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What MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes Can Teach John Ibbitson

What MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes Can Teach John Ibbitson

John Ibbitson, a Canadian columnist, joins a growing club of white men who seem perplexed that they cannot relate to some of the experiences being debated and discussed in the mainstream. The blowback he received for his comments on Twitter not being toxic may be entertaining for those of us who have experienced its hatred but we need to work with men like John, not against them, if we are to progress.

It is back to school time, and this is a teachable moment, John, because we need you and your friends to understand this so you can join the ongoing work required to make Canada great for everyone.It is simple. Your life as a white male is so overly represented in society it is hard to imagine anything else. Of course it is.

This is not a criticism.

If you have not lived it, how can you understand it? I get it. I train men to be allies for women and underrepresented communities in the workplace. These men attend these workshops so they can successfully manage inclusive, diverse teams. And I want you to be part of the solution in your sector.

Here is the thing John; there is a new golden rule - If you haven’t experienced it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If you don’t follow this golden rule, things will turn ugly because it hurts. It hurts people like me who write opinion pieces on gender issues and have been on the receiving end of the ugliest comments imaginable. It hurts the mother whose son is harassed online for being indigenous or the transgender woman who wants to share her thoughts and opinions to help others but receives death threats for her hard work.

So what to do? Explore, engage and talk to Canadians who don’t look like you, who navigate in different circles. Watch, read and explore books, radio and television that is produced and written by under-represented groups. Work towards understanding rather than refuting their realities.

I think a sit-down with someone like Celina Caesar-Chavannes is in order. Her toxic experience online has forced her to reconsider some of the important work she does as a parliamentary secretary. Why? She brought attention to institutional racism in Canada, but I suspect the trolls online were offended a black women had a voice and an opinion that was different to theirs. John, you are not alone.

Most of the men I train are afraid of saying the wrong thing or even talking about these issues. And understandably so, right? Look at the blow back you just experienced. Those who attend learn how important they are to this conversation. Our unconscious bias is the great equalizer and something we all share.

However, those men who are willing to learn become champions for change and will accelerate our progress towards a truly inclusive society.

So John, thank the critics online. This can be a positive moment. Shake it off and take the time to understand the reaction. I can’t wait to see if you are willing to dive deeper into the issue and understand why. Begin by asking a female colleague that you respect in your field if their gender affected their career. You may be surprised what you learn.

Then take that white woman along with you and ask another colleague if their race, background or religion ever impacted their career.

Here is what I learned when I did this exercise:

A black woman I met in broadcast news was required by contract to straighten her hair or she would lose her job. I have a neighbour whose son has been picked up three times by the cops for walking while black. An experience I was blind to because my white son never experienced it. My friend who is Muslim cancelled her family trip to Disney World because she was too afraid to travel to the US and I have friends who are afraid to drive in rural areas for fear of discrimination. This fear is not unfounded but based on past realities. My young friend from an Indigenous community was refused appropriate care and support at my local hospital.All this was happening around me but I was blind to it. I get it, John. It is not easy being hated online but know this is a daily experience for many Canadians.

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