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.