio-demographic diversity. Would that the world could follow my gym’s example.

Because, out of all the guys I have ever dated (excluding 1-time dates -I’m counting the guys I dated for a period of 3 weeks or more), only two were white. The rest have been Arab or Black. Not on purpose, it just happened that way. They all were different, some were lovely, some less so, but they all had one thing in common: an omni-present low-burning anger. A burden that I don’t have to bear.

Because of my ex’s family, and his cousins from Barbados that never got a fair shot at integration in this province, and became part of the statistics of disaffected youth, high school drop-outs, and gang violence.

Because of I spent 6 years of my life being judged and treated poorly due to a physical characteristic. On a small scale, I have experienced what it is like to have my identity completely invalidated and superceeded by people’s preconceptions. As I recovered from my injuries and my crippled state became less obvious, I was subjected to less mistreatment. People cannot shed the color of their skin.

Because my parents were immigrants. They might have been born with the right color skin, but they struggled to integrate into their new homes, struggled to reconcile their parents’ culture and national identities with their new Canadian ones. Because of the stories they told me, of their interesting experiences growing up. Because of my 4 grandparents, each of whom experienced WWII differently, with varying degrees of suffering and horror, but all of whom had permanent psychic scars caused by a war that tried to eliminate targeted minorities.

Because black lives matter. And until that is a self-evident statement I will show up and witness their struggle.


#altonsterling #philandocastile #blacklivesmatter

I wrote about my experience at the BLM gathering here. Glad I went.

I didn’t see you

Between the ages of 9 and 15, I spent more time on crutches, in casts, with canes or in wheelchairs than I did able to walk without any assistance. I won a record for most sick days during high-school when I graduated: in total, over those 5 years I missed the equivalent of an entire school year due to doctors appointments, surgeries, physio. I’ve written about that saga here. During that period I noticed that people’s behaviour towards me would fall into one of these categories:

  1. Gratuitous cruelty/spite – the mean version of cat-calling. More than once (at least 2x a year, every year), I would be walking down the street, and from a car driving by, a person (more often than not a guy, always a stranger) would yell an insult at me “Esti d’éclopée attardée” (which translates roughly to “fucking retarded cripple“).
  2. Obliviousness followed by irritation – I was invisible to some people, until I forced myself upon their consciousness. For example, during those periods when I sufficiently recovered so as to only require a cane and leg brace (visible limp), I commuted daily to school via public transportation (my parents only had 1 car which was reserved for my mother’s use, and her health made it such that the 40 minute drive to/from school was often too painful and hard for her to do.) The times that somebody offered me their seat during those packed rush-hour commutes were rare enough that I would be surprised, and touched. Most days, I was not in much pain and my balance was adequate to remain standing. But some days, I was not in good enough shape to manage the bus ride standing up and I would timidly request a passenger give me their seat. More often than not, the person would roll their eyes, even mutter under their breath. I, by my very existence, had inconvenienced them. Reminder: I was a young girl with a cane and a leg brace.
  3. Neutral invisibility – The number of times I got jostled, bumped into, only to be told with a straight-face, “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t see you”. To this day, I am scared of escalators because of all the times I got bumped/pushed while trying to step onto the moving escalator with poor balance and crutches. There were several scary close calls, where I almost fell down the escalators, with their sharp teeth that result in scars, if not more serious injuries, bc some bozo pushed past me unseeing. Because you know, of course, a slightly overweight girl in a cast and 2 crutches is hard to notice.
  4. Condescending charity – Often, often enough that it stopped stunning me into silence, I would be spoken to like I was mentally deficient or deaf. With a huge encouraging smile and the same slow sing-songy voice that people use when talking to babies, I would get interrogated, “And hooooooooooooooooooow are we dooooooooooooooing today?! SUCH a braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaave little girl, would you loooooooook at that?!” Fuck off bitch, I am not your entertainment. And heaven preserve me from the overly helpful people. The ones who would insist I would sit down and they would fetch and carry anything and everything, physically pushing me back into my seat, making a HUGE fuss, drawing the entire room/store/church/library’s attention to the little show of “helping-the-poor-girl-with-a-broken-leg”. These incidents were the WORST. These strangers would do it with an non stop commentary, barely pausing to breathe, and would touch me without my request or permission “oh you poor honey does it hurt badly what happened, let me get you this, don’t get up, stay seated, I said STAY SEATED, how braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaave you must be. What did you say? You can do it yourself?! No let me do it! No need to be snippy, let me just help you take off your boots/coat/any other movement for you. What?! You can do it yourSELF! Oh my! Would you look at that. Incredible. What a good brave girl you are. You can untie your shoes even with that big old cast of yours? Well, I never. SO impressive.” Etc. etc. etc. Being reduced to a prop in a spectacle where a person got to feel like they did their good deed of the day drove me nuts. Strangers, acquaintances and even family members fell into this category on a daily basis.
  5. No category required, I was just a normal person with abnormal mobility issues – For the longest time, this was the litmus test by which I determined if I liked somebody. If they treated me like a regular person, with the basic manners and respect owed to ANYBODY, without letting my physical disabilities overshadow their relationship to me, I became their loyal fan. Unfortunately, people did not fall into this category frequently.

