Racism Is… Monday, Jul 8 2013 

July 8th again. As regular readers of this blog know, today is the anniversary of my brother Tyler’s murder — 18 years ago, in 1995. The years tick by. His kids are growing up. He has a granddaughter nearly 3 and a grandson on the way (btw family — I had to find that out on Facebook?!!). His murder, as I have talked about in 2010 and in 2011 was based on racism. Something not really that surprising to me since our hometown of Peterborough isn’t really known as a bastion of cultural diversity.

tyler-tat-me

Racism is once again in the news these days (not that it ever really isn’t if you pay attention). I’ve been watching stories as the world waits for Nelson Mandela’s death (before a CTV interview last week I was told “If Mandela dies your interview will be cancelled”). I know that there will be a great many news stories about apartheid, and South Africa, and there will be a sense, I suspect, in most of the Western World, that this is an old problem, a solved problem.

But racism is present. Brittney Cooper’s story of encountering racism on her flight back to Louisiana for July 4th struck a chord with many of my friends. In talking about her seat mate for the flight she says “Then just as the call came to shut our phones off, I glanced over at her, and she was still texting, rapidly. I caught a few words of the end of her text that made me look more intently: ‘on the plane, sitting thigh to thigh with a big fat nigger. Lucky me.’

My breath caught in my chest.

And then there was pain. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Anger.”

Cooper’s experience is sadly not unusual. What is perhaps unusual is her bravery in confronting the woman; something that isn’t always safe for someone to do.

On the subway from Downsview the other day I overheard two people discussing race and racism, particularly in the context of Paula Deen’s recent (and not so recent) racist comments that have been hitting the headlines and the blogosphere. What was most interesting to me though was the total shock they were expressing that someone a) could hold these views in this day and age and b) would publicly express them. This was pretty typical of many of the reactions that people have had to Deen’s comments.

Some interesting reflections have emerged in the blogosphere.

1) “I confess myself refreshed to hear Paula Deen respond “Yes, of course,” when asked if she used the word  “nigger.” We have conditioned ourselves with a kind of magic to believe that racism is a matter of kindness and prohibitive vocabulary — as though a hatred of women can be reduced the use of the word “bitch.””  More here…

2) “So for a moment, let’s set aside the fact that Paula Deen is accused of a lot more than saying the n-word.  Never mind that she is alleged to have contributed to a hostile work place for black people. Let’s put aside the fact that the n-word is not the only indicator of racism, any more than people who repurpose flame retardant white sheets at night are the only people participating in or benefiting from racism.”   And it continues here…

3)   The Huffington Post reported that Deen’s comments elucidate “the part institutional racism still plays in our lives in America.” This phrase strikes at the heart of the issue; racism is  in many ways still ingrained in our society. While I hope and I believe that most Americans no longer judge character based on color, racist attitudes are certainly overlooked and even forgiven in some cases, especially when it comes to celebrities. And more here…

Having spent three years living in the US South, down in New Orleans, I’m not surprised at all. I found the understanding, or rather, misunderstandings of race in the south to be very interesting, especially as a Canadian from a mixed race family.

Racism in the south is, as all racism is, a learned behaviour. At the same time, southern racism is almost in-bred. It is institutionalized. It is unconcious. It is so common, so much a part of the fabric of life, that most people don’t even realize that they hold or express racist beliefs because everyone they know thinks the same way. This isn’t KKK racism. It’s not necessarily overt or even conscious; it’s what they were taught, in school, at home, in the media.

This isn’t, by any means, a defence of racist behaviour. It’s not a way of excusing away what Paula Deen did by blaming her southern roots. But it shows me that there is so much more work to do to help people gain an understanding of racism, to develop race conciousness.

When Tyler was killed I was actually working in Ajax-Pickering as a race relations coordinator. My team of youth and I made an anti-racism video and dedicated it to him. In 18 years there have been changes; in 18 years nothing has changed. As they say in French, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

racial hands

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NOLA, I will be back I promise! Tuesday, May 31 2011 

Civil Rights MemorialThe journey of a lifetime is now coming to an emotional ending. This was an opportunity that I can’t imagine could have gone any better. I really do not know how I will explain the things I have seen or learnt while down here in New Orleans. This city is captivating, it is magical and completely addictive. Walking around the French Quarter on our last day was enjoyable, but very sad. This reminded me of that wall in New Orleans that we saw on our very first day. The wall where people wrote down what they would do before they died. I know what is definite, before I die I will bring my loved ones back to New Orleans to let them see what I saw.

