** Disclaimer: This post entry describes a recent experience I had with racism. I need to let you know, before you read this, that I am a proud Metis (First Nations) Canadian. I’m doing this now so that the irony in the article is not lost on those of you who do not know me well. **
A number of days ago, picture me in Starbucks, up in the north end of the city. It’s quiet in my favorite watering hole. I’m working on a paper, enjoying the sun streaming in the window. All is well with the world if you like writing papers.
Two guys walk into my barista haven. They’re uber loud, yapping away at each other. Scratch record. The mood in the place changes. Peaceful tranquility, meet loud obnoxious. They order their coffees and sit down right behind me, even though there are dozens of other empty seats in the place.
The worst of it is that everyone in the place can hear their banter, even the guy in the bathroom. I’m trying to ignore them and get some work done, but I can’t stay out of their conversation. And no, I typically don’t pry into other people’s conversations in public establishments. If I want to pry, I can creep people on the web.
So the short guy, who talks way too much, is reading the newspaper and giving a running commentary on everything and nothing. He gets to the sports section and reads something about a NHL hockey player who he says is basically getting paid millions of dollars to sit on the bench – to do nothing, as this guy describes it. (Of course he probably doesn’t sit on the bench during practice. And he probably didn’t spend twenty years training, at unreasonable hours of the morning, to become the athlete he is. But that’s for another time…)
But here’s the shocker. Suddenly the short guy goes off on a racist rant…”Typical native,” he says. Then he looks around and says to his buddy, “There aren’t any natives in this place are there?”
Feeling certain that he’s pretty safe, he continues, “Typical native, so <insert word here> lazy. Just wants to sit around all day and get paid for it.”
As of today, I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation. I kind of got lost in a few anger fantasies. My feelings were mixed with righteous anger, shame, self-protection and pity. Almost instinctively, I began rehearsing speeches in my head. I’m not proud of them. I’m as human as the next guy. Let me share a few of my fantasies:
Fantasy Conversation 1: “Hey there. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I was just sitting over here, fascinated by your views on the aboriginal work-ethic. It’s kind of ironic becuse I’m aboriginal, a Metis in fact. Don’t worry, I have no plans on retaliating. I was just wondering how such a hard-working fellow like yourself manages to find time to just hang out at Starbucks and read the newspaper while a guy like uses his spare time to finish papers for continuing education. You see, I’ve worked about fifty hours every week for as long as I can remember, am busy raising a family and trying to make a positive contribution to society. I know, I know…I should try to do more, but laziness keeps getting the better of me.”
Fantasy Conversation 2: “Uh…hi…wow, you’re short…I was wondering…could you look me in the navel and say that again?”
Fantasy Conversation 3: “Golly…you can read? Could you teach me? I’ve been too lazy to learn how.”
Fantasy Conversation 4: “Hey, do you know how hurtful your words are? What if a First Nations or Metis person overheard you? Oh wait…I am one!”
Now, truth be told, I wasn’t really that angry. More than anything, I was shocked. I guess I hadn’t heard those types of comments in a long time. I was beginning to hope that the values of our society had changed enough to make such bigotry obsolete. I guess it’s still prevalent. And it’s just sad. There’s no other word for it. Sad.
When I hear comments like that I sometimes wonder…can multi-culturalism and its ideals really succeed? I don’t have an answer to that today. But it’s something I have been thinking a lot about lately.
You’re wondering what I did, aren’t you? Well, truth be told, by the time my anger fantasy was done, I was five minutes late for a meeting. So I decided to just take off. You might think it was act of cowardice but I think it was an act of wisdom. Jesus taught us not to throw our pearls to swine or to give dogs what is sacred. Sometimes we need to assess whether or not it’s worth it to confront a person. Proverbs teaches that as well – sometimes you’ll waste your breath scorning a fool. My sense was that this was a time to save the C02 for someone more open.
I’m still dreaming, reading and praying about what a multi-ethnic church might look like in northeast Edmonton. I think it could be a thing of beauty, a beacon of hope in a world of bigotry.