I’m travelling to speak and perform, and WestJet lost my bag. Okay, that’s fine, I thought. It happens. I’m not sure how it happens on a direct flight when there were only about 20 people on the plane and only about five bags on the carousel, but ok. I wasn’t particularly happy about having to perform that night in the clothes I wore on the plane, but oh well. I can be patient. I told the baggage desk I wasn’t staying in Toronto, I was travelling around, and I was concerned that my bag might not find me. No problem, they said.

I followed the online tracker for my bag: no movement. Around 2:30pm I started getting worried, so I called the airline. After the usual long hold, I reached someone in baggage who told me the bag would arrive at 7pm. I gave them the address where I was staying (billeted with people) and they said they’d call when the bag arrived.

By 7pm, I was at the poetry show. Around 7:30, right before I went on to perform, WestJet called. I told them the address again. Since I’m an hour and a half away from Toronto, I figured by the time the bag left the airport and was transported here, I’d be back to get it. Plus, there are people at the address.

I went up to perform. The courier called while I was onstage. When I called them back just after 9pm when I was finished, they said they didn’t know the address, and now it was too late to deliver the bag that night. They told me the bag would be delivered the next morning.

Me innocently thinking my bags would soon arrive.

At 9am, they called me and told me the bag would be delivered between 12:30pm and 4:30pm. I am speaking today at 4pm, and I’m participating in a conference that starts at 10am. At this point I called WestJet to complain.

I pointed out that they charged me $25 to check the bag, and that I was now paying for my bag to essentially be lost for two days. I suggested that at the very least, they should refund that money.

“You pay for us to transport the bag from place to place and we did that,” the man told me.

I asked him what I was supposed to do, since I now have another speaking engagement, and no clothes. And since they assured me yesterday my bag would be in by 7, I didn’t go to the mall and buy things like underwear since that’s in the bag they said they would deliver that night. I mean, goddamn, I would at least have washed out my underwear in the sink and dried it overnight if they’d told me “tomorrow morning” meant “actually the evening.”

What I should have bought yesterday.

The man asked me if I had access to a car. I said of course I didn’t. He told me I could take public transport to the mall.

I pointed out that even if I did put my unwashed ass on transit to run around the mall, what if the bag showed up while I was out doing that and then I didn’t have luggage again?

I asked him if they get Tweeted at a lot over this kind of thing, and ended the conversation because it was ridiculous.

Then I thought, ugh, I should have listened to my mummy. She always told me to carry disposable paper underwear. “You can change them quickly in any bathroom, you know!” She also advised me to always keep a spare pair of underwear in my purse. At the time, I suggested to her that the probability of needing a spare pair of panties versus the likelihood of accidentally pulling out a panty in class while reaching for a book didn’t entice me. Oh, how I wish I had taken her advice now as I sit here writing Morning File, and contemplating whether I should cab to Walmart to buy a three-pack, take a chance that the bag will arrive at least before my presentation so I can shower and change, or if I should try to construct some temporary pair of underwear out of toilet paper and tape or something.

Ugh, jealous.

You Must Be A Basketball Player

I confess, I was temporarily baffled reading the Chronicle Herald story about Matt Whitman interacting with Black people. The way the story is written, Whitman suddenly emerges into the setting:

“We were in a store trying to buy some clothes for work,” said Jones, who designs an online brand of clothing. Jones was accompanied by his brother, Dean, who works in a corporate setting. Jones is six-foot-two and his brother is four inches taller.

Jones said he saw a pair of dress pants and was curious about the description of an athletic fit so he asked the counter person to explain.

The athletic fit, they were told, was for people with a more muscular build who wanted slim-looking clothing.

Jones said Whitman commented that “a more athletic person couldn’t have asked that question.”

This left me momentarily confused. “Does Matt Whitman work at Footlocker?” I queried. “I’m confused why he was by the counter inserting himself into conversations with customers. Doesn’t city council pay like 90 thousand dollars a year?”

