National Post (National Edition)

I walked into a branch of a major Canadian bank, wearing a mask, as required by law, and a pair of prescripti­on sunglasses... The teller asked if I would remove my sunglasses, saying the bank had recently been robbed... I declined.

- LLOYD WILKS

— LLOYD WILKS, ON SMALL ACTS OF DISCRIMINA­TION.

This was another year in which so many people were hostile, defiant, aggressive, annoyed and determined — perhaps rightly so. Ordinary people pushed for change, unburdenin­g their experience­s of how it is to be seen and treated differentl­y.

On Dec. 10, a beautiful sunny day, I walked into a branch of a major Canadian bank, wearing a mask, as required by law under the provincial mask mandate, and a pair of prescripti­on sunglasses. Two socially distanced tellers were open, three wickets apart.

I was called forward; I inserted my bank card and gave my PIN. The teller asked if I would remove my sunglasses, saying the bank had recently been robbed by someone with a knife.

I declined her request on principle, with a polite and non-threatenin­g “no, thank you,” unable to connect the robbery with me and my sunglasses. I did let her know my glasses were prescripti­on, in case she had a concern.

Facing the arrogance of my civility and refusal to comply, the teller leaned back, seeming amazed and befuddled that I did not want to obey. How dare I be so difficult, so obstinate?

Her colleague, three wickets down, theatrical as she was, expressed her disgust, bellowing to new customers her outrage of disbelief at my refusal to comply, saying she had been robbed in the past. My teller promptly summoned the branch manager.

I expected him to resolve this indignity. To my dismay, he took up a sentinel position, observing my every move. Now cognizant I was being watched, I was sure to make no sudden moves, hands visible, my tone measured — aware of the moment and what it might become.

Having completed my transactio­n, I assured the teller I wasn't there to rob the bank. I thanked her and turned to leave.

The manager, confident and bold, attempted to block my exit, explaining again a robbery had taken place and my glasses were to be removed. I refused a second time, and the manager said he would be noting this incident on my file, along with my unwillingn­ess to comply.

The comment was a threat, a reprisal of sorts. I hadn't realized the bank kept those types of tabs on customers, but now I know and you know.

I wonder what it means to have the bank manager note this kind of informatio­n on my file. Does it mean I can't get a mortgage? Does my financial risk profile increase, do I become ineligible for a car loan? What happens to my credit?

The comment was meant to intimidate me, but I do wonder what sort of files a bank keeps on people, and whether this is done for everyone or only people of colour like me.

I'm sure some of you are wondering: Why not just remove the sunglasses, put people at ease? Why does a man, a Black man, refuse to just comply with a simple request?

I decided some time ago, when faced with such moments of discrimina­tory behaviour from people paid to deliver a service for which I am paying, to always conduct myself with respect and courtesy. But sometimes that is hard to do, because I become frustrated by the obviousnes­s of the situation.

It may have resolved the interactio­n that sunny December day, calmed the bank employees, prevented other customers from offering their views. But the perpetrato­r of appearance should not be obliged to comply.

The moment did not have quite the historical significan­ce of a Rosa Parks or Viola Desmond, but it did make me wonder whether the rules had changed and whether all bank employees now needed to see the whites of my eyes and the flicker of my lashes.

I had experience­d a similar incident while at law school. I forgot my university ID card and security (who knew me) let me into the library. Soon afterwards, a number of security personnel arrived to collect me, saying too many robberies were taking place and that, without official university ID, I needed to leave. Given that was the case, I had to leave despite my fellow classmates telling them I was a student in their class. Confused and outraged I told my dean, but nothing was done.

I am still waiting to hear from the bank. I won't hold my breath.

I ASSURED THE TELLER

I WASN'T THERE TO ROB

THE BANK.

Lloyd Wilks is chief executive officer of CounselQue­st Inc., a leader in litigation support and corporate investigat­ions, and co-founder of Malachy's Soiree, an annual fundraiser dedicated to transformi­ng the neo-natal intensive care unit at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

 ?? LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS FILES ?? Civil disobedien­ce, such as a Black man refusing to take off sunglasses inside a bank because it has recently been robbed by someone else, has taken on greater importance since the wanton death of George Floyd last May.
LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS FILES Civil disobedien­ce, such as a Black man refusing to take off sunglasses inside a bank because it has recently been robbed by someone else, has taken on greater importance since the wanton death of George Floyd last May.

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