I started to write this article in March or April, but became sidetracked by other matters. What compels me to finish it now is a conversation that I had last night at a barbecue for Trinity College’s theology students. My interlocutor was a 24-year old man whose family emigrated to Canada from Nigeria when he was 3.
My new friend related to me that, when he was 10, he was out riding his bike. Form a picture of that in your mind’s eye: a boy from Africa, seven years in his new home in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), in grade 5 at school, out riding his bike.
A cop stops him. Where did you get that bike?
I started shaking inside. I could hardly hold back my tears for that 10-year old boy, and for the young man sharing his story with me—to his amazing credit, with sadness but no malice in his eyes.
We talked a little about Desmond Cole. Of course my friend knew the name well. A local activist, freelance journalist, and blogger at Cole’s Notes, he has been stopped by the cops fifty time—fifty times!—for the suspicious activity of Walking While Black in Toronto.
If you’re white and don’t know what “white privilege” means, or you deny that it exists, I’ll give you a pass until the end of this article. I was that white man myself, seven years ago.
Don’t let my name fool you. With my Ukrainian and Lemko ancestry on my mother’s side, I’m as white as any Eastern European. I’ve been mistaken for Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and German. Apparently, speech therapy in early childhood left me with an accent—undetected by myself, of course—that many people over the years have guessed as Northern European, even people in my own hometown of Jamestown NY and a Canadian immigration officer who prided himself on his unfailing ability to identify foreign accents.
Which is to say, I’m both possessor and beneficiary of white privilege, just because of how I look and speak. Read More