I just sort of love that there’s no explanation for Whitman’s presence, as if Black people can just expect Matt Whitman to appear out of nowhere congratulating us on our wins in Olympic track or asking us if we are reintegrating well into the community after prison. I imagine Black people walking our dogs or waiting at the bus stop only to have Whitman popping up over our shoulder inquiring about the best way to cook collard greens.

I do have to say that subsequent coverage of this incident has been uncharitable to Whitman. This Global News story implies that perhaps Whitman needs sensitivity training, ending the story by noting:

Last year, Halifax councillor voted to undergo sensitivity training in response to complaints against them.

“The CAO is working with the mayor to determine the details of the sensitivity training, which is expected to take place in the coming months. The resourcing will likely be external but there will be support from both internal and external staff to facilitate the training,” municipal spokesperson Erin DiCarlo said in an email.

This seems churlish. How do we know he wasn’t designing his own sensitivity training? After all, the man was in a Footlocker. Maybe he went there on purpose to wait for Black people to “start a conversation” about race? It’s common knowledge that the Blacks do love sneakers. Perhaps he should be given credit for being so proactive. Perhaps he’ll show up in a KFC next quizzing us about line ups and why there’s no white history month.

And, he refrained from the use of the word “Negro,” so really, maybe we should focus on the positives of this story?

Asking Black people who are minding their own business in public whether they play for the local basketball team is a pretty good microaggression, but I feel like Whitman has an opportunity to really elevate his game. Here are some suggestions for future interactions with Black people for white people:

Touch Black people’s hair in public. Don’t worry, you don’t have to introduce yourself or ask permission! Touch the Black person’s hair while commenting loudly on how “different” and “exotic” it is. Make sure to ask if the Black person washes their hair or if it can even get wet. Feel free to observe that you thought it would feel just like your poodle’s fur.

• If you see a Black baby or toddler, feel free to touch them. Rub them for luck! If the child appears to be mixed race, announce that mixed race people are so pretty, because they’re not too dark and they have better features, but they still have such amazing hair. Don’t worry if the child’s parent is themselves dark skinned, they won’t be offended! 

Of course, if the Black toddler is, say, running ahead of its mother as toddlers do, you should probably glare at the mother and loudly offer helpful parenting tips such as “those people should learn to control their children” or “she’s probably a single mother.” Black people always appreciate being taught how to be more civilized, you’re doing them a favour.

• Ask Black people where they are from. Don’t worry, if the Black person gives an answer you are unsatisfied with, such as telling you they are from some local neighbourhood, you should continue asking “no, but where are you really from?” until the Black person reveals some satisfyingly exotic location. Feel free to argue with the Black person about their own account of their heritage by saying things like, “but I’m hearing some kind of an accent! You must be from somewhere.”

If the Black person breaks and says something like, “well, my great great great aunt was from Grenada,” you should definitely describe the wonderful destination wedding you went to in Jamaica, on a private beach, where the only Black people around were waiters. It’s also acceptable in this context to describe how you built homes in Africa and how the people were so simple, how they had never seen a white person before and they were fascinated by you and the children followed you everywhere, and how it really taught you about what’s truly important.

Image from ubs.com

• A fun variation of this is arguing with people who appear to you to be racially ambiguous. I know I personally love when white people inform me that I am Brazilian or insist that I must speak Spanish. Go ahead and say something in Spanish anyway! You never know when Black people are lying.

Image from theroot.com

• It’s a fact that Black people love doing unpaid work. Otherwise, why would we have waited until white people freed us from slavery? You should always ask random Black people to provide you with expert commentary on whatever racial issues are puzzling you. For example, in casual conversation with Black people you could say, “why are so many Black people so oversensitive?” “You don’t mind being called a Negro, right?” is another good opening.

