It could have gone another way.
I was at the lottery desk checking a stack of tickets that had built up over time. There may have been fifteen or twenty to do. The thing that reads the bar codes on the tickets was placed in such a way that it was awkward for me to use, so it was taking me a little time. There was a small line up of people buying chocolate bars and newspapers at the counter of the newsagents stall which was right beside the ticket checker.
I noticed a fellow notice me. Well, in truth everyone in the line noticed me, but all the others simply went back to their cell phones or to reading the headlines of the magazines on the rack as the waited. He did not. He kept glancing at me. I knew that something was coming so I prepared myself.
When he was standing beside me, he said, "Do you really think that lottery tickets are a good use of your benefit dollars? The taxpayer shouldn't be subsidizing this waste of money." Oh, did I say I was in one of the big downtown towers where men and women in expensive suits work? Well, that's where I was. I was the only one in the store not wearing a tie. I was the only one in the store not wearing a really expensive watch.
I looked up at him coolly, I'd had time to prepare. I had run through the various ways he might be seeing me and this one was at the top of the list. When you are stereotyped by others, it's pretty easy to develop a ranking system based on the situation you are in. I had come up with a response but I didn't think I had the nerve to use it.
I said, "It must be nice taking a break from embezzling funds and screwing your secretary in the copy room."
His face changed, "Whaaa ?"
"Listen, you get to operate on stereotype, I get to operate on stereotype. It's only fair." And I went back to doing my tickets and won 20 bucks on a 649. "Bigots must be my good luck charm," I thought to myself.
Then he was back.
"I'm sorry, I was a real asshole to you. I just saw you here, in working hours, doing tickets and I made a lot of assumptions. I get it, I saw what I wanted to see."
That impressed me, so I let it go and accepted his apology.
I DIDN'T do what I desperately wanted to do. I didn't tell him that I had a job, that this wasn't benefit money, that his stereotype was deep and wide. I didn't because if I did, I'd be suggesting that it's OK for me to buy lottery tickets because I work, because it isn't benefit money. I'd be suggesting that, in general he's right, just that he got it wrong with me. I wanted to nail him with the idea that viewing anyone through the lens of stereotype is just plain wrong.
But it was hard.
Because I reacted in such a way that I wanted to defend myself in the face of his prejudice. My mouth was geared up and ready to go with a little speech about my job and my career and what I do. But there are times that defending oneself is less important than defending one's side.
I rolled away from the situation, having won 26 dollars on my tickets and having won a battle with my mouth.
All in all, it was a win-win-win kind of day. So I bought a ticket for next week's draw.