Here is what went down. I was attending a community cafe event. He was being critical of the food being served at the event and while he was talking I brought out the food I had brought. Because,you see, the food that was being served at this event didn't meet the criteria of the diet I follow because I have MS. He did not know this and unthinkingly made another negative sarcastic comment about the fact that this was some kind of cafe where people brought their own special food. Yesterday was a challenging day for me on many levels: emotional, physical and professionally. Suffice it to say that his comment upset me and contributed to the isolation I was feeling on all of the aforementioned fronts yesterday. So I snapped. Not in a freak out way. I merely addressed his unthinking comment by angrily informing him of my truth. And my truth is so painful and was so pervasive to my every ounce of being that yesterday it brought me to tears to face it publicly with this unthinking and unaware man who is likely living in his own circle of fear and oppression and had the misfortune to try and vent that on me last night.
His truth probably involves watching (yet another) group of mostly white middle aged women 'helping' out the people in his poverty stricken area of the city by sweeping in with their 'high-falutin' ideas and feeding people cheap food (his earlier negative comment was to do with the fact that he felt that the $5 meal price was a bit high for the quality and quantity of food he had eaten...I responded by saying that I was sorry to hear that he felt that way and I would tell the organizers this feedback). At the table where we were both sitting were a few of my other friends from outside the cafe that were both in attendance for their first time to this event so there was other socializing occurring beyond the interaction I had with this man. So when his next comment was delivered after I had hauled out my own food (again, feeling very isolated in the community cafe with respect to the diet choices I have made, in full agreement with my neurologist, since I could not partake of any of the prepared food on offer). All of these thoughts and feelings were floating around when this man made his unthinking and uninformed comment.
So I snapped. I told him that the only reason I was eating my 'special' food was because that I could not eat any of the food on offer because I follow a special diet due to having a medical condition that prevented me from eating many ingredients. He said, in a slightly sarcastic tone, "What, like one of those food allergy things that is so popular nowadays?" The anger was palpable in my voice when I said, no, I have multiple sclerosis and follow a diet to hopefully prevent going blind or ending up in a wheelchair. At that point the emotion overtook me and I started crying. I then said that the day had been really rough (which it had) and this was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
I was humiliated. I have never broken down so publicly before in a setting where I knew people in a quasi-professional way. But what happened next was that I was engulfed by arms and hands that immediately reached out and across from the two friends at my table. Immediate support was offered. Kleenexes were offered by a stranger at the end of the table. And all this was offered to me, the white middle aged woman. Not to the man whose anger and isolation was so much less apparent to anyone looking just on the surface.
This man's comments will forever remind me that yes, to some it may appear that those of us that call ourselves social justice activists are just privileged (mostly) white folk. There are many that have had a long life time of poverty and seen repeated cycles of efforts by people of privilege coming in to 'rescue' them from their plight. And, in all honesty, that includes people like myself, because even though yesterday was a rough day, my life is basically charmed. And I got the immediate arms and hand of support - and the kleenex.
We are all in this together. And those hands and arms that reached out to embrace me last night need to be there for all of us in the literal and metaphorical sense. I have had many dark days in which I felt there was no arms or hands out there to help me and in many ways that was my truth as a single parent struggling with health issues that went undiagnosed for years. As someone who still faces a mountain of challenges I am grateful that I was given an opportunity to receive immediate support in a setting that is hoping to be the first community cafe in the city of Toronto. A cafe that is meant to support the people that live in the area.
|Daughter and I, Ottawa, 1995|