I want to tell you a story. ‘Tis a true one. Today I had a date with the Landlord/Tenant Board. I will not bore you with the details, but I’m sure you can imagine why I was there—if you’re reading this you are probably a student who understands financial hardship to some extent.
For those of you who have never experienced mediation on an issue such as this, it’s quite straight-forward. You show up, perhaps take some provided legal council (or obtain your own if necessary), and generally try to make a deal with the other party before arbitration is necessary. Today we tried and failed. This is an incredibly nerve-racking experience, as our living arrangement is now in the hands of a complete stranger, and we have no idea how they will interpret the facts. Not the coolest of places to be.
After waiting maybe fifteen minutes, our case is finally called, and we move to the front of the room and sit opposite our landlords with the adjudicator between us, much like in a standard court room, just on a much smaller and more relaxed scale. The landlord then presents his/her case, after which the tenants have their opportunity to explain what has happened and possibly propose a payment plan to rectify the situation. This is exactly what happened, and after presenting our plan, the adjudicator decided to “make a ruling” on the case. She ruled in our favour. Whew.
Now this is where the story gets a little shocking. On the way out of the boardroom, I ran into my landlords. One of them patted me on the chest twice. Kind of a weird thing to do first of all, considering they were just trying to kick me out of their house. However, it gets worse. While patting me on the chest, my landlord said, “You’re lucky she was black,” in reference to the adjudicator. It is not often in my life that I am speechless, but this was one of those times. My mouth just dropped open and I couldn’t even think of what to do. I wanted to punch her for her ignorance. The adjudicator has clearly spent much of her life working hard to achieve what she has, and not only that, but she has undoubtedly had to work harder to obtain her position than I would have to do the same (I am a white male). She was born into a world that treats women and African-American’s as lesser beings, regardless of whether that treatment is blatant or implicit. I would venture to guess that her life has had more trials and tribulations than my 60-year-old white landlord could even imagine. No matter how subtle the comment appeared, this kind of thing is just as bad as putting on a white robe and hood or burning a cross in this day.
It is events such as these that have inspired me over the last year to become involved in the Trent Implicit Bias Project, which is a group of students of a variety of backgrounds who wish to draw attention to situations such as these and attempt to eradicate them. We will be hosting a conference on March 21 and 22 where students, professors, and members of the community will be speaking about the problems society faces because of these biases. It’s only a small step, but it is a step in the right direction, and if we can stop just one person like my landlord from being so blatantly racist, at least we helped