I spent my entire life observing my mother, and her interactions with people. I was fiercely protective of her. She suffered from several conditions that left her in considerable pain – the kind that is difficult to medicate without risking serious complications. Seeing her jostled and disrespected made me SO mad. Because I knew that not only had she suffered the indignity of the moment, but that it cost her physically. I lost count of the times where she would debate if she could risk going to the grocery store, and risk the crowds, or if it would result in too many such incidents and be too painful. She would calculate if she had enough pain tolerance to drive to a place, do wtv she had to do there (risking being subjected to any of the 5 behaviours I’ve outlined above), and handle the increased pain enough to drive back home safely. That was her life. So I became overly sensitive to these small actions by strangers. I noticed them all, and did my best to physically shield her when I was with her.

She often spoke of how this constant exposure to behaviours 2-4 listed above made it very difficult for her not to give into the belief that she was a 2nd class citizen. She knew that was untrue, but it is one thing to know it, and another to experience constant evidence to the contrary. She might know that the fault lay with the people mistreating her, but when the mistreatment was the expected norm, ooof. That is a heavy burden to bear. It broke my heart, and I felt helpless. I understood all too well the indignity of not being seen as a person, of being reduced to 2-dimensional caricature based on a physical attribute (cripple/invalid in both our cases).

Let it be known that I still have not forgiven all the people that demonstrated the behaviours 1-4 above to either me, or to my mamma. The list is a long one. I judge the individuals fall into category 4 more harshly than the ones in 1-3. At the least, the people who were overtly cruel (behaviour 1) were reacting to me. It is BECAUSE they could see who I was that they were cruel. In a weird twisted way, I can tolerate that more easily: they paid me the respect of seeing the real me, and then demonstrating their bigotry -that was on THEM, not me. But people who do condescending charity?! They don’t see the object of their niceness. They only see themselves, in all their glorious charity. They used me and my momma to feel good about themselves while refusing to see us for who we really were. They invalidated who we were, stripping us of our identities during those interactions. For the longest time, my mother would remind me, “Be patient, dearest. They mean well.” I’d stop my bitching, and keep a resentful silence. What I wanted to tell her is this:

When my friends and I discuss people we dislike, we often end our conversations with, “But he means well.”

We always land here, because we want to affirm ourselves as fair, non-judgmental people who examine a person not only by what he does but also by what he intends to. After all, aren’t all of us standing in the gap between who we are and who we try to be? Isn’t it human to allow those we dislike—even those who harm us—a residence in this space as well?

“You know what? He means well,” we say. We lean on this, and the phrase is so condescending, so cloyingly sweet, so hollow, that I’d almost rather anyone say anything else about me than how awful I am despite how good I intend to be.

– Brit Bennett

I’m grateful to the universe that I was only temporarily exposed to these kind of behaviours, a mere 6 years of my life. However, I’m left with an intolerance for any of those 4 behaviours, in any format, applied to any person. Silver lining.

People, you all need to read this article, by Brit Bennett. Good intentions are not enough. Granting people their dignity is what matters. Not niceness, not charity, not adorable words. Dignity. Behave so that everyone can have their dignity, from cripples to people of different skin tones. It really isn’t that complicated.


When nostalgia is impossible

My father was born in 1950. He and his two older brothers were born in Paris, right after the end of WWII. My grandmother’s family had fled Russia on the eve of the Russian revolution and settled in Nice. They lived in Occupied France. Eventually, she ended up in Paris, where she met my grandfather, who’s family had followed a similar trajectory, except via Finland. Both my grandparents lived through WWII; not specifically caught in the front lines, or in the big hotspots, but close enough for those years to have been extremely unpleasant. Poverty, constant fear, uncertainty, and low-key cruelty and spite were part of their daily existence. 6 years of survival, not 6 years of living.

