Today, I finally get to introduce you to my sister Virginie Combet.
Don’t you be telling me that a brown girl and a white girl can’t be related. We are. We’re both part of the human race – as are Donald Trump supporters.
Virginie is my soul sister. I wouldn’t say the same about Trump, though. Hey, we connect with who we connect with. Thanks to the 13 hour time difference – Virginie is one of the few people I actually willingly wake up super early to speak to. Only my nearest and dearest get to see me in my pyjamas.
I met Virginie at a Toastmaster’s meeting in Montreal. It was a beautiful moment. I couldn’t get my eyes off her… subway sandwich.
It was a footlong. It had meatballs and cheese in it. It smelt heavenly. I desperately wanted some. But I settled for polite conversation.
Spirited, feisty, honest and outspoken, Virginie will always be the woman who teased me out my shell.
She is this teacher’s teacher.
Born in Toulouse in the South of France, Virginie has also lived in the US, France, Japan, Canada, Hong Kong and India. She currently lives in DC, but feels most at home in Montreal.
After a few warm up questions about the Montreal’s winter (which really is quite dreadful), I dived straight into the biggies.
“What do you think are some of the world’s biggest problems right now?” I ask.There was a small pause. There are very few people I would openly ask this question to.
“A lack of awareness,” Virginie says, “that plays out in a lot of different ways. Too many people give into cynicism because it’s easy. It takes a lot of courage to speak up. People don’t realise the great things they could do if they just put that extra effort in.
“This lack of awareness also frames discussions about privilege. I’m a white person who hears other white people talk about race when people of colour aren’t around. They display a lack of self-awareness.
“They don’t even begin to realise that the colour of their skin is white. White is the default in the US and a lot of countries where I’ve lived. How can you have a conversation about race and take a positive actions to address racial bias, racism and more when you don’t even acknowledge the impact that your identity as a white person has had on your life.
“With self-awareness also comes responsibility. As a white person I have ridiculous amount of privilege that I’ve done nothing to earn. What do I do with this unearned privilege?
“It’s simple. I change the fucking status quo. I call them out on their bullshit. The second that I’m silent, I’m part of it.
“At the end of the day, I am part of the racist system. I grew up in it. I won’t have unconscious racial bias. I have to examine my thoughts, my actions and think critically about the media I consume and speak up when people say racist shit. It all makes a difference.
“My life mission is to leverage my privilege in order to empower millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty – whether it’s economic, social or educational. There are brilliant people across the world who with the same privileges I’ve had; could accomplish things I could only dream of.
“Unlike me they were not born in the ‘right’ country, ‘right’ economic class, ‘right’ etc. Because of that, they can’t accomplish all they could and that’s unacceptable.”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re poor, rich or something in between. We all love a rags-to-riches story. We like tales of people who’ve struggled despite the odds and still made it.
The question is: do we really need to struggle to make it?
“There is a problem with struggle and the narrative around struggle,” Virginie says.
“Struggle only lifts you up if you have the resources to put in practice what you learnt from it. For example, you have a small business owner in rural wherever who is struggling to make a living and can’t get access. One of their products could sell really well, but they can’t expand cause no one will give them a loan.
“There are millions of people around the world like that who can never get out of this cycle because they don’t have access to resources that other people have access to. The people who do have access to those resources, expect others to achieve the same level of success that they do and blame others saying they’re being lazy, or not investing as much time in their company as they are.
“NO. NO. The starting line is different. You’re asking people to run 50 km more and end up at the finishing line at the same time as you.
“This pisses me off because yes, struggle can teach you a lot. There’s a difference between struggling and suffering. Why do people need to suffer? We have the resources to end suffering.
“We could end wars. We could address more issues like climate change if we stop accepting this notion that there will always be a group people that will suffer – with lack of food, shelter, refuge, everything.
“In the US, it pisses me off particularly because there is this narrative against the welfare state, the nanny state. It’s a narrative that certain groups of people have pushed. It makes the situation worse. Poverty is expensive for the government. Treating your citizens right saves you money in the long term.”
I can always count on Virginie to be honest, unabashed, fearless and yet…empathetic. She’s someone who became incredibly close to me in a very short time. It’s been years since I left Montreal, but I still cannot forget the sight of that…subway sandwich.
Make the sandwich great again.
The last two elections, the American public voted for Obama. This time around – they’ve voted for Trump.
I’m not sure what the future’s going to bring. Most of us aren’t.
The only thing I can hope for is that Virginie will always be my sister.
Don’t you be telling me that a brown girl and a white girl can’t be related. We are. We’re all part of the human race – as are Donald Trump supporters.