A couple months ago, I noticed the curtains in the apartment directly across the road from mine were not closed. The lights were on and for the first time in seven years, I could see inside.
A young man was standing in the window, starring directly into my apartment. I stopped and starred back. I don’t remember how the stare-off ended, but I remember how elated I was. I finally had a neighbour who I could creep on, and it wasn’t creepy because he was looking in on me as well.
When friends came over, we’d yell, “Code J!” when he appeared. I named him Jake. Jake is a carpenter. He doesn’t like housework, so he whips his shirt off as soon as he’s home so he’ll have less laundry. He BBQs most of his meals to avoid doing dishes. He has hot, passionate sex at 3 a.m. during thunder storms and doesn’t give a fuck if anyone sees.
I wondered what he thought of my life as he slyly watched me playing cards with my partner while trying to hide the fact that he was taking bong rips on his balcony. Jake delighted me.
That all stopped last night.
Getting a little rowdy with a few friends while I was out watering my plants, his buddy yelled out the n-word.
Jake didn’t say anything. Jake didn’t even seem to think this was inappropriate. Jake didn’t seem to care that a black child was riding her bike—as she often does—on the street that separates us.
Not that if she wasn’t there it would have been okay.
I’m white, so I have no idea how that word feels or the power it holds. This is what I know: As a woman, when I’m walking down the street and a man yells at me from a car, whistles at me while I walk past or—uninvited—puts his hands on my body, I’m reminded the power he has over me simply because he has a dick. I’m reminded that I’m not particularly safe, and memories of my own and other women’s bad experiences come to mind.
When a man catcalls me, I remember that I’m not safe.
When I hear the words bitch, slut, whore and cunt used as insults, I’m reminded how harshly I’m judged simply because I am a woman and, again, I remember that I’m not safe.
When a young, strong white man whose been drinking yells out the n-word—even at no one in particular—I can’t imagine how a small black girl would feel, but I bet it’s a hell of a lot worse than I feel when I’m catcalled. Especially with what’s gone on recently.
I’m not racist. I see colour, but I try not to judge. I educate myself, explore my prejudices and have discussions with white people who say racist shit, when I think they’re a person worth starting the discussion with, someone who might actually learn. But I’m not really, actively an ally, which makes me pretty fucking useless.
I’ve had a bit of guilt about that lately and started thinking about what I can do. After last night, I know I need to step up.
I’ll be reporting Jake to the condo board for the word that was yelled off his balcony. I want my almost exclusively white neighbourhood to be a safe space for everyone. I want it to be a place where kids can just be kids. That means I need to explore the different ways I—as a young, white woman—can be an ally to people of colour.
I’ll be at #NotAnotherHashtag - Black Lives Matter this Wednesday in Winnipeg.
Jake, if you read this, maybe you and your buddy should show up. You clearly also have a lot to learn.
Published by Meg Crane