Jessica Mulroney was in the news yesterday as her actions demonstrated textbook White privilege in action. Influencer Sasha Exeter, who is Black called her out for her threats. Jessica got offended at a generic call to action regarding the Black Lives Matter movement that Sasha posted and spoke with people who Sasha had brand partnerships with to retaliate against her for the "way you have treated me unfairly". Not one to back down, Sasha posted their conversation on social media and while Jessica issued a public apology to create an appearance of being self-aware, her insincerity was revealed when she soon after sent Sasha a private DM insinuating that she would take legal action against her for libel. Sasha posted the DM showing the threat of libel and as a result Bell Media pulled Jessica's show "I Do, Redo" off the network and organizations such as Cityline and Hudson's Bay cancelled their partnerships with her.
"Bell Media and CTV encourages our entire team including our on-air talent to practice respect, inclusivity, and allyship as we pledge to work better and more openly to listen to and amplify Black voices, and not to minimize them. Because recent conduct by one of our shows hosts, Jessica Mulroney, conflicts with our commitment to diversity and equality, CTV has removed I Do, Redo from all Bell Media channels and platforms effective immediately."
It is encouraging to see that abuse of privilege finally results in tangible consequences for the perpetrator, despite her immense wealth and powerful social network. I am grateful to Sasha for her courage to take a stand despite the potential setbacks she may face down the road. I am also hopeful that this is the first of many occurrences to send a message to everyone who abuses their privilege that their time is up. Likewise, everyone who experiences discrimination and oppression should be encouraged that their voices can cause change, however small or big that may be. We don't all have the same size of platforms to call attention to injustice but it is important to be a catalyst for change in whatever circumstances you are in.
Sasha stated: "Listen, I am by no means calling Jess a racist but what I will say is this, she is very well aware of her wealth, her perceived power and privilege because of the color of her skin. And that, my friends, gave her the momentary confidence to come for my livelihood in writing". Sasha terms this White privilege and I agree this is what it truly is.
White privilege does not just manifest in openly racist comments and behaviour. It is the belief, whether conscious or unconscious, that one can easily get away with unfair behaviour, or otherwise that the consequences they face would be minimal enough not to affect them in any significant way. This belief has been reinforced by events and power structures in society for a very long time. To quote Vinay Menon from the Toronto Star,
"Jessica Mulroney made Sasha Exeter feel endangered because she felt safe doing so. In fact, she felt so safe, it’s possible she didn’t feel anything at all."
Recently, I was banned from seeing my 86 year-old dying uncle, who was like a second father to me, at a hospital in Ontario. The hospital had banned me because my Uncle's sons did not want my family to see him (even though they knew about our extremely close relationship). The hospital staff enforced the ban, having security kick us out each time we visited, despite hearing in person and via recording that my uncle wanted to see my family. They enforced the ban even though they did not have the legal right to do so solely under the family's wishes. They did not issue my family any written communication regarding the ban for nearly a month after they implemented it.
When the Patient Ombudsman intervened on my behalf, and inquired with the hospital, they said the ban was due to the family's wishes. When I filed an official complaint with the Patient Ombudsman, they informed the hospital that they could not ban my family based on the wishes of the sons and told them they needed to explain their reasons for the ban to my family. At that point the hospital started claiming that I was violating their respectful workplaces policy and my "aggressive behaviour" was the reason for the ban. For example, one of the reasons given to me via an official letter was that I "threatened" to file a court case because my uncle (who has a severe hearing disability) did not have his hearing aid in his ear on multiple occasions. One nurse told me it was making noises that could be heard in the hallway. I had calmly told the nurse to put it back in, and that it was a human rights violation that was upsetting the patient and that this could be taken to court. This was not a threat, it was a promise that I am working on fulfilling now. I had also informed patient relations of his disability and the lack of accommodation via email a few days later. They didn't seem to care stating that his son was power of attorney (he actually was not) and they would only discuss it with him. They did this even though they should have known it was causing my uncle severe emotional distress not being able to hear. Their duty was to the patient, not to the sons. It was easy for them to ignore his wishes, he was disadvantaged in many ways: he was old, disabled, a visible minority and powerless in his rapidly deteriorating condition to do anything. The portrayal of me as aggressive is racial discrimination as minorities are often portrayed as aggressive when they are asserting their rights.
