Love Has No Labels



Thanks to David Kanigan who first posted this.

Walking Cross-Town. With Labels.

Take the quiz:





We watch American fall



One man whipped a populace into a frenzy and we got WWII.


One man whipped a populace into a frenzy and we’ll get _______?

I have no idea how to fill in the blank on this one. As a white Canadian, it would be easy to say, “Everything will be okay.” But, I don’t believe that for a minute.

I do know that I can’t bury my head in the sand. I have to watch the news, know what is happening, and do what I can in my corner of the world to help protect those who are at risk of being injured or killed.

Am I racist? (The reason I ask the question is Trump’s fault.)











On the surface, I don’t think so. I grew up on an isolated farm. The first time I saw a black man was the porter on the train. I remember my little sister saying, “Mom, that man forgot to wash his face.”

I didn’t see another black person until moved to the city and I met the one boy in my junior high school who was a black from the US. I wasn’t a friend of his so I don’t know what prejudice he faced, but I do know he was a member of the “in group.”

Then I went to Mali as a CUSO volunteer. We were a group of twenty Canadians in the capital, Bamako. The neighborhood children ran up to touch us and then looked at their hands to see if the white came off. We often felt the gentle touch of a hand on our hair as we worked with our high school students. We were taken to the front of the line to see the doctor, not because we were white, but because we were respected for having left the safety of our homes to come to work in Mali.

In these limited experiences, I felt no racism except perhaps a reverse one in Mali that worked in my favor.

Recently, I read two novels with an African American female as the protagonist. As I read, I was jolted each time something in the story reminded me of her color. Obviously, I was subconsciously seeing her in mind as white like me.


  1. Because, as a reader we all tend to identify with the hero or heroine and automatically see them as we see ourselves?
  2. Because, color isn’t an issue for me and I wasn’t consciously thinking of that as I read?
  3. Because I am racist and I couldn’t possibly see the heroine as a woman of color?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a year or two ago these questions likely wouldn’t have entered my head. I’d have read the story, pondered what I liked about it, what I’d learned from it, likely recommended the book to friends, and then picked up the next on my “to read” list.

What changed?

Trump came on the scene and the media coverage that allowed him to build and grow his attacks on decency obviously impacted my mindset. Even though I’m not American and can’t vote in the election, I’m seeing much too much of him in the media here in Canada and on Facebook. His statements are abhorrent. I feel sick watching him, yet I’m obsessed and can’t turn the computer off.

I cringe when I see the picture of black manikins hanging in trees as Halloween “decorations.” I cry when I see African Americans attacked at his rallies. I fume when I see him stalk Hillary at the debates. And, I am enraged when I learn of his sexual attacks on so many women. His abuses of his position and his power are staggering—almost beyond belief.

The more I watch and read, the more afraid I am of his virulent actions and the actions of some of his followers. How far will this go? I pray he loses the election, but even then, I expect we’ll see an ugly, violent backlash.

Does any of this answer my original question? Am I racist? I don’t think so. What I do know is that somewhere in all of this mess, we all need to find ways to move to genuine goodwill in our treatment of others.


The Black/White divide – San Francisco

San Francisco


In 1981, they’re finally realizing a long-held dream—a trip to San Francisco. Their hotel is half a block from Union Square, an ideal location to visit and appreciate much of what the city has to offer—Pier 29, Lombard Street, the Exploratorium which delights the adults as much as it does the kids, the cable car museum. Of course, they’ve ridden the cable cars several times.

Today they hop on a bus to another museum, only to arrive and find it closed. Not a big problem. They’ll take the bus back downtown and check out some of the stores.

A few minutes later, they begin to think there may be a problem after all as they don’t recognize the route. Another few blocks and they’re the only whites on the bus. Then the driver stops, gets off and a black driver gets on. The streets they pass are rougher and rougher with each turn of the bus wheels. Much too late to get off now so they stay where they are nodding politely as passengers pass down the aisle.

Within a short time they are the only passengers on the bus. The view out the window is of derelict houses, broken windows, weeds, and little sign of habitation. The driver stops and turns to look at them.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

They shake their heads.

