15 August 2019

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Coming From a Place of Ignorance

It would be nice to believe that we know everything, but we don’t. That’s a fairly common-sensical statement. However, as we become more aware of societal inequities based on things like race, gender, or the legacy of colonialism, it’s easier (not to mention more socially acceptable) to be in front of such issues and to at least appear cognizant of their truth and context rather than to actually do the tougher work of understanding the whys and hows of them, as well as how we might have been mistaken ourselves.

I come from a place of ignorance. To some degree we all do, depending upon the subject. For me, growing up in mostly rural areas which, in Ontario at least, are white enclaves, I was rarely exposed to persons of colour (POC) and even then rarely were my interactions direct. The legacy of this has been uncomfortable, to say the least — for both myself and POC acquaintances/workmates who had to endure my awkwardness once I moved to the big city in my 20s.

People such as myself who were raised in isolated communities had to rely (actively or passively) on the words of our families and what media were at our disposal (in my case, good ol’ radio and broadcast TV). Often, depending upon the circumstances, that just isn’t enough.

I have a certain amount of regret, and a certain amount of shame, around my ignorance. The thing about shame especially is that we don’t want to feel it just as we wouldn’t want to feel a hot poker on our skin. And so, for some, it might be easier to pat ourselves on the back and pretend — once we are, to use a word, woke — that we have always been this way, this enlightened person. And I think this is nonsense and can contribute to those who are working through their ignorance to be tempted to abandon their work — the work being understanding and self-reflection — perhaps because they don’t want to be seen as containing the shame of that ignorance.

We all come from a place of ignorance. It could be about gender roles, it could be about sexuality or class structure. There can never be enough mirrors in the automobile of life to help us recognize our blindspots, so I think it is important for us to admit that we don’t know everything when it becomes apparent. And when we do grow, when we do accept that we come from a place of ignorance and make strides to inform ourselves and come to terms with our mistaken assumptions, I think it’s important to keep our eyes open for those in a similar position who might need guidance themselves.