Who do you sit next to on the metro?

Montreal metro

How a metro trip can be a barometer of your racism

For those of you who don’t know what a metro is, allow me to enlighten you.  The Montréal métro is equivalent to the New York subway.  A combination of solid geometric design, brutalist architecture, and sensory overload, it takes Montréalers to where they need to go.  Except, not really because a gnat had designed the underground train lines.  But, I digress.  If you’ve lived in Montréal for any length of time, you’ve ridden the metro.

One particular metro trip stands out to me.  It was the summer after finishing my undergrad.  I was taking the green line en route to my home on the West Island.  It was after an evening French class that I was taking at my alma mater, McGill University.  During that particular class, we discussed racism.  (I had a hard enough time saying my name in French let alone discuss racial inequality.  Thanks, Teacher.  I made a mental note to downgrade classes the next day.)

The biggest lesson to come out of that class is one that I will never forget.  Our white prof said to us, en français, “Watch your reaction the next time you have to make a choice about who to sit next to on the bus.”

How our choices highlight our unconscious bias

Hours later, I found myself standing in the aisle of a métro car faced with that very choice.  On my right was an empty seat next to a caucasian senior.  On my left was a free spot next to a young black guy around my age.  The point of the lesson was being bestowed on me quickly.

Life has a sense of humour.  I laughed inside. I had caught myself hesitating over where to sit.  The gig was up.  My no-longer unconscious bias had been laid out in front of me.

I switched my choice from sitting next to grandma to sitting next to the guy.  He slid over to give me the aisle seat; how kind of him.

To this day, I profess the guy was surprised to have to move over for me.  I bet he was used to being the alternate choice of metro bench buddy.  Or, maybe he was disappointed.  No one wants to give up a free seat next to them on the métro.  Thankfully for me, he did.  Grandma probably smelled like Bengay and would have talked my ear off the entire ride.

The next time you have to make a choice similar to mine, pause, and reflect.  You may discover your own bias.


Montreal metro

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