He grins. “This is the end of the line. Cross the street.” He points to another bus stop. “Catch the next bus to get back downtown.”

They thank him and do as they are told. On the way back the black/white driver exchange occurs again. All of it such a foreign experience for this Canadian family.







The Power of Books

Mali 6

As a CUSO volunteer, I taught school in Bamako, the capital of Mali. When I traveled to Mali many years later, I was invited to the school I had taught at as a guest speaker for the English as a Second Language students. I would be the “document authentique.”

I visited the grade 11 and grade 12 classes. I promised I would answer any question they asked as long as they used English. The students astounded me. They asked about racism, abortion, women’s rights, our political system, and differences between Canadians and Americans. They were curious about my reasons for being in Mali and about other countries I had visited.

When our Malian friend, Raymond, came to Canada I decided to take him to school with me as guest speaker in my French as a Second Language classes. I explained who he was and told my students that he was an Olympic athlete, coach, and, at that time, an Olympic level referee. I encouraged them to ask any questions they liked. They wanted to know if it was hot in Mali and what he ate. He was gracious with his replies. I decided that their limited language skills were getting in the way and offered to translate. The questions were still banal. Disappointed with the kids, I took Raymond home at noon. There was no point in putting him through more of that.

What bothered me then, and still does, was the great divide between the two groups of students. Some of that may be attributed to age differences. The girls in Mali were seventeen-year-olds and my students fourteen. But I’m not convinced that’s a good enough excuse for their complacency and the superficiality of the questions they asked.

Can I chalk it up then, to the affluence of our society, to the ease with which our every desire is satisfied as contrasted with Malians who grow up facing daily hardship—the hunt for food, for firewood, for water…?

What, if anything, would make a difference for our students? When I ask myself that question, books loom large in my mind as the answer. I grew up in a poor home. We always had enough to eat, but certainly didn’t have extras. A five-cent comic book once in a while was a huge treat: the fat twenty-five cent comic rare and treasured. Books, when I could get my hands on some, were life to me then. They still are.

For me, reading is a deep and satisfying activity. Novels spark my curiosity, teach me about the world, about people—character, motivation, emotions. Books make me think and wonder and ponder.

Is that what’s missing in the youth of today? Engrossed with all the available social media—and not having to worry about their very survival—are they missing deeper meanings and understandings? Would reading books make a difference? I think so. Books do have power—more power than some people would like. Why else would they be banned or burned?

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Substitute

images (3)

“Madame Penal says that it’s our responsibility to get our backpacks ready before we go to bed.”

“Madame Penal says it’s our responsibility to hang up our coats and put our boots away.”

“Madame Penal  says….”

I love Madame Penal. She’s my daughter’s grade three teacher. It’s not even the end of September and this Wonder Woman has the children beavering away happily at all she asks them to do. By the end of the school year my daughter is a responsible mini-adult.

The next fall I’m thrilled to learn that my son, who is much vaguer than his sister, is in Madame Penal’s grade three class.

“Madame Penal says it’s our responsibility to get our backpacks ready before we go to bed.” He’s dutifully shoving his books and papers into the pack. I cringe at the crumpled pages and try to help, but am told it’s his responsibility. I relent and back off with every confidence that Madame Penal will take care of it.

“Mme. Penal is going to have a baby.”

“Madame Penal is in the hospital. We have a substitute. His name is Monsieur Jean-Gilles. Madame Penal will be back in two weeks.”

“Madame Penal has to stay in the hospital. Monsieur Jean-Gilles is our new teacher.”

We hear a lot about Monsieur Jean-Gilles and it all sounds good. As my sons relates his “new teacher” stories—Monsieur Jean-Gilles said… Monsieur Jean-Gilles played … Monsieur Jean-Gilles read …, I picture a short, slight French Canadian. With a name like Jean-Gilles what else could it be?

It’s meet the teacher night. We find Monsieur Jean-Gilles. He’s not short. He’s tall. He’s not slight. He’s solidly built. He’s not French Canadian. He’s Haitian and he’s black. Not brown. Black. A detail that my son failed to mention. A detail that—happily—my son failed to notice.