When my daughter was in third grade, she came home from school one day and told us she had a new locker mate.
“What’s her name?” we asked. We knew many of her classmates by name or by sight so were curious to know who she had been paired with.
“Raphaëlle. She’s new so you don’t know her,” Luce answered.
We went on to ask what she looked like, thinking we might have met her and her parents at school drop off. Luce described Raphaëlle as only an 8-year-old can.
“She has dark hair. Not too short and not too long. And she wears a red jacket.”
A few weeks later, the school held its annual BBQ fundraiser. We bought tickets for undercooked hot dogs, bags of chips and soda then placed our garden chairs on the hard concrete of the schoolyard with other parents. The kids ran off to play games that had been set up for them at the far end of the yard.
Later Luce came running over to us with a little girl in tow. “THIS is Raphaëlle, Mom,” she announced. The girl had a sweet, shy smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Raphaëlle. Welcome to the neighbourhood. I hope we get to meet your parents some time,” I said before she and Luce skipped away to find their other classmates.
Ben and I looked at each other with surprised, little smiles of our own. In her description of her new friend – and any time she talked about her – Luce had never mentioned that Raphaëlle had skin the color of a rich, dark-roast coffee bean. And while it was true that her hair was “not too short and not too long”, it fell in beautiful, glossy black ringlets around her face.
I leaned over and whispered proudly to Ben, “I think our daughter might be colorblind.” He whispered back, “I only wish the whole world was too.”
I had forgotten about this until last week when, in Montreal, a man was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. He is a 31-year-old doctoral student, a lab technician, a husband, a soon-to-be father of twins and … he is black. He lost his job and was jailed for six nights before evidence surfaced showing that he could not possibly have been the aggressor.
This is just the latest in a series of similar events in the city that fall under the label of “racial profiling”. But it’s happening everywhere: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Minneapolis, New York, Washington and cities around the world. I understand that sometimes it’s deliberate, other times it’s ignorance or fear. But whatever the reason, it has to stop.
A few decades have passed since Luce skipped over to us in the schoolyard with Raphaëlle. We had such high hopes that the near future would be different – people would be more aware, more inclusive, more comfortable with diversity. It seems we still have a lot of work to do.