Monday, July 22, 2019
The other day I opened my front door to a young man who was making the rounds telling people about the Streets for All initiative. It was a punishingly hot day. When we were done talking I said,
Try to stay cool! You shouldn’t be out in this heat!
And he looked back at me, tired, and said,
Ma’am, I have to make a living.
When I closed the door and went back to my comfy chair in my air conditioned house I felt a sense of shame. What an idiotic thing for me to say to someone who doesn’t have the privilege that I have. To admonish someone for doing something that they must do, whether it is physically wearing or not. I have choices. It’s very likely that his choices are far fewer. What was I thinking? That he was doing it for fun?
Add to this that I am a white woman and he was a black man,calling me ma’am, and the careless stupidity of my remark still burns me with embarrassment. The history of this country is full of white people telling black people what they ought to be doing while having no earthly knowledge of the reality of the situation. (See also: this editorial.)
Anyway, if you see people out working in the heat, maybe you can think about why some people have fewer choices than you do and they are the ones whose bodies are punished by extreme weather while yours is not.
Just a thought.