Messages

What do I think about racism?

Tim Rahilly, PhD • Posted June 5, 2020

Like many of you, the recent events in the US surrounding the George Floyd murder and the strong community response has been weighing on me. I have no doubt that, among members of the MRU campus community, there is widespread condemnation for the murder and a strong belief that we want to live in a world free from racism.

I know that there are those who would like to debate the meaning of racism or what is or is not racist, but I don’t think this is the time to do that. Instead, I think this is the time to have compassion for the members of the MRU community who identify Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) and those who share their lives with them. How must these members of our community be feeling at the moment as they process this outrage while the pandemic continues? I can only imagine the complex feelings of outrage, the sadness, disgust, and no doubt considerable fatigue. For those of you who have ever felt you are outsiders or have experienced racism, sexism, ableism, heterocentrism, and any other unwanted burden associated with your identity, I know you have high levels of empathy and don’t need my words to legitimize your own feelings.

I was moved by the May 28, 2020 article by Shenequa Golding about how some Black professionals feel at the moment. She states, “And while some of us take to the streets, the rest of us have to hide these shared feelings behind professionalism. I don’t know who decided that being professional was loosely defined as being divorced of total humanity, but whoever did they’ve aided, unintentionally maybe, in a unique form of suffocation.” I believe her when she says that Black employees, and I would suggest many others, are dealing with a lot right now.

 

"I learned long ago to accept people’s accounts of incidents of racism as their lived experience."

Tim Rahilly, PhD

 

But should there be any doubt about what I think about racism, I believe racism exists and that it does manifest itself in Canada, and no doubt in our own campus community. It manifests as individual acts and is embedded in longstanding systems and academic culture. I learned long ago to accept people’s accounts of incidents of racism as their lived experience. I say this as a human being who recognizes that people hold vastly different values, both consciously and subconsciously, and that these values manifest in their behaviour. As a white man, I can’t quantify the number of times people have made derogatory statements about racial minorities, women, LGBTQIA+ and other identities in casual conversation with me. I would like to think that it was only when I was a much younger person, perhaps in jest, or based on my own ignorance, when my words were not well considered and didn’t represent my best self and may easily have been received as racist (or sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc.). I do recognize I am the President of a University in a sector that is known to have its roots in what some might describe as traditions of higher education and others describe as colonialism and racist ideologies. I am on a journey of educating myself on the systemic nature of anti-Black racism.

In her book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo states, "The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out — blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?” For myself, I take this to mean, What if I am culpable in this regard? What if I, a white man, don’t recognize racism in my surroundings? I believe there is value in walking through that door, to use DiAngelo’s terminology, and engage in self-reflection, and talk about it. This blog is my perhaps clumsy attempt to do just that.

 

"Racism is wrong and the impact that it has on individuals and on our society is immense."

Tim Rahilly, PhD

 

So my statement is this: Racism is wrong and the impact that it has on individuals and on our society is immense. As an institution of higher learning, I hope we can collectively work towards a better world. It will not happen overnight, but collectively we can have a huge impact on our campus community, the city, and the world. In the meantime, to our colleagues who are hurting right now, I only wish I had the right words of comfort.

In terms of an MRU statement, I don’t think we can do better than MRU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, that recently posted a “Statement on Racialized Violence in the United States and Canada.” Here’s an excerpt:

 

“We firmly believe that this systematic violence must stop. We unequivocally condemn all forms of racism, as well as all forms of violence. As social scientists, we are closely following the resultant protests now taking place across North America; while we naturally hope peace and kindness will prevail, we also understand the anger that has arisen as a direct result of generations of racist violence, colonialism, segregation, and inequality – and the resistance that it has now engendered.

Through our teaching and research, we prioritize anti-racism, decolonization, and racial justice as cornerstones of our work. We pledge to work harder each day to foster a community of inclusiveness, respect, and solidarity among our faculty, staff, and students. We take pride when our students embark on work that creates a more just world and eliminates oppression, and we need to do the same.”

 

I salute the members of the Department for their statement and note they have made commitments about how they intend to work to address these issues by striking a Racial Justice Working Group and will use their expertise to “inform, speak out, and resist, and that starts now.” I know that many other areas of campus are working on similar statements, from their own area of specialization. I wish to make a similar commitment for all of MRU. I want to engage with concerned students, faculty and staff to determine how to mobilize together.

 

"I believe our campus is stronger and better when we welcome ALL people — students, faculty and staff alike."

Tim Rahilly, PhD

 

"You belong here" is a statement that resonates with me and, I know, many others at MRU. As a university that is student-centered, we embrace the whole person. I believe our campus is stronger and better when we welcome ALL people — students, faculty and staff alike. I want us all to work at having a campus where people never doubt their place and importance and feel they can fully, and safely, participate in our campus community. I want to encourage compassion and empathetic dialogue in hopes of learning from the lived experiences of all people at MRU.

I don’t have all the answers to how we will accomplish this at MRU but I know that dialogue is the first step. I look forward to the conversation, and the action that will follow.

The comments above are my personal views and inform who I am and how I do my job.

Tim