Written by Cathy Gatlin
My husband, Ming, says I lead a charmed life. Others call it white privilege. Or as Ming (who likes to quote from the movie “Unforgiven”): “deserve has nothing to do with it” (Clint Eastwood says this when he shoots the bad guy who says “I don’t deserve to die”).
Growing up in a working class neighborhood in East York in the 70s and 80s we did not use words like white privilege. Or tell people that my parents mortgage was paid off very soon after they moved in. Because telling people you are privileged is not nice or caring. We keep that to ourselves.
I grew up with everything, an incredible loving set of parents and everything you could ever need. Parents who gave me confidence, maybe even cockiness. I believed I could do anything. I strived and strive to as be as good and loving and as patient as my parents were to me.
I was an immature person, well I still am. I still think farts are funny, and if someone tells me to stop swearing I swear more. But I also grew up very sheltered. I thought everyone was doing OK, and even those who were not, well it would work out for them, somehow. Somehow I believed it would all work out, craziness who thinks that?
Then I went to Queens where that belief only continued, I took Sociology where I studied the theory of poverty and of racism, but I never lived it. And I will never live it.
I then became an insurance underwriter and was fired after two years (I really really sucked at it) and moved to Ireland.
This was my first taste of being an outsider. Being someone who did not fit in (I know you can be white and not fit in with other whites, who knew?). I had never lived somewhere where almost everyone has a shared history and shared sorrows. I loved the political incorrectness of Ireland (well in 1999) and the ferocious sense of dark humour there. I loved that I was the naïve Yank who just did not get it. What I did not love was only getting the crappy bar back jobs, because the good jobs went to the Irish.
I then spent a year travelling the world. I cried the first two days I was in India. I met a woman from Kenya who took me under her wing, and said things like “Bombay is poor for me, I can’t imagine what this is like for a white girl from Canada!”. (When Mumbai was called Bombay).
I almost experienced India in a dream, like it was not me there, but “hippy open Cathy” who can somehow process and mentally manage the intense poverty that was India. This was also where I met my Chinese immigrant husband (born in North Bay) and fell in love with him 4 years later (I budded in front of him at the New Delhi train station in 2000).
But the impact of white privilege still had not really hit me at this point of my life. Why? Well, that was India, not Canada, that’s different right? How can I make an impact on 1 billion people? I had people follow me in India and touch me (in the south in really rural areas where, in some cases, they had never seen a white person).
I then moved home and lived comfortably at Yonge and Eglinton and then Ossington and Harbord.
But then Parkdale happened to me. My husband refused to live east of Broadview, west of High Park, or north of Bloor. This was when a house in Parkdale was 400-500 k. So we moved here. I cried a lot. Besides having post partum depression, I could not handle the division of class here. I felt I was back in India again.
Why I am living here, and someone who just immigrated here and working 4 times as hard has a fifth of what I have financially? Why are we so racist against the Roma? Why are there homeless people? Why can some people not afford winter jackets?
Suddenly I was pushed out of my white bubble. I was forced out. Parkdale does not hide from you. There is a user coming off their high at Dun and King and I have to call 911 and explain to my 3 year old what is happening. I need to give food to homeless people because I have started actually talking, yes actually talking to homeless people, and heard their stories. They are not good stories. I have spent 4 years with Carl (not his name) who is now in foster care because his mother uses. We used to throw his birthday parties and have sleep overs because his mom forgot to pick him up she was so high. Carl made a massive impact on my life and how I saw my community.
Carl. It breaks my heart to write his fake name down. He asked me to be his friend when he was 5, he had just moved schools, to my sons school.
He came over once a week, sometimes more. I brought him camping: he hated it and just wanted to be home. I love Carl and I am not allowed to see him (Foster Mom said no) but Carl taught me a lot. About love, about drug usage and how it affects a family, about the real issues of accountability in Child Services, to name a very few. About how every Mom loves their kid, well 99 percent of them, and how we all struggle.
It also taught me there are no bad kids; just bad situations. And Carl’s mom really loves him, she just could not parent while using drugs. And it broke my heart, and I waited 2 years to call child services (I should not have waited that long).
Carl convinced me his best situation was to be with his mom and baby sister. I still don’t know how I feel about Carl being in the system. Regardless, Carl changed me in a very big way.
I started to see life differently and where I fit in the world. I don’t need to buy more things. I don’t give a shit what my house looks like, (well my friend April designed parts of it and I love those parts) Instead, I want to give back.
I was happy in my bubble. I think my kids are still in the bubble (well I know they are), we try to get them out to understand the world so they can somehow begin to realize their privilege. But it’s hard.
So after Carl left Parkdale I thought about how I could help my community.
I started a Multisport after school program, 3 days a week in conjunction with the community center (and another parent), 3 days a week in our school.
I also started a coat drive in our school and am working on another clothes drive for Roncesvalles United church’s “community warmth” program. Also, I am about to join the “More than Child’s Play” board of parents to help implement a seniors and kids program in our community. Once I started working on these programs I felt like this hole in my life was finally filled. Which had not been filled by marriage, children of my own, or a career I really like. I finally felt like I was truly part of my community and finally helping in a meaningful way.
Thank you Parkdale, for opening me to what is really out there. For making me realize I am a white, privileged woman who does not deserve this hand I was given. I was dealt a full house of love and money and I better put it to good use. Thank you Parkdale for ensuring I do something more. I love you Parkdale. I could never leave because I got more work to do.
If you want help with Parkdale there are two places doing amazing work, remember money is as important and is some cases more important than your time, so giving is key to helping for social change!
http://www.pchc.on.ca/ (Parkdale community health centre, check out the amazing programs they run)
http://pcfb.ca/home/index.php (Parkdale food bank, needs food right now!)