Years ago, when I genuinely was a young, white, middle-class, suburban punk (as opposed to the same angry guy wrapped in a 44 year old body) I looked, well, different.
I had hair about a cm long (more than that and I’d feel like a hippie) or that and a weird Tintin piece in the front. I wore a uniform of hightops (converse of some variety always) or a mix of monkey boots/combat boots/Docs. Jeans or cut off Canadian Forces combat pants were my bottom of choice (I was also prone to work pants that had been altered to to be tighter at the ankle). T-shirts from shows and a plaid shirt finished off the look. Sometimes there might be a baseball cap on my head, or a bandana (either over the head or in the old school suicidal tendencies style). I was, to put it clearly, the very picture of suburban punk rock kid.
I also reviewed music and other arts for a string of college papers so I went to A LOT of shows. (One year i worked out that I’d been to close to 150ish – this may explain some of the hearing loss that 44 year old me has). This put me in places that nice middle class kids don’t usually go, looking not all like the middle class kid I was.
This gave rise to interesting experiences because, outside of our little bubble of alt/punk Montreal, we stood out as scary, dangerous and dirty. This probably suited us just fine a lot of the time but some of Montreal’s finest weren’t in love with us.
To whit: one night 5 of us were on the sidewalk outside Foufounes Electrique, we were scattered about trying to decide where to go for a drink. 5 people can’t block a side walk, especially not the way we we standing. Next to us another club had roped off enough of the sidewalk for their line that people were stepping into the street to get bye. A police officer came up to us and told us to move on because we were blocking the side walk. When I politely asked about the next door club he pulled his nightstick and shoved me with it and told me to shut up. This sort of thing was hardly uncommon.
When I grabbed the night bus to go home I’d get off in the suburb I grew up in the roving public security van would follow me home. One night when it was -30 I went over to the driver and said “look, we both know you’re going to follow me home. We both know you know where I live. Why don’t you just give me a lift, I’ll buy you a coffee and we’ll both go on about our night?” He laughed at me, said no and then followed me home on my 30 minute walk.
Speaking of bus or metro rides: I always got seats. ALWAYS. Seats would come clear in the way that Moses could part seas. It was magical.
But here’s the thing. Back in my closet was another wardrobe that I could put on, one that clearly went with the cloak of white privilege I could never take off. I had nice pants, going to church shirts, a tie or two. I could shine up my Docs, wear the normal pants, cut out the swearing, take off my earrings, grow out my hair a bit and manage what I always thought of as the “lapsed Mormon” look.
This guy had a most of a degree, this guy spoke correctly, this guy belonged. This guy had choices. This guy had been born with that (in)visible cloak. This guy was playing the game on the easy setting.
But this guy had had a tiny glimpse through the curtain and this guy remembers.
That’s why this guy STFU when people of colour, women and LGBT people talk about their experiences and day to day challenges.
If you’re denying that racism and prejudice don’t effect people’s lives or worse, if you’re saying they don’t exist, then you are part of the problem.
Two additional thoughts:
1) as scary as the nightstick (and other) incidents were, I came out of them without getting hurt or even being arrested. Further testament to that cloak.
2) another experience that opened my eyes was going to see KRS One at a venue in Toronto. I was one of eight (I counted) white people at the show. I went to a high school with a good mix of minorities so I’ve never been one of those people who feels uncomfortable around people who didn’t look like me (this smacks of “some of my best friends are…” Please know I’m aware of this) but it dawned on me that night that this must be what a lot of life felt like for the people of colour I’d gone to school with.
When reading Guns and Utu I was struck by a point made by Mathew Wright, the author, about a misunderstanding by colonizers regarding Māori inter-iwi conflict which I think parallels a similar misunderstanding made about the First Nations of what has become Canada. What I think is important here is that this misunderstanding (which is conveniently more or less prevalent as the situation dictates) continues to colour Pākehā and non-First Nations perceptions.
So what Wright said (I think this counts as the most delayed lead in the history of delayed leads) was that, to the outsider, inter-Iwi warfare was perceived as being akin to a British civil war when, in fact, it was more like France attacking England or Austria invading Belgium. I think, to a different degree many people still hold this view of the various Māori iwi within New Zealand Aotearoa.
I think that there is an echo of this thought process within Canada which has certainly raised it’s head in comments from the non-First Nations community surrounding the Idle No More movement* (#IdleNoMore on twitter and http://idlenomore.ca/ on the web). Many many people are asking “what do Indians want?”. Well, first, which “Indians” do you mean? Which nation? From which region? Urban? Rural? Northern? Southern? Coastal? Second, and this is pretty key, so pay attention: Asking that question is like asking “what do all the white people want?”. Think on that for a minute, I’ll wait here. Back? Cool. Just as there are conservative white folk, and lefty white folk and white folk in the middle etc, there are First Nations people in those slots as well. Additionally just like people in Alberta and Quebec may have different views of how Canada should be run, someone from the Sunchild First Nation may well have a very different view on things from someone born in Kahnawake.
This, I think, is something that bears keeping in mind BEFORE one opens ones mouth and starts pontificating on “Indians”.
I have other thoughts but I’ve been summoned to help with a puzzle. Because my life is excitement embodied!
* Readers in Aotearoa will find some of the Idle No More movement’s aims to be very familiar and close to the Māori Council’s attempts to stop asset sales… in this case swap asset sales for a ridiculous Omnibus Budget that changes a whole bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with a budget and you’ve got the picture. Also remember that a) the CPC has a bigger majority than the Nats and b) the other party’s (NDP, LPC et al) aren’t really in the mood for another election.
So, in the last week and a half FIFA has worked out that wearing a scarf while playing football won’t cause you to instantly die and the Kingdom s of Saudi Arabia and Brunei and Qatar have all entered women athletes in this year’s summer Olympics.
That it will be difficult for these ground breaking women goes, sadly, almost without saying. That this is, in many ways (as the title says), tiny, little baby steps is also clear. But forward is forward I reckon.
That means, assuming all the athletes show up, that there are now no countries to have never sent women to the games.