Well, it's garage sale season again, and yesterday was the Saturday when everyone in my eastern Canadian city descends upon a particular neighborhood that -- for a single glorious spring day -- turns into a giant paradise of garage sale mania. The real bargain-hunters, those with an eye for antiques and memorabilia, get there at the crack of dawn. Most crowds start pouring in mid-morning, around 9 am. I split the difference this year and got there well before 8.
A few hours later I'd filled my bags and was well on my way to emptying my wallet. I was making my way back towards my bag-drop station but simply could not resist at least glancing at each table as I walked by.
And so it was as I was looking through your table of knickknacks (nice enough, though rather outrageously priced by garage sale standards) that, out of the corner of my eye, I saw you stalk over to my end of the table and heard your voice raised in agitation. "Goodbye!"
Startled, I glanced up and saw you making shooing motions at someone standing to my right. "Goodbye! Goodbye! I have nothing at your prices."
Your tone was brusque and dismissive. With a final whisk of your hand, you turned on your heel and stalked off to the other end of the table. Unsure and puzzled, I glanced to my right. My eyes landed on a group of three women belonging to a visible minority -- and my mouth literally dropped open as I stared from the women, to you, and back again.
The women were still standing there, talking among themselves. Perhaps they hadn't fully understood your meaning, or perhaps they were used to such treatment -- resigned, even. And maybe you'd been half-counting on that -- that your racist remark would go, for all intents and purposes, unheard and unremembered.
But I heard. And as I fully realized what had just happened, my heart sank and I felt sick to my stomach. Dropping the object I'd been holding, I took a step back -- then turned and walked away from your table, never to return. Not this year, and not next.
And maybe, if it had just been your table on your front lawn, that would have been the end of it. You would have lost my business yesterday. But it wasn't.
You see, your table wasn't on your front lawn. It was part of a larger church sale. And, to me, you were there not only as a private vendor, but as a representative of the church you belonged to. And by treating those women as you did, you forever ruined the reputation of your church for me.
If Jesus, who told us to treat "the least of these" like him, was a vendor at that table -- would he have shooed away those women dismissively? What about Paul, who wrote that "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek"?
Is your church a church where people of all ethnicities and backgrounds are welcomed and treated equally? Or is your church a church where some people -- the minorities, the disadvantaged, the "riff-raff" -- are waved off like pesky flies? Does your church care more about garage sales and committee meetings and choir practices than it does about reaching out and welcoming others into the family of Christ?
I didn't confront you yesterday. Was it timidity or cowardice on my part? Perhaps. Perhaps it was that the women themselves seemed to have let the statement pass and I didn't want to draw their attention to it. Perhaps it was that I was exhausted and hungry and my feet were aching and the cut I'd gotten a few blocks back just wouldn't stop bleeding. Or perhaps I didn't want to escalate a situation that I wasn't sure I could control.
There have been times in the past, though, that I've heard others make similar statements. Racist statements. Statements that I was uncomfortable with, and I knew were wrong, and yet I let them pass. We're so "nice" here in Canada, so polite, so scared to rock the boat. So tolerant, even of intolerance. And so it was you didn't even glance at me or the others at your table when you confronted those women -- because you knew we wouldn't speak out. Or thought we shared the same attitudes. We were "cool with that."
No, I am not cool with your racism.
And it's not only yours. Because as multicultural and accepting as we're supposed to be in Canada, we have racism here too. Oh, it's subtle, but it exists.
From the client who told me not to look for apartments in a certain part of the city, because "all the immigrant nannies go there in the evening" (this despite the fact she herself is of a visible minority and employs a nanny from outside the country for her two children!) To the woman who told me that seeing girls wearing headscarves makes her "uncomfortable". To those who have told me they don't support the Idle No More movement, because "Natives are corrupt and just want more money."
I've walked in the park you describe and, yes, I was probably the only Caucasian there; I never felt threatened in the least, only happy to see so many families out and enjoying the beautiful weather. I went to high school with a close friend who wore a headscarf, and I've marched on Parliament Hill as an Idle No More ally to demand respect and environmental accountability from our government.
Your racism is not cool.
And from now on, I'm telling you so.
7:06 PM PT: Wow -- made the Rec List! (First time, I think!) Thanks :)