Healing the powerful pain of racism through frank talk

Healing the powerful pain of racism through frank talk

When concert security was warned about a belligerent drunk, they immediately ushered Sherry Gott to the door. This despite the fact that the Cree Winnipegger was dead sober; it was the white guy a few seats away who was drunk.

"Do you know how much that hurts?" Gott said. "And the person that was drunk was white. They didn't ask him to leave. They asked me to leave."

Gott relayed that memory at a special CBC Ask Town Hall on racism and religious intolerance on March 8. Though the actual incident happened months ago, the memory alone reduced her to tears.

"I live with racism every day," Gott, a residential school survivor, told the stunned audience. "I don't take a break from it."

Her story generated small gasps and then a captivated silence as she continued. 

It also served as a grim reminder that the fight for equality is far from over, said one longtime Indigenous rights activist.

"As an Indigenous woman, it is heartbreaking when you hear another Indigenous woman really courageously share her pain and a pain that is intergenerational," Nahanni Fontaine told Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. "Regardless of all these gains.....we still have to fight for space, an equitable space here in Winnipeg or in Manitoba."

But Fontaine, an Ojibway NDP MLA, said while these stories are hard to hear, they're important to hear. Without, she added, "dismissing or minimizing" them.

"As Indigenous people, we hear this all the time. 'Why don't you just get over it?'" Fontaine said. "Instead, why don't we just be honest....even though it's an uncomfortable truth, embrace it and learn from it?'"

Fontaine said there are signs of hope in the fight against racism; the very fact that people stood up and shared their stories at the CBC Town Hall forum — and that others listened — is progress.

"Now, is it as fast as we need? Certainly not. Is it as honest as we need? Probably not," she said. "Certainly, reconciliation and healing involves a process of really courageous honesty."

For Sherry Gott, that honesty came at a personal price. Though she was lauded for her frank talk, those memories once again triggered the powerful pain that comes with being the target of racism.

"I can't just go one day and say, 'I'm not going to feel it today,'" Gott said. "I feel it every minute of every day."