In 1952, my father’s family emigrated to Canada, with close to nothing other than their luggage, to join my grandmother’s brother, who had established himself in Montreal a few years prior. They stayed long enough to become Canadian citizens, but then my grandfather’s role as an eminent proto-deacon (that’s a super duper deacon for all you non Orthodox peeps out there) brought them to Long Island, NY, to be closer to the seat of the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of America (aka, the head of the North American branch of Russian Orthodoxy). Therefore, my father grew up as an American. He’d moved back to Montreal by the age of 20, to avoid any possibilities of being drafted in the Vietnam War. From that point on, he has made his life as a proud Canadian.

It’s funny sometimes, listening to him. He can sound very patriotically Russian, chest thumping for the Mother Land; he displays deep knowledge about American history and culture, due to having spent his formative years and education in the USA; and of course a deeper conviction that Canada is by far the best place to live in the world due to our liberal policies, peace, and openness to immigrants.

My father and I are both very similar, and extremely different, which means we easily can push each other’s buttons. I honor him, and most days, I respect him, except when talking about politics and current events: as he gets older, he has adopted the bad habit of avoiding the news, because it makes him anxious, and informing himself based on conversations with people at church. In my opinion, he frequently exhibits an absence of critical thought, relying on trashy biased internet articles, the kind that present opinions as statements of fact, with no supporting arguments or evidence. After innumerable arguments about this, he and I have tacitly agreed to never talk about current events. He doesn’t “like” 99% of the articles or videos I share on Fbk, and now that he has himself a fairly prominent role in the church, he refrains from sharing anything on Fbk related to highly emotional topics, to avoid Fbk trolls. I’m ok with this defacto truce.

One of the few posts on Facebook that my father did like was Billy Crystal’s eulogy to Muhammad Ali. If you haven’t watched it, it is worth a view.

It dawned on me that my father had lived in Ali’s time. As Billy Crystal puts it,

It’s great to look at clips and it’s amazing to have them, but to live in his time, watching his fights, experiencing the genius of his talent, was absolutely extraordinary. Every one of his fights was an aura of a Super Bowl. He did things nobody would do. He predicted the round he would knock somebody out in, and then he would do it! He was funny, he was beautiful, the most perfect athlete you ever saw — and those were his own words.

But he was so much more than a fighter as time went on, with Bobby Kennedy gone, Martin Luther King gone, Malcolm X gone, who was there to relate to when Vietnam exploded in our face? There were millions of young men my age eligible for the draft for a war we didn’t believe in, all of us huddled on the conveyor belt that was rapidly feeding the war machine. But it was Ali who stood up for us by standing up for himself.

And after he was stripped of the title, and the right to fight anywhere in the world, he gave speeches at colleges and on television that totally reached me. He seemed as comfortable talking to kings and queens as the lost and unrequited. He never lost his sense of humor even as he lost everything else. He was always himself: willing to give up everything for what he believed in.

My father lived in Ali’s time. My father was one of those people that could relate to Ali, one of those young men that gave up a lot to avoid fighting a war they disagreed with. One of those people that witnessed and followed Ali’s impact on American society.

My father posted these two pictures on Friday, taken on a trip last year to Atlanta, without comment.

It must be bizarre to be my father, right now. My father was 18 when MLK was assassinated. My father lived through those times of extreme change. He saw America shift from terrible to better. And now America has slid undeniably back to terrible. Back to terrible, with no MLK and no Ali to guide people and effect change. Only Trump.

I can’t find the words to describe my feelings about the events of this past week. But I would have even less if, like my father, I had witnessed a period of history where there was a reasonable hope that America truly would be great and had the tools, the motivation, and the ability to overcome the crippling hatred pervasive in the country. Instead, America has repeatedly and consistently chosen hatred, when it had the opportunity and was on the track to choosing peace.

It begs the question: where are all the other Americans, who like my daddy, witnessed MLK and Ali? Are they silent? Too upset to have a voice? Where have they been all these years?

#altonsterling #philandocastile #blacklivesmatter


On race and racism – Vanilla’s perspective

Perhaps because #OscarsSoWhite;

Perhaps because it is Black History Month;

Perhaps because Beyoncé turned black, and Kendrick Lamar owned the Grammys;

Perhaps because of the relentless stream of hatred spewing from our neighbor below’s Republican presidential candidates directed at anyone who isn’t a middle-class WASP;

My social media has been awash in all kind’s of posts related to racism, and specifically racism against blacks, or as Americans call them, African-Americans.

