NB: It’s a general rule of mine to not write anything meant for public consumption when I’m mad. I am very consciously breaking this rule right now. Right now, I am so angry I can barely see straight. If you can make it to the end of this diatribe, you’ll find out why.
A FEW YEARS AGO, I was talking to Art Threat‘s Rob Maguire about racism. I told him I wanted to start a blog called Canada Is A Racist Country based on comments I’d seen in response to pieces on cbc.ca. I was just going to take screenshots and put them up there for people to see and comment on. He thought it was a great idea. I never did it in part because I didn’t want to have to get into conversations about race and racism all the time. Those conversations hurt my head in part because they’re so predictable.
Most of my friends: That’s awful, I can’t believe that.
A few of my friends: Well, you know what that person means, right?
A few of my friends: Well, I’m not racist but [insert racist opinion/belief].
Me: I don’t think we can be friends anymore.
It’s always bothered me that many people think that racism is an American thing and that Canadians are above all that (bad 49th parallel joke intended). That’s not quite the case, not when I woke up this morning and read about white pride rallies in London and Edmonton.
Let’s talk about North America, though, instead of looking at it as Canada is up here and the United States is down there.
THERE EXISTS a general sense that we live in a post-racial society. This suggests that young people today are growing up believing that everyone’s equal regardless of skin colour, ethnicity or gender. It suggests that they are above discrimination. Pursuant to the subject of this post, it suggests they are above race and therefore racism. If “race,” as a concept, is somewhat and somehow passé, racism must be as well. Right?
To a certain extent, I get why people say this. My niece, living in/near Woodbridge, has friends of all colours and backgrounds. (I’d say they all had different religions but my niece goes to a Catholic school.) My niece and her friends are a Benetton ad.
It’s cool. I dig it. And, more to the point, I’m glad that the situation for my niece is different than it was for me when I was one of the only visible minorities in what was a very white area of Scarborough.
I had to fight a lot. She doesn’t. I grew up thinking there was something wrong with the colour of my skin. She doesn’t. I used to get followed around stores by employees assuming I was going to steal something. She doesn’t.
So yeah. Progress. That’s cool.
More and more I see interracial couples out at bars and restaurants, in subways and on streetcars. I never saw that when I was a kid.
So yeah. Progress. That’s cool.
But let’s get serious. How much have we actually progressed?
Trayvon Martin’s killing happened, and many people are of the viewpoint that George Zimmerman acted correctly. Geraldo Rivera goes on TV and blames Martin’s hoodie, suggesting the only reason he was killed is because he was wearing a hoodie, because of the subtext of the hoodie. A friend of Zimmerman’s says Zimmerman didn’t call Martin a “coon” but rather a “goon,” and his doing so was a kind of term of endearment. This is absolutely ridiculous, but let’s suspend our collective disbelief for a moment and assume that Zimmerman did, in fact, refer to Martin as a “goon.”
HE STILL FUCKING SHOT AND KILLED HIM.
Not only that, but people are saying that it was okay — that he was within his rights — despite the fact that he appointed himself as a neighbourhood watch captain (apart from the national program). Despite the fact that Martin was unarmed save for some Skittles and iced tea. For a lot more “despite the fact”-type stuff, please click the following link: How to Get Away With Murder and Other Things the Killing of Unarmed Black Teen Trayvon Martin Teaches Us
LET’S MOVE AWAY from Martin/Zimmerman for a moment, because it makes me exceptionally sad.
In Hunstville, Georgia, Paula Smith doesn’t think her “Don’t Re-Nig” bumper sticker is racist. This actually happened. People like this actually exist.
I am, of course, cherry-picking certain examples that have received a lot of attention lately and it is not my aim to paint everyone — especially all white people — with the same brush. But as an ethnic minority, I am outraged. I haven’t been this angry about things like this for a very long time, and I’m actually kind of happy that I am. It shows me that I’m not being complacent. It shows me that I am hopeful; it shows me that I can envision a better place and that I believe we can, in time, get there.
Despite what many people in my life — most notably, my family — think, my ethnicity is something I think about every day. I know that inside of this society I am perceived as “other.” And every time I forget that, something reminds me.