The hospital's allegations tried to portray me as "aggressive" and "agitating" when I was speaking up for my rights and the rights of my uncle. They did not have allegations against my dad, mom and brother and still enforced the ban anyway. When the hospital found out I had recordings to expose their behaviour, they threatened me to delete them or they would take me to court and I may have to pay $100 000 as a fine and their legal fees. I did not delete the recordings because they were my lifeline against defamation and I knew I had the right to keep them. I never heard any follow-up about deleting the recordings because they probably realized they couldn't force me to do it. Why would I further disadvantage myself in what was already a David and Goliath scenario? The hospital knowingly inflicted trauma upon my uncle and my family at not allowing us to say our final goodbyes. I believe they did this because of White privilege. They believed they could make it a he said- she said scenario where they would have the upper hand and I wouldn't be believed even if I took it to court. They relied on their staff saying things about me, so they probably thought they had more credibility than me. When they realized I had the recordings to back up my narrative, they started threatening me. At the very end, they offered a supervised, time limited visit with patient relations present but this was set for the same evening on which they demanded I delete the recordings. I interpreted this as delete the recordings or you will not see him at all.
Their actions felt very emotionally abusive at a time when my family was already under great emotional turmoil thinking about the death of our loved one. He died one day before my family was set to see him under these humiliating conditions. We were held back like animals. All the decision makers at the hospital were White.
They should have known better and done better. And when they realized they made a mistake in erroneously enforcing the ban according to the sons wishes, should have had the integrity to apologize and rectify the situation as soon as possible. Instead, when they found out they lacked grounds to enforce the ban based on family wishes, they started concocting inconsistent, weak and baseless accusations to uphold the ban, thereby inflicting unspeakable grief onto their patient and my family.
Even after he died, I was issued a letter from the hospital "apologizing" for not communicating the reasons for the ban sooner. They did not address the fact that they had no real evidence to justify the ban. It was sickening to see this letter from a psychiatrist who was a senior hospital official. She should have known about the impact an event like this could have on a family. Because of white privilege and the deep pockets of the hospital, they thought they would get away with it. Unfortunately for them, I have every intention of holding them accountable through the proper legal avenues.
While people are more likely to acknowledge White privilege, to make themselves look more self-aware and broad-minded, there are few concrete systems in place to reduce the effects of it. The process has been extremely slow because the people in charge have no lived experience of the damage that is being done. The lack of urgency is due to the fact that it doesn't affect their lives in a direct way.
Most people don't think they are abusing their privilege as it doesn't fit in with their self-concept as being a nice or socially progressive person. Despite what she says, it is unlikely Jessica feels remorse for what she did, her only regret was that her lucrative partnerships were cancelled. I bet that she (like most people in high status positions) is thinking she has always gotten away with it before and this time would be no different. Well, it is different because one day you will run into a confident person who isn't afraid to expose the harsh treatment you inflicted upon them. It's no accident that Jessica's intention was to inflict pain on Sasha by influencing her brand partnerships and instead she lost her brand partnerships instead under very humiliating circumstances. Karma comes around faster than one thinks.
It's interesting that Jessica used her friendship with Meghan Markle to try to give credibility to her being aware of White privilege and racial issues. She writes, "As I told you privately, I have lived a very public and personal experience with my closest friend where race was front and centre. It was deeply educational. I learned a lot from that." This perfectly illustrates the point that just because you have close relationships with racialized people, or people from other oppressed groups, it does not mean you can not discriminate on an unconscious level towards those groups. This is not a valid argument to be making to avoid having to do active work to change your unconscious biases.
What does White privilege look and feel like to you if you are a racialized person? If you are White, what are some of the concrete things you have done in order to equalize the power imbalances stemming from your privilege? What are some of the ways in which you acknowledge you have abused your power in the past?
Update: June 17th 2021
I was asked to link the following site to help support black owned businesses. Hope you have a chance to browse some of the great offerings there.