I was walking to the post office to get my mail, which I must not have done in at least a week judging by the amount of mail jammed into it and the lack of a memory of when I did it last, and as I walked, I inadvertently started doing an experiment on eye contact. I had to walk only a quarter of a block from where I’d parked – not very far, for those of you not familiar with the Teresa-BMU (block-measuring-unit). It was miserable out, snowing and blowing – yes, you read that right, it was snowing for most of the day today!! – and I was actively wishing I had driven around the block to find a closer spot, but so be it, I just walked faster. On my way, I passed several people (I was walking one direction, they the opposite direction). Maybe they were coming back from the post office, too, or from other errands, hard to say. By complete co-incidence* all the people I met were native. A couple were younger than me, a couple older – to be honest, I don’t actually remember the details. What I do remember was that I looked at every one of them and gave them a smile, and a little eye contact, and every single one of them avoided all eye contact with me. It struck me immediately – we think that we don’t have social classes in Canada, and that racism is a thing of the past, but there it was as clear as day! They did not want to look at me, for whatever reason, even though I was trying to be pleasant in that miseable weather. Why? I think it’s because they are so used to being scowled at, or ignored, or generally looked-down-upon that they completely avoid eye contact, or even looking towards the white person. I ask again, why? Probably to avoid rejection. Maybe they are sick of it! I would be! I have a feeling that the natives in this town are treated pretty badly, for no reason! The people I was trying to make eye contact with were normal people – they weren’t drunks, homeless, transient or smelly! Those are things that I’m pretty sure many white people would give as generalizations for natives (I know, it’s sad) yet it’s far from true. Yes, there are quite a few who linger around town, outside convenience stores and whatnot, and it might seem that they’re homeless, drunk and up to no good. I don’t think that’s true… but I don’t know what they are up to, maybe they just don’t have anywhere they have to be (unlike white people throughout Canada). Another truth: you don’t see white people lingering or walking outside unless it’s with a dog, kids, or for exercise. We are all quite definitely addicted to driving our smelly, noisy vehicles and rushing from place to place. I have seen people talking from one pick up truck to another, through their open windows. I’m not saying it’s conclusively right or wrong, just an observation!
After the post office, I continued on to the hardware store, about a third of a block more, and on the way then, I met only white people – and every single one of them met my eyes, even if it was only for a millisecond. A few smiled. Makes me sad. Thinking of Pastor Grant’s sermon last week about justice, I wonder if there’s anything I can do about it. I guess I can keep attempting to make eye contact… and defend them whenever I have the opportunity. I’m not sure there’s much else I can do. The “native problem,” as it’s sometimes called, is so complicated… It’s a big topic, maybe I’ll do a blog about it sometime…
As I walked back to my car, I only met a few people. A white lady about my age. Eye contact, no smile. Then, a little native girl, about 6 years old, skipping along. She gave me a huge smile, lots of eye contact, and then a shy look at the ground. So maybe there’s hope!
*most of the time, there’s no such thing as co-incidence – these things are often orchestrated by God! How cool is that?!?!