As we sat at my dining room table I watched silently while the sadness and frustration took over his mind. I stared into his big brown eyes and saw a broken man who just wanted to be treated as an equal. That day my heart sank to depths I’ll never be able to explain. Not only was I staring at a broken man, I began to see fractions of the 16-year-old boy I once knew and loved. The one that told me his deepest darkest secrets. The one that showed me true love before he was hardened by the world. The one that I share and treasure a lifetime of memories with. The same boy that told me he wanted to grow up as a black man until the age of 18 and then do it all over again as a white man just to see how different life is. Because he knew. He knew even then that he was treated different from others. Stereotyped. A boy who at 16 knew he was more likely to be referred to as the black boy rather than his name. Who would be stopped by police because of the colour of his skin. Who people wouldn’t like based on the colour of his skin rather than how kind and loving he is.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering what had caused his distress on this day. You see he had just finished explaining to me how his day was. At this point we were 23 and 24 years old just trying to find our footing in the world. We both landed jobs in the heart of downtown Toronto in the financial district. Canada’s Wall street. Men and women dressed in suits with heels as high as their ego canvasing the area daily. While our lives couldn’t have been more different we ended up being just as successful as one and other. We were fish out of water but we’ll be damned if we didn’t try and swim. If you can do it, so can we.
He began to tell me how he was having a cigarette just as he was finishing his lunch and another man approached him.
“Hey, do you know where I can get some coke?” Completely baffled he quipped “Uh.. sorry?? This is the Financial District. It’s all business people here you’re in the wrong area. Try the Entertainment District.” He said more than a little confused. The man gave my friend a quick glance up and down “Well… you don’t look like you’re in the right area either… help me out.”
How my friend kept his composure I’ll never know. Maybe he was used to it. Maybe he knew he was better than that. Maybe he was concerned about the backlash he was bound to receive as a black man in a white mans world. He quickly interjected and ripped his swipe card from work off his button down and showed him. He repeated “this is the financial district. I’m going back to work.”
I sit here to this day thinking of that story. Angry. Heart broken. He worked so hard to get to where he was. He had struggles and more setbacks in his short lifetime that you’ll never endure in your entire life. He worked so hard and still he was just looked at as a black man. Stereotyped as a drug dealer. People wonder why so many of our brothers and sisters, because that is what they are at the end of the day, our brothers and sisters. People wonder why they’re angry. Why they’re fed up. Why they’re upset. Why they feel as if they have no voice. This here? A perfect example. Because even though he busted his ass to get to where he wanted to be, even though he had all the qualifications his worth was still based on the colour of his skin.
What happened to acceptance? What happened to loving one and other based on their actions rather than how they look. What happened to speaking up for something that’s wrong? White privilege is real and so many of us choose to ignore it. You are privileged and you need to help those who aren’t. Those who need help. We all do. Because if you are not the oppressed, you are the oppressor.
You have a voice. Fucking use it.