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I interviewed three homeless people about their “white privilege”

Whether you believe it or you don’t, the ideas of white privilege have penetrated into the common vernacular of the newsreel, the tabloids, and of political thinkers alike.

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal QC

If there has been one topic that you have heard about in the last decade or so, it’s white privilege. Within the hysteria that’s consumed our culture, white privilege has become a cornerstone of social justice ideology.

Depending on who you ask, white privilege is everything from the white supremacist, conscious effort to maintain dominance in culture, to a total myth and a device used to oppress white people.

Whether you believe it or you don’t, the ideas of white privilege have penetrated into the common vernacular of the newsreel, the tabloids, and of political thinkers alike.

From my point of view, ideas that capture large audiences tend to hold at least some water. Is there white privilege? It’s hard to say, because of the vast amount of definitions that people will give. There is at least a nucleus, a core to the idea. I personally am still hesitant to say to what degree there is white privilege.

But throughout all of the discourse, we perhaps have forgotten about the voices of those who have slipped through the cracks; members of society that for whatever reason, have been left without a home, without a job, and mostly, without hope. Homeless men and women, and for the purposes of this article, white homeless people.

The homeless of Montreal

On a Tuesday night in Montreal, I stopped at the Guy-Concordia metro to talk to three of societies most forgotten. At the bottom of the escalator with dozens passing without a thought, I saw a man begging for change.

I asked him if I could see his sign. He showed me and he said, “made it today.” He let me know that the donations were few and far between, and that he was incredibly hungry. It was a nice sight to see his eyes light up for a just a moment as I handed him a $10 bill. He shook my hand, and introduced himself as Georges.

In full honesty, it is very hard to approach these people with any sort of concept that would suggest that they’re losers for not benefitting from “white privilege.” A quip I’ve read on Twitter jokingly questions how white people could even end up homeless, as they started life with such a huge advantage.

“Me, I’ve been homeless for 15 years.” He said that it was “a mountain, a shameful mountain” of debt and lies that lead him to the situation he was in today.

(For the sake of clarity, I’ve translated the French words George used with me into English. The words he said in French have been put into brackets)

“For 20 years, I work in factory [in Laval.] I worked hard. My hands now [don’t work.] They’re painful.”

It was at this point I asked if Georges had felt as if he had ever benefited from his skin colour.

“I have never had help from anyone. People still do not help me. [The musicians do well, I see the same people who pass me give money to musicians. Look at him with the guitar, he is black, but people donate to him, not me.] I don’t know.”

Shortly after, I head out to the streets of downtown Montreal and encountered another man that I frequently see around Crescent street, and have spoken to before. His name is Rob.

“I’m doing good, my leg hurts a lot. Been cold as hell. Warming up though, finally.”

I’ve known Rob for a couple of years, as he frequents a few of the bars that I visit often myself. He’s had a very hard life, but still finds a lot of pleasure in making people laugh, especially with people from out of town who visit for Montreal Canadiens games.

“I don’t know about white privilege. I mean I seriously don’t know about it.” Rob was noting that it’s not that he wasn’t sure whether it existed, but rather that he’s literally never heard of it before.

“I mean, I get the idea. I’m Irish. But I don’t know, I’m too far away from that world, man. I have other things to worry about. All sorts of people help me. You just gave me $10, you know? I don’t know if people are super racist anymore.”

There is no shortage of homelessness in the downtown core of Montreal. It’s a sad sight to see, and truly a reminder of how fortunate those with homes, support systems, friends, and family are.

On a different day, at the same escalator that I met Georges, I saw a woman with a sign that simply said “HUNGRY anything helps.” I asked for a photo, but she politely declined, noting that she doesn’t want the world to see her in this state.

She didn’t give me her real name, but said she goes by Sam.

“I moved out here from Woodstock like four years ago. I met a guy online who said he would help me, take care of me. It was all a big mistake… Basically, he was rough with me. I ended up leaving him, but I had no job, and no friends here. So here I am. I don’t speak French, so I’m lost. I go to the shelters, I get as much help as I can.”

I asked her what her opinions were on white privilege, asking if she believed that white people were of a higher status in Canada, and after a sharp sigh, she stated “Who knows anymore.”

“If you had asked me that a few years ago, I think I could answer a bit easier. I think there’s a has to be a bit of white privilege. I don’t think my skin colour got me here. But I don’t think if it’ll get me out of this situation, either.”

I showed her a tweet I’d seen earlier that talked about how “entitled” homeless beggars were. The tweet implied that homeless white people could just “call up nana” for help.

“That’s … That’s just not right. My parents, I don’t talk to them ever. I don’t think they want anything to do with me. I’ve never met my grandparents. I wish it was that easy to just phone a friend and ‘hey, here’s $1000.’ But no, it really isn’t.”

There was no real consensus between the three people that I spoke with. I listened to their stories, and based on what I heard, they do not feel as though their skin colour will help them in their situation.

For a full list of charities in Canada, please visit Canada Helps to find a way to help the homeless in your area.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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