Over the summers I work at a bank as part of their Aboriginal Summer Internship Program and in Canada most banks get quite busy at the end of the month for a number of reasons. The end of the month is when most rent payments are due, mortgages tend to close, government checks come in (including social assistance, disability, pension, etc.) and this week was busier than normal because Monday is a bank holiday. Being busy means that there are lines (which could be avoided by using online banking or ATMS), however the bank that I work at is also the only one in town that will cash government cheques for non-clients free of charge (if they have two pieces of ID), making lines a bit longer.
This past week I had one client who tested every ounce of my patience and who subsequently ruined a lot of my faith in humanity. In my time in University and out of Canada I guess that I was exposed to people who genuinely believe that all people are equal and within my program at university I was among people that I shared ideology with. However this one woman yesterday just infuriated me and reminded me of how far Canada still has to go before we can actually be considered an ‘accepting country’.
This woman, who is a complete stranger, acted as though she was speaking in confidence with me and mentioned that the bank would be busy that day because one particular group of people would be getting their paycheques (i.e. welfare). I tried to stop the shock from showing in my features as she walked away. I really didn’t know how to react and was too shocked to react quickly enough. But I felt as though that comment highlights a lot of the issues that we still face in Canada.
Firstly, we need to remove some of the stigma associated with being on social assistance. Social assistance exists for a reason and the vast majority of people do not abuse the system. The people that I see on social assistance use it and need it – sure, there may be exceptions but the exception is not the rule and is not right or fair to paint everyone with the same brush.
Secondly, it really does not matter what the background, ethnicity, culture, age, gender, etc. is of the person collecting social assistance, what matters is that they need the funds and are using the funds.
Thirdly, if you are racist do not act like you are in the right! If you want to say something demeaning about anyone DO NOT DO IT. Just stop thinking that racism is okay, don’t try to justify it. It does not matter what my background is (or what yours is), it doesn’t matter what I look like, it is not okay for anyone to be offensive and/or racist. I don’t care if its a joke. It’s not funny, it is not okay. It is rude, it is offensive and it is harmful.
I’m still angry about this, and probably will be for a while (or at least until that person comes back and I have a better response). How would you have reacted? Do you think that there is any hope of things improving in Canada anytime soon?