Racially Visible


I was perusing job ads the other day, just for kicks, and I came across a government position.  Now, while the pay was quite nice, as you’d expect such a position to be, I took issue with the sort of person they were looking for:

“Only applications from Aboriginal People, African Nova Scotians and Other Racially Visible People and Persons with Disabilities will be considered.  If you are a member of one of these equity groups, you must self-identify on either your application form, covering letter or resume, in order for your application to be considered in this competition.  Failure to do so will mean that your application will not be considered.”

I would assume that I, as someone who is visually Jewish, would meet the requirements of “racially visible”, but I’m not certain that I want to obtain a job solely on the merit of being different.  I have no intention of applying for the job, as I’m quite happy staying home with the children.  The job advert got me thinking about all of the “wonderful” experiences I’ve had as someone who is “racially visible”.  While the list below certainly doesn’t cover all of the experiences I’ve had, they are some of my favourite.

One day, while working in a grocery store in Victoria, BC, I was busily stocking the shelves full of cookies.  I was focused on what I was doing and wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around me when an elderly gentleman came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, expecting a cookie or cracker related question, but instead we had the following conversation.

“Excuse me sir, are you really Jewish?” he asked.A little thrown off by the question and tripping over my words a bit I responded “Uh, yes.  Why do you ask?”

“Well, if you’re Jewish, what are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t really understand.  Here in Victoria?  Here in Canada?  Here in the grocery store?”

“Why are you working here, at this grocery store?”

“Well sir, I need to pay rent, buy groceries, and pay bills.  Why does anyone work anywhere?”

Looking rather confused he said “But… I thought that, well, all Jews were millionaires”At this point, I couldn’t help but laugh.  I didn’t mean to laugh at his question, but I couldn’t help it.

“Well that would be wonderful if that were true sir, but sadly, we’re not all rich.”Clearly having just had his entire outlook on the Jewish people shattered he thanked me for my time and moved on with his shopping.

The number of times that people have taken my picture, simply because of my appearance would baffle you.  I lost track of how many people have stopped me in the street or where I was working and asked if I’d mind.  The only time I said “no” was one day when I was living in Israel and it was Shabbes.  A couple of European tourists came up and asked.  I politely said no and explained that we cannot have our picture taken on Shabbes.  They took it quite well, but were bewildered at my explanation.

I was on my way to my Rabbi’s house in Victoria one morning and due to the timing of the bus I had an hour to kill downtown.  As was my practise, I went to a coffee shop and did some learning.  There was a man sitting on the other side of the store and he kept staring at me.  As people tend to stare at me quite regularly, I didn’t pay any attention.  After a while he got up and walked over to where I was sitting.  He was very nice and polite, and he asked what I was reading.  I explained what it was that I was learning at the time.  While we had a very nice conversation, he at one point apologized for being nervous around me.  I hadn’t noticed that he was, but before I could say anything, he said “It’s just that I’ve, well, I’ve never been seen one of you so up close before”.  I know that he didn’t mean to imply that I was an animal at the zoo, but the way it came out was pretty funny.  We ended up bumping into each other quite regularly after that and always got along very well.

The last experience that I’ll tell you about today is one that, while it wasn’t meant to be a pleasant experience, I thought it was funny because they were completely wrong in their assumptions.  When I was living in Powell River I was walking to the grocery store one evening.  This particular day I was wearing a very large while kippah.  When I was almost there a car drove by and as they went past the car slowed right down.  All the windows were down and the car was full of mid 20’s men.  They started yelling derogatory remarks at me and then sped off.  Why was this funny, you ask?  The comments they were yelling were all derogatory towards muslims.  I don’t mean to suggest that it’s funny when people are racist to muslims. G-d forbid!  I thought it was funny that these guys who didn’t have the testicular fortitude to get out of the car and tell me to my face what was on their minds, didn’t even know what group I belonged to.

While these experiences were lighthearted for the most part, they really only scratch the surface of the things I’ve endured for being “racially visible”. There are many more stories I could tell you, and sadly, the rest of them aren’t very funny at all(actually, there is one, and holy smokes, it’s so funny). I will, at a later date relate all of these stories for your enjoyment.  Until then though, have a wonderful weekend, and enjoy the World Cup if you’re watching it.

2 Responses to “Racially Visible”
  1. Lee says:

    wow. good stories. However, you’re culturally or religiously visible. Racially you’re caucasian. HOWEVER, I completely take all your points and agree with them. Now if you were just a lot darker you could fit into the racially visible. Get tanning, laddie. And hey, for what it’s worth, you’re the first Jewish person I’ve ever met, to talk to, who wears all the great gear! xox Lee

    • BS”D

      Thanks for your support Lee. I realize that I’m caucasian, but I figured that being a visible minority might qualify me for the job as well. At any rate, I have no intention of applying for it.

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