Last week, while on a date (with a white woman), I was asked what my “nationality” was by a drunk bar patron. When I said I was Canadian, she continued to ask what I “really” was, and, more to the point, referred to herself and my date as “Canadian girls,” and me as something else. I’d have been surprised but I was actually pretty bored. I have to deal with this question more than you think.
Stranger: What’s your nationality?
Me: I’m Canadian.
Stranger: No, I mean, where are you from?
Me: I’m from Scarborough.
Stranger: Dude, you know what I’m asking you.
Yes, dude, I do. But if you can’t find the words “background” or “ethnicity,” I’m going to lampoon you. And if you suggest that because I know what you’re getting at I should skip over the fact that you don’t know the difference between one’s nationality and one’s ethnicity, god help you. I will humiliate you to the point of tears so that next time you meet someone whose identity (and time) you want to insult (and waste) with your narrow mind, your white privilege and your unconscionably tiny vocabulary, you might think twice about it because of that guy (with great hair) from the other night.
My friend Ken Huynh will be very happy I wrote this post. He is a brilliant, lovely man writing his PhD dissertation on, among other things, race. A few weeks ago we sat at a certain Wilco-themed restaurant in Toronto and talked about race, discrimination, white privilege, and how we actually feel sorry for people who don’t know any better than to defer to their white privilege-based worldview when confronted with something difficult vis-á-vis race. We talked about how someone had once told him that women, generally, don’t find Asian men attractive, and moreover how he was forced to grow up thinking that one scintilla of that was actually true. We talked about how about ten years ago, while I was waiting tables in Whitby, Ontario, a customer told me I “spoke so well.” I replied that it was probably because of my degree in English Literature (which at that point I hadn’t finished, but you understand the point). The customer promptly recoiled but it wasn’t hard to see that the grander point of the moment went right over her head.
Right now I’m instant messaging with my friend Paul Case, a wonderful Los Angeles-based comedian and substitute teacher (who is white and blond as hell). I told him I was writing this post. I showed him a bit. He passed along an anecdote.
Didn’t I tell you what one of my students said two weeks ago? I said “You haven’t done anything in this group. You can clean the counter.” He said, “I don’t clean things, I’m white.” And there was a black kid next to him. The white kid looked at me and goes, “he didn’t hear that.” And I said, “it doesn’t matter, I did. And I won’t tolerate that.”
Paul’s student confirms something I’d been suspecting for a while: young, (mostly) white, (North) Americans don’t understand any of your post-racial nonsense. They’re cool with racism. So cool, in fact, that they express their racism brazenly and blatantly like it’s the most natural viewpoint in the world. And if you don’t believe me, here’s some recent evidence.
As many people know, the film adaptation of The Hunger Games was just released and had a record-setting weekend at the box office. However, a lot of people had a problem with the casting of certain characters. They hated the fact that characters named Rue and Thresh were played by black actors, and laid out their opinions on Twitter.
Another referred to the movie Rue as a “FREAKIN BLACK BITCH.” Another person wasn’t nearly as diplomatic. He dropped an N-bomb like it wasn’t a big deal.
Here’s the thing: the characters, as written, aren’t white (if you, like me, didn’t know that, you’re about to find out).
It made me physically ill to read a lot of the tweets. I haven’t been able to leave my house because I am so enraged, so sad, and so disappointed. I had to cancel my evening’s plans because I am so enraged, so sad, and so disappointed. I am skipping the gym, my favourite thing to do, because I am so enraged, so sad, and so disappointed.
TO READ THE POST that made me enragappointsad I have been somewhat paralyzed since reading it, please head over to Jezebel and try not to throw up. Props to the Jezebel folks for writing this piece and to whomever started the Hunger Games Tweets tumblr, and to whatever people on Twitter put these awful people in their place.
But let’s face it, the wheel’s going to keep turning.
Tomorrow, next week or maybe even as far out as next month, there will be another Trayvon Martin. People will still make and buy racist bumper stickers. People will still come up to me, and other people that look like me, and be blatantly offensive without thinking twice about it.
I don’t know how to end this post, so I’m just going to stop writing now.