The other day I arrived at the train platform downtown just as my train arrived, and also just as a pair of slow-moving, poorly dressed and possibly intoxicated male Natives also arrived in time to board the train. When they got on the first car, I got on the second.
Why? The thought that went through my mind was that I’m tired of being approached by homeless and poor people that look exactly like these guys, and have them ask me for money. I’m tired of them trying to make conversation about something they’re pissed off about. I’m tired of sitting politely and trying to decide whether or not to interfere when they bother other passengers.
I wanted to avoid being around people that look like these people, because I had a bunch of prejudiced ideas about how they might act based on their appearance. In short, I’m probably, on some level, a racist.
I don’t like racists. I think racism is stupid. I get very angry when I read news stories about cops picking on people just because they’re not white. I’m angry that Native Canadians have been abused by the government and the church for hundreds of years, and I feel bad that they suffer with so much poverty and illness.
But when faced with a real, live Native, I let my discomfort take over. If I had more courage, I would be compassionate. I would see that the poverty and alcoholism that so many of them suffer from was handed down to them by the systemic problems they were born into – a system that favours me because I’m white and male.
I can talk about these things in theory. A lot of people can. The question is, do I let fear motivate me when I see someone that has the same appearance as someone else that once made me uncomfortable?
And how can I change?
I don’t have the answer. And I realize that putting something like this on the internet is practically begging for the trolls to attack me, because it’s easy to troll, and hard to fix the systemic problems.
But I also need to take an honest look at this, and I invite thoughtful comments.