For me particularly the last two check in’s were the most emotional. What happened in Alabama should definitely not stay in Alabama. I will tell my story of what I learnt everywhere I go. Before last weekend I had a very slight knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement but after leaving Selma that sunny Saturday afternoon, I was well informed. To think that only 45 years ago such hate and oppression occurred sends chills down my spine. The Civil Rights Memorial is a wonderful and creative museum in Alabama that pays tribute to the heroes that died for their rights and for our rights. What struck me the hardest was that so many young people were the ones who died. Young girls praying in church one minute and the next their bodies torn apart by a bomb. A young black boy from Chicago visiting the south for a vacation happened to speak to a white woman, this costed him his life. I could really go on for days about how much I saw in Alabama, but I will leave it to all of you to discover it for yourselves. It is the most powerful when you see it first hand. We had the opportunity to walk under the Edmund Pettus  bridge, where the march took place on Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965. When we crossed we picked up pebbles. These pebbles were representative of those 2500 heroes who marched that Sunday, these were the stones they stepped on. During check in I let my friends hear my experience of Alabama. But I also shared my feelings about the pebble I collected in Selma. I told them the next time they feel feelings of hate, racism or segregation towards anyone or thing they should remember this pebble and the people that died for us on those rocks. The heroes were the freedom riders, those who marched and anyone who stood up for their right to vote. It is because of them we can be friends with people of any race and share our lives togethor today. We should remember these brave souls and be thankful for the times we live in and the rights we have been given.

I am so thankful for Alabama, for my educators and new friends. I really did not expect New Orleans to become such a big part of my life. This was truly a defining trip which I will never forget. I have learnt so much from the “fascinating” (Thanks Shannon) people on this trip. Each and every one of them are strong, inspiring and courageous people. The citizens of New Orleans are the ones that defined my visit to NOLA. They are some of the warmest and interesting people I have ever met. My role in New Orleans was defined by the looks on their faces when I started helping them heal with whatever help I could provide. NOLA still needs so much help and recovery. I know that I have truly made my mark there and will continue it at some point in the near future.

Much love New Orleans,

Iryna

RIP Tyler Thursday, Jul 8 2010 

RIP Tyler Donald Gulliver

April 30th 1972 – July 8th 1995

Father, brother, son. Gone but not forgotten

Today is the 15th anniversary of my brother’s murder.

The tattoo I had done on the 13th anniversary.

It’s unrelated to normal topics on my blog, but at the same time, I find that he is increasingly on my mind here. I think Tyler would have liked New Orleans; a predominately black city with lots of hot grls and drinking on the streets. He probably would have been a hit.  On Facebook today a few of my friends commented about his smile and his devilish appeal; such a charmer.

His eldest daughter, Tiffany, has a picture of him tattooed on her back. You can see a hint of that charm in his grin.

Tiffany’s tattoo of her dad.

I think that my memories of him are stronger here for a few reasons. One is timing; the 15th anniversary today and his 18 year old daughter about to give birth to his grandchild next month. His kids have grown up without him, and now his grandkids will never know him.

Certainly race is another one of the reasons he is on my mind. Tyler’s killing was race-related, and so many of the issues tied into day-to-day existence here including crime, but also post-Katrina recovery, are intricately linked with racism, and racial discrimination.

I find that there is a new group of people here that I coined “wuppies” yesterday when thinking about them. Kind of like yuppies but all white. It’s that group of white folks who have come to “save New Orleans”, to make it better, to change it, to help it recover. There are many good-intentioned people who have come since the storm; actually, probably all of them (all of us because I fit in there) have good intentions, but the techniques vary. It’s actually something I am contemplating studying; how have the changing demographics of New Orleans affected the very nature of the city.

But the ones that I think of as wuppies don’t have an understanding of race and class, or if they do, it’s not a critical understanding. Rather, it’s  “I know what New Orleans needs and I will fix it my way” as opposed to, “I’m here to help, tell me what to do.” I hope that I fit into the latter category, I want to work with residents in the ways that they identify as being important.  The wuppies, through their lack of race & race conciousness, are engaging in various forms of classism and racism.

