This summer, I was walking along a street in the south end of Halifax with a few pals. As we walked down the tree-lined streets next to houses I couldn’t fathom of ever owning, they started hollering and causing a ruckus. It was late, they had been drinking, I was DD and I immediately felt nervous, uncomfortable and a little scared. I felt like I shouldn’t be there. Was it because I wasn’t lubricated like my companions? Was it my unrelenting straight-edge personality that was getting challenged? Am I too polite? I was left with this feeling for the rest of the night.
In a world of stereotypes, the “drunken Indian” is still a major challenge for Indigenous people even though Indigenous people, on average, drink less than the rest of Canadians. The thought of walking around a wealthy, mostly white neighbourhood, drunk with a bunch of fellow Natives feels ridiculous and unsafe.
I don’t have to reach far to find stories from my POC community who talk about being stopped and carded or pulled over for no reason. The countless social media stories back that up and confirm that safety is our number-one priority. Letting our guard down to carry on is a privilege we don’t often have.
With the return of university students in the coming weeks, I feel for the homeowners that will have to endure late-night parties and noise complaints. They will undoubtedly, at one point or another, have to clean up the red Solo cups tossed in their gardens and pick up the abandoned road beers left on the sidewalk in front of their homes. There will be hordes of young people pushing themselves to see how many beers they can shotgun, shooters they can down and pints they can chug. Then once the bars close and parties wind down, they will have to make their way home or to the nearest place to crash.
But think, just for a minute, about your initial gut reaction to seeing a bunch of young, pretty, white university students, arm-in-arm, carrying on a little too loud in the streets of Halifax. You’ll probably shake your head, think it’s too cold to not have a jacket on and maybe chuckle at the future hangover these kids are going to have. Now think about the same scenario, except change the race of the students in your mind. Make them Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, international students from across the world. Do you still have the same reaction, or do you judge them a little more? Do you cross the street when you see them coming? Do you think about calling the police?
All these students are here for a reason. For the most part, it’s to find out who they are and what they want to do for the rest of their lives. But some of those students have had to overcome numerous barriers to get there and will endure even more to stay.
There will be plenty of people and systems making students of colour feel like they don’t belong. You don’t need to be one of them.