Letters to Irshad – Letter 4

Shades of Grey: Hear, Not Fear, Different Perspectives

5 min read

Dear Irshad,

“Critical race theory denies that individual actions can lead to palpable change.”

Irshad Manji from her book Don’t Label Me

If we don’t think actions that are seen by some as carrying bias cannot be corrected or lead to any kind of meaningful advancements within this discussion, why teach equity, diversity, and inclusion? 

I am not buying it, Irshad. There are many illustrations right there in your book and on your Moral Courage YouTube channel, of people having conversations with their Others where opinions were changed because the time was taken to openly listen and engage in dialogue respectful of diverse points of view.

I am a community member of the local Indigenous Education Circle (IEC). I’ve grown so much sitting on this committee as I have absorbed their culture, how they discuss their matters, and the great lengths they go to find solutions that are true to their traditions, and that those decisions come from a good place.

One challenge that this committee faced was the approval of an Indigenous youth position that would work alongside two other youth and the elected school board officials. The group discussed everything from how the student would be selected, to how they would be supported by the Indigenous community. 

At our March meeting, the committee discussed not putting forth an Indigenous student to fill the role for the next term citing concerns relating to this local issue. The elder concluded this discussion by suggesting that the committee learn from this experience but not shy away from filling this important role. So much thought had gone into supporting their youth and in my opinion, this is a critical component missing from both the peer-elected youth and adult positions; a deep connection to a community support system that they know has their best interest at heart. Not because they shouldn’t have faith in the organization, it’s staff, or their student and elected peers that are also there to mentor and support all of these individuals, because they should.

For the longest time when I first stepped into my political role I felt alone. It can be intimidating as a first timer who was previously just a parent involved in their community who had opinions on how decisions were being made. It’s hard to know where others around you stand when you jump head first into these roles from your peer counterparts, to staff. How do they value the part you play in the decision-making process? What is their place in the political cog? How do you ensure your community’s voice is heard and how do you go about affecting any kind of change? What power do you actually have in the bottom rung of the political arena?

It took me four years to really understand the full scope of the role, the system in general, and how to efficiently work with my elected colleagues as well as staff. When I decided to work on relationships first, politics was still there but things started to drastically change. I enjoyed the role more. I understood my place. 

The peer-elected youth and adults share similar political responsibilities, but the most significant difference is one year versus four year terms. I couldn’t imagine a youth trying to fit all of this learning into one year. That is until I heard the IEC members talking about the supports they had in place for the Student Trustee (Shakowennakara:tats – they raise their voices[of their community]). The IEC’s processes for this position didn’t mean the youth would necessarily gain a full understanding of the whole in one term but with the community that had been built to guide and grow this learning, they were surrounded by those that as a whole did and that had their very best interests at heart. 

I believe the support from the elected officials and staff within the organization comes from a good place. I also recognize that trust takes a long time to build – especially if our lived experiences or those of the ones we care about have given us many reasons to be reserved in our faith in others outside of our own ethno-racial and socioeconomic networks.

Irshad, I’ve stressed a lot about writing this. I have worked hard through many years of living in this community and through my professional role, building relationships with people from very diverse ethnic backgrounds. I love attending events, ceremonies, reading books, watching movies, eating food, or listening to music that immerses me in the lives of people so very different than me. I also love the work I do within my city and worry about the effects of voicing my opinions on this topic. Then I read your book and came to the realization that my views relating to an alternative path forward within these dividing discussions, are shared by many who are already paving a different path forward like yourself or Choloé S. Valdary.

We have to be okay with where we are now in our opinions and what we know about the world because this is where life has taken us so far. It’s up to us to choose our path forward with a vision inclusive of what we want for our families, and what the world around us needs from us as a whole. 

The best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to move forward with an open mind, a listening ear, a welcoming heart, and to continue our life-long learning journey’s from a place of the purest of intentions. Most of all, don’t let someone else’s viewpoint speak for you because although you may both believe in the same cause, it takes careful understanding of any issue to find the best way forward for us as individuals.

“If diversity of opinions, ideas, and perspectives won’t be tolerated in movements that prize emancipation, then what kind of utopia are we being emancipated into? If you won’t make peace with different points of view, what’s inclusive about your Diversity?”

Irshad Manji from her book, Don’t Label Me

I have a few more thoughts, Irshad, but I’ll leave those for my last letter.

Be well. Keep safe.

Your friends,
Larry & Finnegan

Previous: Letter 3 | Next: Letter 5

The opinions shared within this series do not necessarily represent the views of all INSE members, volunteers, or that of it’s partners. We do however, see this platform as a space for open dialogue – within reason, built on respect for the plurality of opinions within our communities.

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