If the Black person does not agree with your assessment and attempts to provide you with an explanation based on things like their actual life experience, graduate level education, or the 1,000 times they have had this conversation before, it is important that you not change your perspective at all and that you accuse your Black interlocutor of being “angry,” or “not willing to educate you.” This is a good time to remind the Black person that Dr. King just wanted to hold hands with little white girls and boys. Shake your head in disappointment and let the Black person know that you thought they weren’t like those other ones.

Should the Black person attempt to avoid conflict by changing the subject, making a polite noise, or smiling awkwardly, you should take that as complete agreement with your position. Feel free to now cite this Black person in all future confrontations about race, by declaring that you have a Black friend who agrees with you that Black people make everything about race.

Image from tvtropes.org

• Along with it being completely acceptable to ask any Black man over 5’6″ whether they play professional ball, it’s also a good idea to doubt the professions Black people tell you they actually do have. Some congenial examples of this are if a Black man in a suit tells you he was busy in court today, you should assume he was the criminal defendant. How amusing when it turns out he’s a lawyer or judge!

If a Black person informs you they are a doctor, a professor, or some other profession that requires a great deal of education, you should ask them if they got in through an affirmative action program, and follow up by asking them if they think it’s really fair to white people that less qualified Black people get an advantage. Ask the Black person if it ever bothers them that they were allowed into the profession with lower qualifications. Debate is great!

If a Black person tells you they’re a teacher, ask them if they have an easier time connecting with troubled students because they must also have struggled in school. Compliment how good their English is now, and ask how long it took them to learn to speak properly. This is also a good time to insist they’re actually a teacher’s aid or that they work in the lunch room.

You can also start this conversation by asking shoppers in stores if they can help you, and being shocked when they tell you they don’t work there. Aggressively questioning Black people in the hallways of professional workplaces is also a popular variation of this interaction. Ask “can I help you?” in as sneering a voice as possible. Black people enjoy being forced to account for their presence in public space.

Image from metronews.ca

Just remember, Black people shouldn’t go out in public being all tall and Black if they didn’t want to have friendly conversations about basketball. They definitely should never have touched a basketball in their entire life or they are asking for it, really. I mean, jeez, at least you assumed they had a job.

Unlike white people — to whom things like “common courtesy,” “minding your business,” and “not feeling entitled to people’s time and attention when they don’t know you and are just going about living their lives” apply — Black people actually exist to constantly have the same pointless conversations with white people. Why should you think about whether the Black person has already been asked 100 times by white people if they play basketball? Ask again! It’s not like there was already a book written about this that you could buy or anything. 

Why do any work for yourself when Black people can do it for you? Better yet, when they do actually take the time to explain exactly why what you did was racist, giving historical context, examples, and clear reasoning, you should never think they possibly have any insight or knowledge and should definitely accuse them of just wanting publicity. Black people live for getting racial abuse online and having white people harass us for speaking about racism!

After all, don’t these interactions really benefit Black people, giving them the opportunity to “have important conversations,” and “educate” white people for free?

The most important thing to remember is that after taking Black people’s time and energy, initiating contact and forcing them to spend days dealing with you rather than on their own projects and ambitions, you should proclaim that you are “so tired” of always talking about race. God, Black people, so obsessed with white people all the time.

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. By now you should know that mothers are wiser than their children. As my mother used to say ‘You cannot get a degree in common sense’.
    Here’s hoping you get appropriate compensation from Westjet.

  2. During my sojourn at the paper of record in a major metropolitan city that shall remain nameless — Sly and the Family Stone was founded there — management looked around one day and noted the blindingly white configuration of the editorial staff. Determined to rectify the problem, they put forth a “diversity” initiative designed to … (you get the picture). Among those brought in for a trial position on the news desk was a black male editor with marquee journalism credentials and years of experience. One day, in passing, I asked the aforementioned editor how things were going. Sighing, he told me that a white staffer, having noted a piece of jewelry he was wearing, cheerily asked if it was “a Superbowl ring.”
    I never saw the brother again.