Do you believe in alternate realities? That is, do you believe in parallel universes? According to scientists studying the theory of the multiverse, it may be possible that there are other universes besides our own where all the choices you made in this life played out in alternate realities, (Howell, 2018). However, this scientific definition of the concept of alternate realities relates to a much broader theory – beyond the Earth’s human civilization – that somewhere in the universe, there are different outcomes to the choices we make. In reality, we can argue that we each experience a unique reality based on their own life experiences and perspective of life. A simple, benign example may be that my experience of brushing my hair may be different than that of another’s experience. I have thick, long, wavy-curly, brown hair and brushing it is frustrating; that’s my reality. Someone with long, fine, straight hair may have a more pleasant experience brushing their hair but have difficulty styling it to anything other than a ponytail. We both have hair, but both experience brushing it differently, and consequently have a different perspective or what it’s like to have hair. Naturally, this discussion isn’t about hair, but a segue to a more serious issue we face in society.
Below are two similar stories with similar timelines that I hope would shed light on the reality of alternate realities right here, on Earth, and why it’s important for us to empathize and to try and view the world beyond our own experiences.
Based on true incidents that occurred to two different people in 2018
A Canadian woman visiting Cleveland, OH, during the Victoria Day long weekend (a Canadian statutory holiday) went out on Saturday morning with her two-year-old son to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. We’ll name her Brie. She approached the cashier when it was her turn to pay for her tickets, and requested “one adult ticket” (children under two are free). The woman at the teller told her the price and asked how she would like to pay. Brie let her know she would like to use a credit card. The credit card she had swiped was declined and she hesitantly smiled and asked if she can try again. The cashier with an unamused face reentered the total and handed Brie back the machine for her to swipe her card. Again, it was declined. This time Brie was feeling a little uncomfortable because there was a growing line up behind her and the cashier now had shown her disapproval by rolling her eyes and motioning to her manager. She asked to view the credit card and showed it to the manager. Brie, now embarrassed, maintained her composure and called through the glass that there is nothing wrong with her card and that she has funds in the credit card to pay for the ticket. The cashier ignored her as she was looking at the front and back of the card, speaking in a low voice to the manager. Brie kept calling out to the cashier, now a little agitated, that this is not her card’s problem. Her son is now restless in the stroller and people are now murmuring behind her blaming her for the holdup. The cashier finally comes back and asks her if she has another method of paying because there’s clearly nothing wrong with their machine and that the problem was with this card. Brie tells her again with a little exasperation that there’s nothing wrong with her card and asks to try again a third time. This time the card went through and the payment was accepted.
A Canadian woman visiting Cleveland, OH, during the Victoria Day long weekend (a Canadian statutory holiday) went out on Saturday morning to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. We’ll name her Maya. She approached the cashier when it was her turn to pay for her tickets, and requested “one adult ticket”. The woman at the teller told her the price and asked how she would like to pay. Maya let her know she would like to use a credit card. The credit card she had swiped was declined and she smiled and asked if she can try again. The cashier smiled and told her it wasn’t a problem. She reentered the total and handed Maya back the machine. Maya swiped her card again and it was declined again. Maya shrugs and tells the cashier that she definitely has funds in this card. The cashier asks her if she’d like to try again and Maya agrees. She swipes her card a third time and the payment is finally accepted. Relieved, the two smile and bid each other a good day.
Brie and Maya both dealt with the same cashier who happened to be white and blonde. Brie is a well articulated, professional, black lawyer, and Maya is a professional, fair-skinned POC (otherwise known as white-passing) in law enforcement. Both women are the same age and speak native English. Both women understand the importance of presentation and were decently dressed with their hair tied back during this encounter. Both women understand how stereotypes may be applied to BIPOC who do not take the time to dress for an occasion or do their hair, and so consciously, both women did everything they could to minimize any form of bias when walking out of their rooms to face their reality. Yet, one significant difference that cannot be changed was the colour of their skin.
Realistically speaking, there’s no telling what was going on in this cashier’s mind. Did she assume Brie’s card was stolen because of predetermined prejudices? Was she just having a bad day? Is she a racist? Is she just incompetent at her job? Or was this completely unintentional? Regardless, these implicit biases and microaggressions we express to some and not others are damaging to individuals, and further impede our progress in promoting an inclusive society. One thing is for certain, and ultimately the point of this article: your reality is not the same as mine, and mine is not the same as yours. So before deciding that there is no problem in your society such as racism, discrimination, police brutality, etc. simply because your reality has not experienced it, open yourself to the idea of learning from other people’s experiences and what we can do as a team to improve our lives collectively.
Howell, E. (2018, May 10). Parallel Universes: Theories & Evidence. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from https://www.space.com/32728-parallel-universes.html