by Monique Stone
A number of years ago I received a phone call from my ex-boyfriend. I knew that earlier in the day, he had met my new nephew, and I anticipated his excitement at meeting the baby.
Me: “Isn’t my nephew freaking awesome?”
Him: “Yah but I’m pretty sure he tried to take my wallet”
I was confused, shocked even, by his comment. I fumbled through the rest of the conversation as I started to understand the prejudice that fueled his comment.
My nephew’s father is black.
When I hung up the phone I stood in my workplace feeling sick to my stomach. I had just witnessed the first of many prejudiced comments my fantastic little nephew was likely to receive. Despite my reaction in the moment, and despite my reaction each time I am witness to racial prejudice, I know that I still cannot fully comprehend its impact.
Because I’m white.
In my whiteness I swim in white people water, and this water is most often set a temperature comfortable for people like me.
I have lived in this water my entire life. Even though I work hard to eradicate exclusion and oppression with and for people of different race, gender, socio-economic status and sexual orientation, I know that I do it from a position of privilege.
This privilege comes solely because of my skin colour.
Following the Trayvon Martin case has provided me with an invitation to recognize that I need to own my bias, power and privilege. I need to own up to how, consciously or subconsciously, prejudice continues to manifest itself in my behaviours, actions, and thoughts.
I know I have crossed the street to avoid a poor person. I have felt the hairs on my skin raise and my body tense when confronted with a group of men – men of any ethnicity. I’ve judged white people who I have deemed lesser than me. I have checked the security of my bag when walking in a ‘bad’ part of town. I’ve wondered if a person of indigenous background has lived with addiction.
I have reacted in fear at young people with hoodies.
Rarely have I been forced to question my reactions. Most often the white people water is filled with justifications that keep me comfortably afloat.
And so I wonder, if transformation will ever take place. I wonder if transformation can continue, or begin at all, if the temperature remains the same. I might be too comfortable, and I wonder if I – if we – should be quite so comfortable in this water at all.
Might we need to recognize that the water has been set to our temperature for far too long?
If we are to see, and to participate in positive social change (a change that is so obviously needed), then those of us who have this clearly undeserved privilege must be humbled. We must be honest with ourselves and with each other. We must become vulnerable.
With humility, honesty and vulnerability, we can no longer be complacent in this dangerously comfortable water where we should no longer swim.
Monique Stone is a priest in the Anglican Parish of Huntley, a stone’s throw from Ottawa. Her ministry is grounded in the conviction that unity in Christ allows communities of diverse people to live the gospel in dynamic, transformative ways.