I love the Easter celebrations. Focusing on new life, especially in today’s world, feels essential. There are many ways to experience resurrection – new life. I am blessed to be a white, middle-class, educated Canadian. The colour of my skin is an accident of birth. My education and middle class status is partly an accident of adoption, partly hard work and determination, but was made easier by my skin colour. I’ve taken courses, listened to people, read books about the whole concept of white, middle-class, educated privilege. Just walking down the street carries less stress. Applying for a job means better opportunity and so much more.
Recently at our local coffee shop, my “privilege” was stripped away. I stood the required “social distance” from the customer at the till. He slowly counted out enough change for his coffee. I was not in a hurry. In fact, I was talking on my cell phone to my friend Nancy, telling her where I was and what was happening. I don’t remember what I said to her exactly. Something about the fact that we don’t get to touch money much anymore. Stores want plastic payment. To my surprise, the man looked up and spat out at me, “You don’t have to be so ignorant.” I answered defensively, “I didn’t intend to be ignorant.” In a louder, more aggressive tone, he snapped, “Yes, you did!” The server spoke next. Loudly, she threatened, “You two! Stop it right now or you’ll have to leave!” I was flabbergasted. What had I done or said to be thrown out of the coffee shop? I closed my mouth and stood frozen in silence until the man left with his coffee. I didn’t look at him or the server. Once he was gone, I stepped up to the cash. She refilled the coffee machine before she took my order. She spoke not a word and neither did I.
Leaving the coffee shop, my stomach churned. Near tears, I knew had done nothing wrong. Still, I had been accused, judged: ignorant, argumentative, aggressive, whatever. Where was the respect and caring I have always been used to? How could I be treated like this? Then it clicked.
Dark skinned people endure this kind of treatment continually. In this encounter, my white, middle-class, educated persona conferred no value. In fact, as a human being, I had no value. My understanding of white privilege moved from my mind to my gut. What would happen to my self-respect, my self-image, if I were treated this way all the time?
Never again will I be able to languish in my self-satisfied white privilege, wondering what “those others” might have done to cause their mistreatment. I have had a tiny sip of living without white privilege. I’m hoping it will give me new eyes for seeing, and a new heart for feeling – Easter Transformation. I am truly grateful.
Today’s Faith by Rev. Janet Stobie