Fantasy Island

Can you imagine what the worse week of your life would feel like? How would you describe that week? We have all been there and each time that we share the story with our friends or colleagues, that week gets a little bit worse each time as the listenership grows.

Now imagine at the end of that horrible week, something magical drops into your lap and makes you smile. You have just been notified that you have been selected to take an all-expense paid trip to a beautiful tropical island where you can get away from your world. Would you accept the offer? Like many of us, we would search our brain to try to remember when we may have entered a contest or if this was a scam. Then, we would accept the offer and start packing our summer outfits, bathing suits and of course, our sunscreen lotion. Truly a dream come true. Just think of all the wonderful stories you can share upon your return.

The travel adventure is simply amazing. The contest winners were all picked up from their homes and escorted to the airport in their own private limousine. Once at the airport, each person was greeted by their hosts, welcomed, and taken to a private lounge with specialty food, lovely wines and cocktails. It felt great to walk through the airport like someone from the royal family. It’s like walking into a posh club and all eyes are on you. What a great feeling. To everyone’s surprise and excitement, there were only 50 contest winners.

As the time grew near for boarding the private jet, all of the contest winners were introduced. Some of the guests felt a bit uncomfortable when they noticed that about half of the winners were of different races and wanted to know why and how they won a contest. Interestingly enough, the winners of various cultures bonded together like they all knew each other, sitting together, laughing, and talking. It’s too late to back out or give up on the all-expense paid adventure. As everyone boarded the luxury jetliner, the white passengers struggled to find seats next to someone that looked like them. The passengers of colour were just excited to be meeting new friends and were willing to sit anywhere. Their goal was to have a good time and enjoy this escapade. As you may have imagined, chilled champagne was served to all that enjoyed it or freshly squeezed fruit juice for those that preferred non-alcoholic drinks. Then the lovely smell of canapés and dinners flowed throughout the cabin. This was followed by private screens to watch all the latest movies that were still in the theatres. That night, the plane landed on everyone’s fantasy island where passengers were once again jetted off in limousines to check-in and enjoy the exquisite accommodations. Most contest winners went to bed to relax while others decided to go for a swim in the ocean or hotel pool followed by sipping drinks in the hot tub. Several white contest winners felt uncomfortable when a few people of colour decided to enter the hot tub or swimming pool although they responded in the affirmative when asked if it was okay to join them.

Regardless, it was a lovely night, and everyone enjoyed sleeping in their exquisite king size beds with soft linen sheets. During the night, hotel staff had slipped agendas under each door of the guests instructing them on all activities of the day. With excitement, everyone jumped into the beautiful shower to get their day started. Each guests selected their most colourful summer outfit to wear down to breakfast and to start their day. Now for the surprise.

As each of the guests prepared to brush their teeth, add face cream or a touch of make-up, screams could be heard from half of the beautiful suites. Although the screeching was heard, none of the hotel staff made a move to see what was wrong. As each guest looked in their mirror, they got a surprised at who looked back at them. All of the white guests were Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, African, Lebanese, Ethiopian or one of the races that they hated the most. All the people of colour were equally unhappy, but excited to see what it might feel like to be seen as someone different. Immediately the phones at the front desk started to light up like a fire alarm. Everyone was escorted down to the main auditorium for a discussion and explanation of the week. The white guests wanted to go home, but they had signed a waiver without reading it stating their commitment to stay at least 5 days and follow the rules. Otherwise, they would have to pay all the expenses incurred.

The group facilitator stood up to explain the purpose of the trip and answer any questions that may require more information. They started the discussion by sharing that each person was selected from research that highlighted their racist behaviours and hatred towards others. They also announced that those of colour were selected because they had been discriminated most of their lives and this was a vacation for everyone to walk in a different pair of shoes. The people of colour laughed, hugged each other, and moved to the buffet to start their breakfast. With excitement, they wanted to feel what it would be like to walk, breathe and live-in different skin. The white participants looked at each other and hated what they saw, although these were the same people they had bonded with on the plane. The only difference was the colour of their skin or accents when they now spoke. Some of the whites were excited to have tanned skin and beautiful curly hair, but they were in the minority. The facilitator laid out the rules and requirements of the experiment and continued sharing the activities of the day. Per the agreement, participation was mandatory.

