It was time to bite the bullet. Preparing to travel to the United States for an academic conference, it seemed that I could no longer delay my application for a new passport. Having recently observed in an article on white privilege that the name in my passport had been spelled wrong for years—a fact that had gone unnoticed, as no border guard had bothered to check my documentation—it seemed imprudent to tempt fate by trying to use it again.
And so, dreading the massive Passport Canada line of anxious would-be travellers with a penchant for procrastination, I girded up my loins and primed myself for a riveting afternoon of standing in line.
Walking to the office, which is in the centre of one of Quebec City’s busy malls, I was suddenly startled when two boys, about the age of 12, suddenly jumped in front of me. Using their hands to mimic the shape of machine guns, they pointed their imaginary weaponry into the storefront of a nearby bookstore and opened fire, the unmistakable trill of pretend bullets blending into their laughter.
Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, the laughter and trilling ceased fire and they ran away.
Left standing at the scene of this imaginary shooting, I found myself slightly annoyed by such violent play. “Kids these days,” I immediately thought to myself in a well-worn script that might have been written by my parents, “play too many violent video games. War should not be a game.”
My slight annoyance melted into horror as I glanced into the store.
A young girl about the same age as the two boys stood at the bookstore’s entrance where the fictitious guns had been pointed. She was wearing a hijab, a religious head covering sometimes worn by members of Quebec City’s Muslim community—a community continually confronted by violent discrimination.
It’s easy to dismiss, but imaginary bullets have a real impact. While they might not pierce the skin, they can still wound the heart.
Imaginary bullets also have a history. In Quebec City, where only a few months ago six men were murdered while they prayed because they were Muslim, we cannot pretend that the victim of this make-believe crime was random. The structures of white supremacy embedded in our culture have shaped our imaginations and they are shaping the imaginations of our children.
Imaginary bullets, if left unchecked, have a way of becoming real bullets.
As a church, we have committed ourselves to “seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation” (fourth Mark of Mission). To make this wonderful statement more than mere words, we need to go beyond denouncing the historic acts of injustice committed by our ancestors. We need to engage in some honest introspection on how these acts have shaped our history and our culture—our national symbols, state heroes and civic institutions—in ways that continue to deform our imaginations and distort our desires.
It’s time to bite the bullet, before the bullet, once again, bites us.