On Sunday, July 5, in the Spruce Grove public library, I was asked if I dropped my welfare cheque. At first I thought the stranger, a middle aged white man, was joking, but as I shrugged off his comments and walked away, the reality of what he said set in.
So, let’s see. Am I dressed nicely? Yes. Hair is in place? Yes. Shower today? Certainly. Any body odour? No.
That just leaves one thing to give him the impression that I might be carelessly carrying around welfare cheques, dropping them and waiting for strangers to alert me to that fact: I’m black.
I went back to ask him to clarify his comments in the hopes that I had misunderstood what he said. Maybe it was a joke that fell flat. Maybe I had actually dropped something. The ensuing conversation left no doubt in my mind about what he was trying to say. I’m black, therefore I am on welfare. It was a short follow-up conversation on account that I walked away from it.
The Centre for Research on Globalization cites evidence of a resurgence of racism around the world. Sadly, the Centre for Research on Globalization’s report is backed by recent events. Following the race-motivated church shooting in South Carolina, several predominantly black churches in the States have been victimized by arson and while the attacks are not related to same perpetrator, they are all being investigated as hate crimes. This latest waves of attacks are just some of many hate crimes that happen around the world every single day.
I have never met this man before. He has never met me. Yet he felt very comfortable saying loudly, in a public setting, “Excuse me, you dropped your welfare cheque,” among other things when I asked him to clarify his comments. It might not be a church burning, but it was definitely racism right here in Spruce Grove. And it was ugly.
Racism is rooted in fear and ignorance. In this day and age of information, why are people still so threatened by people of colour? For that man in the library, whatever happened to him or whatever was taught to him must eat away at him to the point where he felt justified in a verbal attack on a woman. What hurt did he suffer to make him like this? Who taught him to hate? (Has he even seen American History X?!)
Sir, I did not drop my welfare cheque. I’m not on social assistance. In fact, as the proud owner of a thriving company with staff, I am not even eligible for regular unemployment insurance – so isn’t it ironic that the taxes I pay contribute to yours? If you lose your job and need social assistance, it’s coming out of my pocket and the pockets of people like me.
You don’t need retaliation from me or anyone else, which is why I said, “This conversation is over,” and walked away from you (and also why I asked that those I told about the situation immediately thereafter not take action against you even though two people kindly offered). What you need is education, so let’s dispel some myths. The next time you feel compelled to insinuate a black woman is on welfare, think about this quote from Profiles of Welfare: Myths and Realities, National Council on Welfare:
The welfare rolls are made up of older people as well as younger people, people with disabilities as well as people who are able-bodied, and people who are well educated as well as people who are poorly educated. People on welfare differ in their reasons for assistance, family types and sizes, housing arrangements, length of time on welfare, and outside sources of income. Stereotypes about welfare are certain to be inappropriate. Losing a job, losing a spouse, and losing good health are some of the reasons that people go on welfare.”
Basically, the need for welfare doesn’t discriminate, even if you do. In addition to being incredibly racist, your comments were inappropriate for everyone receiving social assistance. In fact, poverty in Canada is not rooted in race, but in recession and job loss.
I won’t pretend that his words didn’t upset me. They certainly did. His words were meant to hurt, shock and annoy but I don’t believe in hurling bricks back at the people that throw them at me. I catch them and I make a foundation – in this case a platform – to raise myself up.
Now I’m getting up on that platform and issuing a challenge. When we see, hear and experience racism, let’s talk about it. Let’s use education and guidance to stamp out fear and ignorance. Let’s not let racism take hold as indicated by the Centre for Research on Globalization. Change happens when good people take action. Speak up and speak out. That’s how to put racism in its place.