Dangerously Comfortable Water

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”
Me: “What?”

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.

Monique Stone

One Response to “Dangerously Comfortable Water”

  1. andrew

    Monique – Many thanks for sharing your open, vulnerable reflection on this. It always takes a lot for each of us to admit our privilege, and to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do. I know I’ve got a ton of work to do.

    Reading Matthew Simmermon-Gomes’ follow-up to his open letter brings the need for this posture more clearly in focus. In his post, Matthew shares:

    “So many voices cried that I see racism only because I look for it, that whites have ‘moved on’ and so should I. They are wrong. If whites have moved on it is because they have looked away and chosen not see, have chosen to let the blindfold of privilege hide the suffering of those without the privilege of wearing it. Such whites are blinded by their own hands. Thankfully, many have peeked out from under the fabric of privilege, have chosen to see the face of the world and not the fuzzy outlines that pierce the fabric and look like equality, like black entitlement, like ‘reverse racism.’ But what is to be done of the blind?”

    We cannot move on. Racism is still present. It is present in our hearts and minds, and it is most certainly present in our satanic systems of oppression. I am brought back time and again to the sense that what we need in these instances is to weep – to deeply and thoroughly weep at the gravity of our sin(s), to confess our complicity in this violence, and to repent.

    With God’s help, we must turn our backs (again and again) on the darkness of our own hearts, and seek to participate in a hard-fought reconciliation.


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