Racism and the Average Canadian- Part II: Amy Cooper in Central Park

I never fully understood racism in the United States until May 25, 2020.

At least not from the point of view of an American Black person, maybe intellectually but certainly not viscerally. That happened just hours before I learned of George Floyd’s murder, when I watched the video of Amy Cooper in Central Park.

I watched the video soon after the incident occurred, before media picked it up and the narrative was shaped by the biases of each news outlet.

What I saw in that unfiltered video was two strangers in a heated argument where one called the police and used the other’s race as a threat, JUST to get her way.

What shocked me about this video were three things:

  1. Lying to the police was a “move” that woman had to win that argument.
  2. Saying her harasser was “African American” was a trump card in that play.
  3. And, BOTH of them knew EXACTLY what she was doing – which meant that this grotesquely racist and criminal behavior was part of the common cultural understanding of American society.

As a Canadian, no news articles I have read, videos I have seen or even movies I have watched about racism showed me what it means to be Black in the US than this casual exchange in Central Park over an off-leash dog.

I don’t know how it feels to have my skin colour be weaponized against me like this. (Actually, I can imagine a little, on behalf of the Muslim community, but only the Muslims who show their Muslim-ness too much are targeted. And it’s easy enough for a Muslim to blend). A Black man cannot hide his blackness while he argues with strangers about mundane every day things.

Before I saw Amy Cooper in Central Park, I naively thought racism was a product of ignorance and fear. I thought as people become more enlightened and their fears reduce, they can become less racist. Watching the Amy Cooper video I realized that while surely some racism do come from ignorance and fear, perhaps racism is really about power.

In part I of this series I wrote about my personal stories of overt racism in Canada. But I never felt powerless as a result of those incidents. Amy Cooper, in that heated moment, seemed to try and rob her opponent of his powers as a free citizen by wielding his race as a weapon. And she used that power callously, knowing the possible bad outcome, BECAUSE of the possible bad outcome for him, just because she could.

Racism and the Average Canadian- Part I: Tales of Racism

I grew up in Toronto, in Scarborough – arguably the most ethnically and racially diverse part of an already highly diverse city. If I review my history of facing racism in Toronto, I can think of exactly three overtly racist events in my 23 years in Canada.

First one happened when I was waiting for a bus at Warden station. A man asked a South Asian teen if the bus we were all waiting for went to a specific stop, the hapless teen shook his head that he didn’t know. Then the man asked me the same question and I had to tell him sorry I didn’t know either.

Then the man moved on to a Caucasian, older dude, who was able to confirm that the bus indeed went to that specific stop. I guess to celebrate his victory, the original guy commented loudly how a “true” Canadian was correctly able to identify the right stop (implying I suppose the two South Asian were “fake” Canadians because we hadn’t memorized that particular bus route).

Our beloved Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is infamous for having a set of eccentric but harmless clientele. And the only reason this incident stayed in my mind was because the “true” Canadian guy (the one who happened to know the bus route) walked up to me a bit later and apologized on behalf of the, let’s call him, CRAZY guy. While I was no more offended by this CRAZY guy than other Toronto CRAZY guys (like the man who “terrorized” people by randomly yelling JESUS at the corner of Yonge and Dundas), I was nonetheless touched by the “true” Canadian’s concerns and apologies.

The second overtly racist event actually happened to my mom. She was at a local Zellers and some old lady told her to go back to her country, to that my mom promptly replied “I live here, get used to it” like a boss. Again, so little harm done that it is much more of an amusing anecdote highlighting my mom’s feisty personality than a testament to the lady’s racism.

The third and final racist event happened (again on the TTC) when a young girl came up to me, asked if I was an immigrant and then when I confirmed “yes” she proceeded to say “F*ck you immigrant”. My sister, also an immigrant, was with me, we both stared at the immigrant hater with some bemusement as she definitely looked like an immigrant (or a child of one) herself.

I wanted to start by sharing these specific “racist events” because that’s how many of these essays start. And for a lot of people, they believe THIS is what racism looks like. But unfortunately these types of overt acts of racism perpetrated by random weirdos have little to no effect, because they are from people who had no more power or authority over me than anyone else.

Being mistreated by a random stranger on the street because of my skin colour is not a big deal – I have been much, much more mistreated for being a woman than for being Brown. On the other hand, being exposed to subtle and benevolent intolerance and fear of the average Canadian – people who know me and care for me – have been much more insidious and exhausting over the long run. I’ll share more about that in my next post.

Pushing Fitness Beyond Mental and Physical Limits

This is the story of Ryan Keay, who at 38, started on a fitness path that eventually led him to race in Spartan obstacle courses, while shedding 50lbs along the way. In this highly inspiring interview, Ryan and I talk about what made him start and what it took to get to where he is today.

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Five Ways to Level Up Your Life Using New-found Extra Time in Quarantine

If you are currently in the mood to simply stay in your pajamas and check Twitter every 5 minutes or just cut out the world and cuddle your family, then go for it. You do what you need to do to survive some of the worst weeks of our lives. However, if you are looking for some ideas to Level Up during Quarantine 2020, look no further than below! I have compiled 5 ways you can level up easily and emerge as a new you when life outside of the home resumes again.

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Leaving Corporate Life to Become an Independent Consultant

This is the story of Joanne Dong, an independent consultant, currently focused on solving challenging problems in US Healthcare using technology. In this in-depth interview, Joanne and I speak about her journey from growing up in communist China to becoming a consultant and the many pivots she made along the way.

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Starting Over in New York City

This is the story of Vidya Thangirala, a true world traveler, who started a new life in New York City in her mid-30s. And over the last three years made it her new home. In this interview we discuss what it is like to build a new life in one of the busiest and most exciting cities in the world.

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5 Steps for Building an Exercise Habit

I have been trying to build a life long exercise habit before turning 40 and I am about 10 weeks into a 6 month (plus the rest of my life) process. I can honestly say, I exercise now nearly every day (confession – I did stop when on vacation). In this post, I’ll quickly summarize the 5 steps that led to my own success so far. For more details, you can read my four part series on Building the Exercise Habit .

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15 Great Quotes by Inspirational Women

In honor of International Women’s Day, here are 15 quotes by some of the most interesting and inspirational women out there – businesswomen, journalists, comediennes & politicians. Let their words inspire today as we celebrate women everywhere.

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What it Takes to Be a Tech Entrepreneur

Dan & I hanging out near Lake Ontario

This is the story of Dan Lee, co-founder of Qalius and CTO of Pllenty. He had the heart of an entrepreneur before being an entrepreneur was in fashion and Toronto became the Tech and Innovation hub that it is today. In this interview I pick Dan’s brain about what it takes to be a Tech entrepreneur and learn about his journey.

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