Archive | January, 2015

That’s Racist

25 Jan

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about the poor treatment of Canada’s Aboriginal people. You can also help provide relief for people affected by the Northern Food Crisis by clicking here.

I was born and raised in Canada and I love being Canadian. I take great pride in it despite our not-so-great sports teams and high taxes. We’re not perfect, but I love us nonetheless.

Although Canadians have a reputation for being friendly and tolerant, our great nation is not free of some seriously racist and self-entitled a-holes.

Ever notice how frequently a coloured person gets asked where they are from? Asking such a simple and seemingly harmless question reiterates the discourse of belonging and national identity that equates Canadian with Whiteness.

When I get asked the question, my response is almost always “Canada”. That’s how I feel I need to answer. To say “India” would feel like a lie because I have been there twice in my life. I have been to the Cuba more than I have been to the birthplace of my parents. But when I answer like this, the follow-up question to my response is almost always “No, but where are you really from?”

I can understand an interest in one’s culture, and I am in no way ashamed of my ancestral roots. What bothers me that “Canada” is perceived to be a more acceptable answer when the response comes from a white person when the fact of the matter is that if you’re not Aboriginal, you came to Canada from somewhere else, even if it was several generations ago.

go back.jpg_large

Racist.

 

Another thing that annoys me is when people are surprised that I not only speak English well, but that I also write well. When I changed elementary schools, my new teacher spoke to me very slowly and considered placing me in the English as a Second Language program. I was so traumatized by this that I actually believed I wasn’t speaking English properly and barely spoke in class. It wasn’t until I had to submit a writing assignment that she realized that she has misjudged me and that I was in fact, pretty fucking awesome at third grade poetry.

Racist.

 

As a teenager, I moved from Toronto to Brampton, a suburb also known as “Little India” because of the high South Asian population. One time I was waiting to cross the road when the driver of the car I was waiting to pass stopped in the middle of the road and proclaimed “You know, in Canada, we don’t just walk onto the road, we cross at crosswalks,” and sped off.

I can only assume that this gentleman had guessed that because of the way I looked and the area I was in, that I didn’t understand the way of life in Canada, and that it was his duty to clarify it to me, albeit in a condescending manner.

The problem was that I was in a residential area, right by my house. There were no crosswalks, and the nearest streetlights were about 15 minutes away. Also, I don’t think in Canada it’s encouraged to pull up to a 15 year girl and reprimand her while stopping traffic behind you.

Racist.

 

A similar experience happened when I was walking to the bus stop after school. I remember it was a very frigid day and I couldn’t wait to get home to defrost. I was bundled up in my jacket, hands shoved in my pocket, with my scarf wrapped around my ears because I had forgotten my hat. As I trekked up the slippery, frozen terrain, a car headed down the street towards me from the opposite direction. The car slowed down, the passenger side window rolled down and the teenaged passenger yelled out “Go back to India!”. I was about sixteen when that happened. I hadn’t been to India since I was 6 and I didn’t really feel like taking another trip. I should have told that kid [sarcasm] to go back across the Atlantic to England, since that’s where all white people are from [/sarcasm].

Racist.

 

Once, I was at a Wal-Mart speaking to my mom in Punjabi when a woman made a comment about how in Canada we speak English. She then started to sing the national anthem. I’m sorry, but my mother and I speak English and Punjabi; and I can also speak Spanish, and French. I know you don’t speak French because you skipped that part of the anthem, and I’m willing to bet you don’t speak any other languages. You could argue that makes us smarter than you, and dare I say more valuable to the Canadian economy.

Racist.

 

When I went to a writer’s conference in LA (okay so this one isn’t based in Canada), this happened…

Speaker: Who here is from out of town?

I raise my hand

Guy next to me: Hey where’d you come from?

Me: Toronto

Guy next to me: I see, very nice. And when did you arrive in Canada?

Me: In 1986. When I was born there.

 

Racist.

 

I took a writing class last year where my classmates and I shared pieces of our works-in-progress and critiqued each other. I shared a chapter in a story I wrote that referenced Hindi music and it was the biggest mistake I could have made.

Anytime someone starts off a comment with “I’m not an expert or anything, but…”, prepare yourself.

Basically someone said something to the effect of “I’m not an expert or anything, especially with Hindi people* but I’m not sure how realistic it is for the character’s parents to be divorced. I mean with arranged marriages, and the obligation to stay together, and what not. I mean there’s a huge cultural context there you need to keep in mind. You’re job as a writer is to keep it authentic.”

*Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Just stop.

This caused a domino effect and the discussion quickly moved away from my writing style and the story to a discussion of the character’s religion. Which, by the way, I never mentioned. I made a quick reference to a Hindi song that would be played again during another part of the story. I was robbed of valuable critiquing time because people just couldn’t move past the fact that my character listened to Hindi music.

I was instantly self-aware of my skin colour, and the fact that I was a brown person in a room full of white people. This never mattered to me before this moment, but now it was all I could think about because I knew it was all they could see. I was furious that I had to feel that way. I wanted to shout “Okay! I get it! I’m not white! My character is not white! Let’s fucking move past this already and analyze the fucking story!”

But I didn’t say those things because the meetings took place in a Church. And I have enough sensibility and cultural awareness to recognize that cursing in a holy place is not very respectful.

Fucking Racist