I think distance from family is another reason for thinking about Ty. Some of that distance occurred at home too.  In the world of dysfunctional families, it also happens to be 5 years since I talked to my brother Trevor; I called him on the 10th anniversary to make sure he called our parents since it was such a significant date. We have become Facebook friends since then, but we don’t talk; we’re merely linked to each other’s profiles.

But I am quite close with my sister Tara, and her kids, Aisha and Talik. I try to see them at least monthly, and sometimes more. I see my parents on a regular basis, and see Tiff and Tash (Tyler’s kids) as much as is possible; the grls and I stay in touch online at least. The geographic distance is challenging; I know only a few people here. At home I had a circle of friends, who, even if I wasn’t in regular contact with them, I knew would do whatever they could to help if I needed support.

When we were little (front to back – Tara, Trevor, Tyler and me).

I went looking back at my old livejournal posts and found one I wrote on the 10th anniversary. I actually remember writing it and how I was feeling at the time; how can it be that another five years have passed?

Details of the murder seem to be easy to say.  I suppose they are kind of shocking and graphic for those who haven’t heard it before,  I’ve told the story so many times before that it is as if I  distanced myself to tell it. I was telling some new friends about it  the other day, and I could hear myself saying it almost flatly. If I tell it as I feel it then the hurt and pain is much more present.
July 8th 1995. I received a call from my sister just before 7pm telling me my baby brother had been murdered. My parents, in a weird twist of fate, had come across the scene, found out it was him, and were at the police station within 20 minutes of him being killed, so we knew rather fast.

My dad dropped my brother off at this house on George Street in Peterborough in the morning. Tyler and the people in the apt spent the day drinking – mostly beer. No drugs were involved. Tyler and Billy Snape (the guy who ended up killing him) had been arguing and fighting all day. They were playing “I’m tougher than you” and “I did better/harder/more time than you”.  Stupid guy ex-con stuff.

My brother was adopted and was mixed race. At some point in the day Billy started saying “I don’t like niggers.” One of the grls who was there kept explaining “Tyler’s not a nigger, he’s just black” (which supposedly meant something in terms of behaviours). Billy and Tyler “took it outside” a couple of times but came back in acting like friends; until it started up again.

During the course of the day Billy ordered a bottle of bootleg whiskey. He started to drink it and got quite drunk. He had bought a new buck knife the day before and had been playing with it all day; opening and closing the blade, cleaning his nails etc.

Just after 6pm Billy was in the living room and looked up to see Tyler in the kitchen pouring a drink of the bootleg. He stood up and moved towards him saying “I don’t want no nigger drinking my whiskey”. He stabbed him once through the chest, Tyler bled out and died within a couple of minutes. Al MacKay (one of the guys whose house it was) pulled Billy off Ty and got stabbed in the lung (which deflated). Jeffrey Carondonna (another guy there) pulled Billy off Al and got stabbed in the hand as they rolled down the stairs.

Billy ended up getting charged with 1 count of 1st degree murder, and two counts of attempted. By the time of the December 1995 trial it had been reduced to one count of second degree. Jeffrey took off and was later charged with failing to appear as a witness. Al and his brother John seemed to develop amnesia and claimed not to remember anything. The grls that were there said they didn’t see anything. (the police version of events matches the street story we heard so we assume it’s quite accurate).

Billy pled guilty in Feb 96 to involuntary manslaughter and received a 5 year sentence. He served about 2 and was released. He died a couple of years ago in “mysterious” circumstances.

I’ve done a whole bunch of work around healing, grieving, forgiveness including some ritual stuff. I am off to a new friend’s place today to redo one of the rituals; it’s private so that’s as much as I can say about it but I am happy to have found someone here who can help me with it.

Trevor, Tyler, me, Tara, JJ (in front) and Scott (the latter two were neighbours as kids)


New Orleans Blacks don’t live as long as North Koreans Saturday, Sep 19 2009 

New Orleans…third world country or part of one of the richest countries in the world? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

“The life span of African Americans in the “Big easy” is 69.3 years, almost as low as Korean life expectancy. The average life span of Blacks living in the state of Louisiana is 72.2 years. This is well below that of the average Vietnamese, Colombian and Venezuelan denizen.”

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