To whom it may concern,
And really, it’s everyone’s concern. I am writing this as a Métis woman who cried over having white privilege the other day. That’s right. I cried, over being “too white”! You see, in order for me to claim certain benefits as an Indigenous woman, I have to prove my ancestry. My father, who is a wonderful man but sick with alcoholism, has lost any documentation proving where we came from. My mother, who is European herself, grew up in an Indigenous community, with Indigenous children, and has been struck with concerns that many Indigenous individuals are forced to deal with, given our current state of affairs. My mother, with next to no resources as a single, lower income parent of five, had run to my rescue, trying to sooth my white privilege nerves by going to Vital Statistics, and again – on a lower class income – paid for me to rush order any proof that I am in fact not completely white! I can apply for that one scholarship! I can declare that underneath all of this white privilege that I am in fact Indigenous and I deserve to be treated as such!
And then it got me to thinking… what does it mean to be treated as such? As we were in line my cousin came in. A single mom of two, trying to support her children on next to nothing. Somehow she managed to step away from her children for a short moment, to bus downtown, and wait in line to pay for something, with money she really doesn’t have, in the hopes of being able to not lose the social assistance that supports her family. A situation all too familiar to my childhood friends. I can’t count the number of times my closest friends were sneered at as they lug their stroller onto the bus, in hopes of someone making room for them. Trying to care for their family, with probably no guidance of their own as a reference, under the judging gazes of others.
Later this afternoon as my mom and I had gone to a reputable government institution offering job search assistance, I noticed the receptionist looking my mom up and down, not realizing I was with her. My mom was wearing these awful, neon blue/neon green running shoes, and a pink tank top (probably from Giant Tiger, or the 80’s. Or both)! My mom, who herself is not of aboriginal descent has grown up and raised her family in a heavy Indigenous area of town. She herself has had to suffer for her children, for her friends, for her income, under the judging gaze of others. She no doubt has had to lug that same stroller onto the bus, carrying me, trying to avoid eye contact with those judging her for being a young parent, with my Indigenous dad beside her, looking just as uncertain. She had to drop out of college sometime early on in my childhood to take care of my four brothers and I, and my dad, a product of the residential school system who carries his addiction like a genetic disposition. To put it lightly, my mom did not have the opportunities I have had. To move from a lower to middle-class. To wear designer underwear, own a nice pair of Nike’s, or go after not only a first post-secondary diploma but a second. While she herself is white, she suffers the issues so many of my family members and friends, who are and “look Indigenous” are forced to deal with.
Last week a kid I grew up with was shot, by another kid we grew up with over gang related issues. Both boys are Indigenous.
Today at the bank an Indigenous woman was being ushered out by Caucasian employees. She was clearly in hysterics and upset over something. Not speaking English, probably frustrated she was being misunderstood, had finally left. The (white) bank employee rushed to his other bank employees to wash his hands with sanitizer and complain about how uncivilized this woman was being… uncivilized.
Growing up in traditional Métis culture I often went to sweat lodges, received many teachings, medicines, and my colours early on in life. All of which made me feel incredibly proud of who I was and where I came from. I had never been shunned away from any of these, by any of my community members or family (though with the slight joke that I was a little “white washed” looking). My blonde hair and green eyes were greeted with a “Welcome Home” the first time I attended the Sweat lodge. And I don’t know if it was until today when suddenly I felt like a brown person trapped in a white body when my heritage felt threatened… that I had realized just how much privilege I have carried my entire life. That the very stereotypes my friends and family members have been fighting to defy I was trying to jump into.
Let it be said that I, Steph Jael, a self-proclaimed white-knight (pun intended) of social injustice from her neighborhood, cried over having too much opportunity. Cried over not being able to apply for a scholarship (while being fully funded the SECOND time) while her cousin paid $65 (for a birth certificate, proving her child is, in fact, her child) from the $300 she receives to support her kids. I cried over being virtually invisible as the bank tellers judged this woman who was clearly just misunderstood. I cried over not being able to throw my white privilege out the window in order to be a visible part of a minority that is STILL forced to deal with so much hate, judgment, and divide.
Perhaps it’s bold of me to link poverty and racism. But today it particularly stood out to me as I reflected on weeping over having one less thing I had to fight against.
Nothing pisses me off more than social injustice, and ugly shoes.
P.S. I love you mom, but you need new shoes