Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fear of Strangers

I got out of the Paris Metro yesterday at Château d’Eau and found myself on a busy boulevard. There was obviously a large Black population in the neighbourhood judging by the hair salons and hair products. There were also lots of young Black males, hanging out individually, not grouped in gangs, and approaching people as they walked by, crossed the street, or emerged from the Metro.

I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it made me nervous. I think women have been programmed to be extremely cautious when approached by male strangers, regardless of race. I would have felt just as uncomfortable if they’d been white.

I moved out of the neighbourhood fairly quickly, but I was curious so I went home and Googled the metro station. Obviously, I’m not the first person to be unnerved by the situation, but there is actually a legitimate explanation.

The young men are looking for customers for the various hair salons. When they approach people, they’re simply asking if you want a haircut. If you say yes, they’ll take you to “their” hair salon. They get a small payment for bringing in business. If they’re lucky, they’ll go home with a few hundred euros a month. They’re simply trying to make enough money to live, to support their families, and they’re choosing to do it without resorting to drug sales or theft or other illegal activities. I admire them, but I certainly don’t envy them.

I’m a little embarrassed by my initial discomfort, but at least I went home and obtained more information. Our fears and worries are so often based on a lack of information rather than an actual issue.

4 comments:

supersu said...

wow! how interesting--
did they ask you? who knows you might have gotten a super duper hair do!!!
ha ha ha

thanks for this gentle reminder
made me pause, and next time i am approached by a stranger i will be more open to the possibilities!

cheers
su

Penny McKinlay said...

I actually need a haircut! But do we ever really listen to strangers who approach us on the street? And, of course, they were speaking in French, which made it even more difficult for me to understand them.

Sue Walker said...

Interesting post, Penny. Last time we were staying in Paris, near Gare du Nord, there seemed to be lots of groups of mainly black men hanging outside bars as we headed towards Gare de l'Est. They were probably totally innocent, however as they were in groups we were very wary of them. As you said, we would have felt the same about groups of mainly white men. It was the fact that they were in all-male groups and outside bars on quiet streets that made us cautious, so we headed for the main roads where there were a lot more people around.

Penny McKinlay said...

There are so many possible explanations, aren't there Sue. I think the trick is to avoid being judgmental. It's one thing to avoid groups of men; it's another to lobby municipalities to kick them off the streets without doing a great deal of background research.