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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Time to get off the Stigma Train

Fascinating, tragic, avoidable interaction on the subway. Passenger emergency alarm used by a middle-aged white woman who felt threatened by a young black male who took issue with her bike blocking the aisle.

She reacted to his words, he reacted back, she hit the alarm.  Did she feel threatened? I have no doubt she did.  WAS she threatened? No.

The youth wasn't diplomatic, he did have his shorts low and his underwear sticking out, and he was black - these may have been cues that caused the woman to register a threat, but he didn't, at any point, use words that were threatening.

Would she have reacted the same way to a white youth in a suit who used the same language? Or a black man in a suit with more diplomatic language? Or if it had been a young black woman with similarly rough language?

Security arrived and attempted to de-escalate the situation.  The youth was asked to leave the train, defended himself by rightly saying he'd done nothing wrong.  The woman reiterated that she felt threatened; when the youth asked "what exactly did I say" she had no answer.

To the security guards' credit, they suggested to the lady that if she felt uncomfortable maybe she could take the next train.

By this point, both sides were looking for a face-saving way out; the woman, by her body language, may have decided she'd overreacted, but didn't back down.

The youth, to his credit, walked away - but eventually left the train of his own volition.

I can't help but wonder - what's he feeling now? What are his thoughts on how the situation unfolded? How many times has he been caught in similar circumstances and what impact has that had on him?

The woman moved down the train and engaged someone in conversation about the incident.  Everyone buzzed about it for a couple minutes after.

I did nothing.  I thought about helping the guards facilitate, but didn't want to add to the escalation or step on their toes.  I thought of offering the youth a chance to sit by me, but he had that cornered look and didn't want to add to his feeling of being singled out.

As friends tell me, no one person can fix the world on their own.

As I tell them, yes - but that doesn't mean it can't be fixed.   We, and only we, can be that change we seek.  But we have to want to be part of the change.

We don't.  We want someone else to do the changing, or for change to happen outside us.

And that's the real tragedy.  We are architects of our own social solutions, but our shared social challenges, too.

Until we become collectively conscious of this, the cycle will continue.

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