Perhaps because when Jimmy Kimmel shared this skit, I sent it to my friends, and most of my white friends sheepishly admitted they didn’t have any black friends;

Perhaps because one of my friends once told me that it wasn’t her fault she was unaware of racial issues in Montréal since she didn’t hang out with black people, the way I do – she didn’t belong to a boxing gym;

Perhaps because at the accounting firm I worked at for 5 years, which employed close to 2,000 people, I only ever saw 3 black people;

Perhaps because in my graduate accounting program at a university renown for its ethnic diversity, out of a class of 160 students, 4 were black;

Perhaps because in my first year of mechanical engineering at one of Canada’s best universities, in a class of 125 students, 2 were black;

Many of my white friends have told me that racism isn’t an issue here in Canada (*), or at least, “it isn’t as bad as the States”.

Perhaps because my friends assumed my parents would have a problem when my first serious boyfriend was half black;

Perhaps because my ex-boyfriend grew up living in Alberta, where he and his brothers were the only black kids in high-school. One day after school, on his walk home, my ex was ambushed by the “cool” kids in his grade, who held him down, and sucker-punched him in the nose and broke it, because they didn’t like his “punk-ass black attitude”;

Perhaps because my ex’s mother (white, anglo-saxon Canadian) confided in me her doubts about successfully raising mixed children in a white environment;

Perhaps because I remember the day when my ex and his roomie walked into the appartment, and his roomie, a Canadian Persian, was shaking with pent up outrage, while my ex looked blank. Walking in downtown Montréal, my ex’s roomie had been blatantly smoking a joint, while my ex walked beside him with his bike. My ex wore long dreadlocks; his roomie was clean shaven. The cops pulled up beside them, and searched my ex for pot, even after the roomie, outraged by the obvious racial profiling, yelled at them that he had all the pot on him. The cops ignored the roomie, and told my ex not to have so much attitude.

Perhaps because one time a (black) bouncer was rude to me. My ex started to speak up, and the bouncer looked at him with scorn, “what, you think you black? with your white girl, and your nice jeans? Shut the fuck up.”

One friend told me she didn’t understand why black people had to make everything about race. Sometimes, it could just be a case of bad manners, you know?

Perhaps because of 3 of my ex’s cousins moved to Montréal from Jamaica, in their early teens, and were taken in by their white cousin – a lovely man, who’d grown up in Barbados, and understood the culture shock of moving to Canada. Quebec’s education system forced them into a french high-school with remedial french lessons, and held them back academically due to their difficulties learning the language. Bored, they started acting out, fell in with a bad crowd made up of other disenfranchised non-white (mainly black) teenagers, and got into serious trouble. Their guardian pleaded with the principal and guidance counsellors to allow the boys to join the regular academic stream and the school athletic teams, so that the boys would be exposed to a wider variety of youth, with less behavioural problems and more ambition. The school replied that due to their poor french skills and bad attitude, it would be inappropriate to reward the boys with those privileges.

Perhaps because one of the boys got recruited by a gang in Montréal, and eventually got shot and killed. Perhaps because the cops shrugged and never bothered investigating. “What do you expect? He should have known better.”

Perhaps because at the boy’s funeral, I showed up in a charcoal suit. I was outraged when close to 50 young black kids showed up wearing hoodies printed with the boy’s face. How dare they show such lack of respect in their attire? I sat next to one of those kids, who cried so hard his body was shaking. He didn’t own a hankerchief, so he’d brought a facecloth, which he soaked through and through. When I tentatively gave him a hug, and patted his back soothingly, he hung on for dear life. I wondered how many of these kids would make it to 18.

Perhaps because a few month’s later, the eldest boy got arrested and sent to juvie, for shoplifting $10 worth of cheese from the local grocery store. The youngest boy started running away from home. Perhaps because I never found out what happened to them.

My friends tell me White Privilege is “not a thing” here in Québec.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t understand why racism is so easy, and why specifically racism against blacks is such a polarizing issue, even here in Canada. I do however know that to deny the problem because it is subtle; to relativise it into meaninglessness; to blame the victims for being oversensitive is not the solution. To listen, even when the arguments are awkwardly phrased; to acknowledge the hurt and rage coming from the people with the courage to speak up; to keep an open mind as to the causes and the solutions; to be kind – THAT is part of the solution.

I leave you with this article: The Cost



(*) One of my readers pointed out that Blacks make up only 2% of Canada’s population, and the stats I gave about my workplace and schooling are consistent with that %. True. However, in Montréal, Blacks make up 9.1% of the city’s population. In which case… my point that blacks are significantly under-represented in Professional settings/university degrees still stands. (stats taken fron the 2011 Canadian census).