Monday, January 19, 2009

Prejudice in my Community

Hypocrisy is probably integral to any community. And it is disappointing that, in this age of Obamania, people cannot be accepted for who they are, what they look like, and even what they wear. Let me explain.

In a lot of ways, I more than fit the mold of someone who lives on The Drive (see picture to the left). Growing up in the tiny, gumboot-clad hamlet of Merville on Vancouver Island instilled several "all natural" and "organic" and even "hippy" values in my heart, mind and soul - my family grew, harvested and ate our own delicious vegetables and eggs from our own delicious garden and chickens. Dating an Italian Princess for a few years also heightened my ability to communicate exceptionally well through hand gestures. Tolerance, open-mindedness and a sense of community define my daily routine, and I'm pretty good when it comes to laughing at myself (which helps a lot when I participate in street theatre or other interactive activities in my neighbourhood, such as dance-offs with Spoon Man). As one can imagine, all these things come in handy when habitating in the Commercial Drive area. And, to tell you the truth, my neighbourhood and I get along exceptionally well.

Well, for the most part. Most of the time. Just not the times when I'm dressed in clothes that can only be described as the antithesis of Drive-wear. For you see, the community on The Drive is prejudice against business attire.

So, I work at UBC. Sometimes, my work requires me to wear a suit (when I can, I do my best to keep it real and rock a corduroy jacket). And when these sometimes arise - wow - the difference of my experience walking or riding home from the sky train station to the north end of Commercial Drive is, well, quite a statement on behalf of my neighbourhood, my community. This concept is realized photographically by the picture* to the right.

Look. I get it. I understand the symbolism of a suit in a neighbourhood founded and popularized by immigrants, hippies and the coolest counterculture this side of Montreal. A lack of affordable housing around the Lower Mainland and the gentrification of The Drive are serious world-changing issues of which I know I'm a part. So, perhaps this espousal aims at getting people to think about how they look at someone; especially when so many of us might not really know what the people we're judging actually stand for.

Let's also not forget - as we think about what people in suits stand for - to consider the people in disguise on The Drive. The people who are also part of the gentrification of this neighbourhood, but who use a clever couture to blur such a reality. These are the Cloud Men** of the world. And the young folks who whip out their iPhone, iPod and iMac just after sitting down on the bus. But they don't get looks, 'cause their style is a good "fit" for Commercial Drive.

There's nothing wrong with these folks or the way they carry themselves (unless, of course, they're unfairly judging the suit-wearers or other outside-the-mold people of the world). For the most part, they're not - we're not - better or worse than each other. We're just different.

If you ask me, community is about acceptance. With a new chapter of hope, change and tolerance unfolding south of the border - eventually permeating the global community in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead - hopefully my dirty plaid will begin to go over in Yale Town just like my necktie does in the East End Food Co-op. Because, after all, I'm just a guy like everyone else in this neighbourhood. I just happen to be a dude who wears a suit from time to time.

Thanks for your time, understanding and acceptance.

- John

*BIG THANKS to Joe and the good people at the Bump 'n' Grind. I just want to, first, highly recommend the Double Americano at this fantastic coffee shop that is located at the corner of Commercial and Venables. Joe was a great sport and indulged us in our little photoshoot. He is, clearly, all about community and acceptance.
**Oh Cloud Man. Your disguise is impeccable. Man, when I moved here last year (February 2008) and watched you twirl your staff up and down The Drive only one thing seemed out of place...for some reason, you always had a disposable coffee cup in your hand. Always. I would like to follow you around for a day, my friend...I want to know what you stand for...


GvB said...

Well said, John Horn. As a periodic interloper to the Drive community sporting full business attire, i too have experienced palbably chilly looks which are unwarranted and unwelcome. The Drive's 'hippy' culture could, if anything be enhanced, if the purveyors of this culture were more welcoming and openminded.

Kurt Heinrich said...

How do you think the photo shoot would go if we took Cloudman himself and put him in a coffee shop in Yaletown or Kerrisdale? Is the drive the only place with pretension or merely the worse culprit? Thoughts...?

John Horn said...

Kurt Buddy,

From personal experience, Cloud Man's appearance, attire and social skills are enough to put a Yale Towner on the defensive; however, he is a bit of a NIMBY, so he might fit in better than either of us.

Long story short: my friend, we have a social experiment to complete. Readers, stay tuned for this ongoing investigation of how various communities around the Lower Mainland tolerate upper-middle class white men! The results might surprise you...