The primary purpose of the experiment was to increase awareness and understanding between races and cultures. I wish that it was a real experiment and not just my fantasy island. Throughout my entire life, which is over 50 years, I have been hated by people that I don’t know, and their children and grandchildren have been taught to hate me and my network of friends simply because of the colour of our skin. Even my true friends with white skin are often discriminated against for being with other friends of colour. I wish I could say this was a new phenomenon, but the racism and hatred has been going on throughout the lives of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Racism against various ethnic or minority groups has existed in the United States since the early colonial era. Before 1865, most African Americans were enslaved and even afterwards, they have faced restrictions on their political, social, and economic freedoms. Native Americans and Indigenous people have suffered genocide forced removals, and massacres, and they continue to face discrimination. Non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, particularly Jews, Poles, Italians, and the Irish were often subjected to xenophobic exclusion and other forms of ethnicity-based discrimination. In addition, Hispanics, Middle Eastern and Asian Americans along with Pacific Islanders have also been the victims of discrimination. Racism in the United States and other countries too, has manifested itself in various ways including genocide, slavery, segregation, Native American/Indigenous people reservations, boarding schools, racist immigration and immunisation laws and internment camps.

The purpose of this experimental game is to allow everyone to walk in a different pair of shoes to see what life is really like. In order for anything to change, Caucasians need to experience the treatment that people that are not like them must deal with every day of their lives. For those of colour, it would be great for them to experience just once in their lives how easy it is to walk through life demanding and obtaining whatever they want without consequences or having calls made to the police if having a barbecue in the park or in their own yard. In all honesty, I think most white people who abuse their many privileges would not survive a day minus the colour of their skin. They would probably commit suicide or overdose from alcohol or drugs in an attempt to survive or forget. I would like the abusers of white privilege to see what it feels like to not get a job because of their skin colour, or to be discriminated against when trying to purchase a house or rent an apartment, to be denied acceptance to a good university even when you have the best grades. Also, to be discriminated for care when entering a medical facility, dining in a 5-star restaurant paying top dollar but being looked down at by white staff members that don’t want to serve you. It doesn’t stop there, it continues when trying to buy a new automobile, but being charged more because of your race, entering a local pharmacy or department store only to be followed by security guards with their hand resting on the handle of their gun, ready to shoot. The most ridiculous of all is just walking through a neighbourhood where you may be visiting friends or probably going home and you are harassed by the police because you look like you don’t belong there or fit the description of someone that just robbed a 7/11 store in another city, thirty minutes ago. I wish I could say I was making this up, but it happens every day from the time a little boy or girl of colour is able to stand, walk, and talk.

On November 22, 2014, according to the police, they feared for their lives when a Black boy was playing in the park with a toy gun. His name was Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy who was murdered by Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old white police officer. A caller reported that a Black male was pointing “a pistol” at random people at the Cudell Recreation Center, a park in the City of Cleveland, Ohio. Anyone with the IQ of an idiot would have known that it was a toy gun by the colourful plastic handle. If a Black 17-year-old teenager was armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle he never would have been able to purchase a gun, travel across state lines and never would have been in court receiving a not-guilty verdict for killing two peaceful protesters and injuring a third because he would have been shot dead by the police onsite.

For the people of colour on fantasy island, I would like them to feel what it could be like to have a break in life and to let go of the fear that they could be killed by racist police or a gun packing white supremacists who doesn’t understand why they hate those without white skin. And they probably never will understand but will continue to teach their children to hate too. People of colour are taught at an early age to study harder in school although they will never be selected as the best, to work harder so they may receive a promotion, regardless how minor it may be. I want them to feel the ease of walking across a busy street on a green light without hearing the sound of car doors being automatically locked or entering an elevator without white women holding tightly to their purses and the men moving back towards the corners of the elevator. What would it feel like to cruise around an Apple store without security being alerted, or being accused of stealing someone’s iPhone that they left in an Uber car? I want people of colour to see how it feels to obtain a job that matches their qualifications, for doctors in a medical center to actually listen to your symptoms without discrimination, or even to pursue any profession or dream.

Once while doing a lecture on financial literacy for teens, I asked the class of boys what they wanted to be when they grew up. Out of the 12 boys, only 3 hands were raised, anxious to tell me their dreams. I listened to the white boys and asked the question again once they had shared their dreams. Silence. The other students were Black and Latino who looked down at their desk. I asked the question again. One of the Black boys stood up and said to me, Mr. Mikael, you are not asking the correct question. I asked him to tell me how to ask it. He said, “Ask us what we want to be when we grow up if we live to see 18-years old.” I was devastated as I struggled to keep facilitating the class, but the reality remains with me, even today. It reminds me how early trauma can enter the lives of young children of colour.

My fantasy is that everyone will learn from the wonderful adventure on Treasure Island and return to their communities as different people that had the opportunity to walk a different path and view life from a different perspective. Will it happen, I seriously doubt it. That’s why it’s my fantasy for a better world and community. Lessons in life has taught me that the only thing I can control is myself and how I react to different situations.




Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.

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Mikael Wagner

Mikael Wagner

Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.

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