It is a clear case of ‘profiling’. Of targeting a group of people based on knowing where they come from.
Last week, shelter staff organized an outing for the families staying at Inn from the Cold’s emergency family shelter. A company has generously donated funds for field trips on school PD Days, so for this particular school-free day, the staff decided to take the families bowling.
They contacted the bowling alley weeks in advance. Reserved 7 lanes for 2 hours and on Friday morning, the families climbed onto buses and set off for their adventure.
The children were excited. The parents grateful for an outing where they could spend time having fun with their kids.
It did not go well.
When staff told me how the families had been treated I was saddened. I was angry. I was disappointed.
My feelings are nothing compared to what the children and parents must have felt. Though when one mother explained it away with, “We’re used to this treatment,” I realized there is one emotion many of the families felt that because of my privileged position doesn’t resonate within me. “Resigned.”
I am not Indigenous. I am not a visible ethnic minority. I am not staying at a homeless shelter. I am not trapped in poverty.
For the families on the outing, all of this is true. This is their reality, as is the discrimination they face everyday, every where.
Discrimination. It’s what people do when confronted with ‘others’ who are different than their view of the world.
The 2 hour bowling fest was chopped in half by staff at the bowling hall. No explanation. Just a curt, “You can have one hour and then we’ll see if we give you a second.” When staff reminded the manager that they’d reserved a full two hours and would gladly pay up front, there was no change in attitude. The families would have to prove themselves worthy of being granted the second hour.
At the end of the first hour the shelter staff and guests were told they had to leave. They had been deemed unworthy. There was no recourse.
They handed in their shoes and the families left, only to have to wait an hour in the stairwell for the buses to arrive.
Throughout the one hour of bowling, the bowling alley staff stood at the edge of the area where the families were bowling and stared. Continuously. They rolled their eyes. Made snide comments about ‘those people’ and even went so far as to banish two young children from the lanes when they sent two balls down the alley. As one staff member exclaimed, “My son goes to birthday parties at that bowling alley. He and his friends are always doing silly things. They don’t have their bowling shoes taken off their feet and their privileges rescinded. If there’s an issue, management talks to the parents who talk to their kids. They work it out.”
That didn’t happen on Friday.
Respect. Consideration. Thoughtfulness. Kindness. Acceptance. Courtesy. Customer service.
None of those were present.
What was present? Discrimination. Racism. Mistreatment. Rudeness. Intolerance. Judgement.
And a host of human affects that do not reflect well on those employing them as a means to shame and shun people who are already marginalized and excluded from societal norms and considerations.
I wonder if the bowling alley staff have any idea how shameful their behaviour was? I’m pretty sure they don’t.
Because that’s the thing about discrimination and intolerance. Blinded by our beliefs, we don’t know we’re acting under its influence. We are simply acting out from an internal script that makes it okay to do what we believe is necessary to protect our perceived right to be judge and jury of others. And that includes believing we have the right to be who we are and act how we do, even if it means trampling upon the rights of others to be who they are.
Under the cloud of discrimination and intolerance, we don’t assess our beliefs. We express them. No matter who gets hurt.
I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and make hate and injustice go away.
I know I don’t.
Instead, I must use the tools I have available to create better.
Shaming the staff at the bowling alley will not make them more tolerant, less discriminatory.
Inviting them into a conversation where compassion for our differing opinions and points of view is present will create space for understanding to begin. Perhaps neither side will change their positions, but in the process, we will have connected as human beings in search of common ground.
And from that place, anything is possible.