By Devon Sereda Goldie
In light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests across Canada and the United States calling for an end to police brutality, violence, and systemic racism towards black people and people of colour, I wanted to take a moment to strongly urge Ukrainians to support this crucially important movement. I would like to preface this article by situating myself as a white, cisgender settler of Ukrainian, Scottish, Irish, and English descent. I am a descendent of first wave Ukrainian immigrants one side of my family and of Mayflower passengers on the other. As such, I have had to come to terms with the reality that my ancestors, whether intentional or not, contributed to settler colonialism – the damage caused by which has led to systemic racism, oppression, and violence towards marginalized peoples, especially people of colour in both Canada and the United States.
I have been deeply enthralled and disturbed by the concept of racism since I was a child. When I was 5 years old, my mom read me a children’s book about Anne Frank and I was captivated by the atrocities of the Holocaust. What made people do evil, terrible things to other people? This question has continued to drive me and led me to my current research topic. I am currently pursuing my Master of Arts in Applied Theatre and Ukrainian Studies at the University of Victoria. My thesis, currently in development, is called Пам’ять/Pam’yat (Memory): Theatre as a Vehicle for Healing Intergenerational Trauma within the Ukrainian Canadian Experience. I have spent a significant amount of my postsecondary education buried in the library and the archives pouring over historic documents relating to the history of racism and genocide around the world. In doing so, it has become abundantly clear to me that racism, and othering in general, is cyclical in nature. Throughout history, humankind has always identified, targeted, and attacked groups of people for being different – first religious groups, and then, with the development of nationalism, ethnic groups. Over time, the groups of people under attack change, but the language stays the same. It is deeply haunting to read newspaper articles from different centuries and different parts of the world all using the same hateful language and rhetoric to attack different groups of people: Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, Ukrainians, etc. But over time, especially the last 50 years, once marginalized Caucasian ethnic groups in North America (i.e. Ukrainians, Irish) have become considered societally acceptable – largely due to our white skin. Meanwhile, marginalized people of colour have continued to bear the brunt of racism, oppression, violence, and police brutality in Canada and the United States.
So why should Ukrainians care? Simply put – because we have been there. We as Ukrainians have our own painful legacy. Most Ukrainians are the bearers of trauma or intergenerational trauma as a result of this history. Many of us still carry emotional pain, anger, and heartache over the way we or our families and/or our people are/were treated. For those of us living in North America, by-and-large, we are lucky to no longer have to worry about violence befalling us simply because of who we are. But our brothers and sisters who are black, indigenous, or people of colour are not so lucky. Racism, oppression, and violence is their everyday existence – and it is no more acceptable for such treatment to befall them than it was when it befell us. Not to mention that there is a growing number of black Ukrainians, biracial Ukrainians, and Ukrainians who are people of colour who are directly affected by this unfounded hatred. It is our duty to ensure that these people are welcomed, celebrated, and above all SAFE in our communities. I argue that it is our duty as Ukrainians to stand with, listen to, and actively support any and all people who are experiencing hatred and violence. Today, that is the black communities across North America as they grieve the loss of and fight for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, David Mcatee, and countless others.
I strongly urge all Ukrainians to take time to actively listen and educate yourselves. Take time to consciously unpack your prejudices and acknowledge your privilege. Unlearn harmful behaviours and attitudes. Don’t just like this article or the #blackouttuesday posts – Listen to marginalized voices and take meaningful action. It is the only way to begin dismantling the systemically racist society we live in and our role within it.
For resources, educational material, and suggestions on how to take action, check out this document compiled by the McGill Ukrainian Students’ Association: