I had an interesting thing happen a few weeks ago while waiting for the train. A man approached me and began telling me he needed some money to buy a few things at a ‘dollar store’ (for those not in Canada or the US, I’m not sure if you have these type of stores – basically everything is what you might expect; a dollar!). As I continued to listen to him without saying anything, he commented, “I don’t mean any disrespect!”
I informed him that I didn’t have any money (which was true, as I primarily use other means of payment when I’m out and about). He began to walk away when I called him back. I must tell you that he looked quite unsure what to do next; after all, I had informed him I didn’t have any money so why was I calling him back to talk?
As he approached me, he stayed at a distance until I told him I had something to ask him.
“Sir, I’d just like to ask you, why did you specifically approach me when there are a lot of people standing on the platform waiting for the train?” I asked.
You know the saying, “You could have knocked me over with a feather?” This gentleman certainly had that look on his face. He gave me an answer, which I wasn’t quite sure was going to happen. This is what he said to me:
“I asked you for money for the store because you are a woman and you are white.”
I stood there for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts so I could say what I really wanted to say.
“So you were stereotyping me, right?”
I’m sure he was thinking, Oh, why did I ask THIS lady for money?
He admitted that yes, he did. I proceeded to tell him that I’m from Canada, where one of the basic guiding principles is to treat everyone the same no matter where they come from or what they look like. He nodded his head and said, “Canada! I love Canada! People are nice and kind.”
I told him that I treat people with respect and dignity and that it is a very sad thing to know that stereotyping can lead to the most negative situations. I kept talking. I mentioned that although I know he has no doubt been on the receiving end of being stereotyped by others, I sure as heck wasn’t going to be someone to stereotype him or what he is all about. I also added that as much as I do not stereotype people, he might want to think about not stereotyping others as well.
My train was approaching so I wished him well and he asked if he could give me a hug to which I replied, “Of course!” As I was getting on the train he said, “I hope I get to talk to you another time!” I waved and off I went.
The reason I wanted to share this story with you is that I deplore any kind of stereotyping. I am certainly not suggesting that it doesn’t happen in other parts of the world (like my home and native land). However, I am incredibly saddened when it does happen. I didn’t grow up judging people because of one trait or another. I once worked with a person who told me that she never knew ‘who’ I was talking about since I always described them in terms of their personality and energy, not their physical features or gender, etc. I recall she once said something like, “I never know if you are talking about an older man or a young woman because you describe WHO they are, not WHAT they look like!”
I hope that in a teeny tiny way I helped that gentleman realize people are people, and if we are ever going to change society for the better, let’s try to see past color, gender, and who we ‘think’ someone is or who they are not.