Our Perspectives: A Look into Racism in Canada
As an Indian Canadian female living in Peel, you would think I must have it all. After all, I live in Mississauga, a place reputed to be diverse, and supposedly welcoming. It is true that I do not particularly stand out amongst my peers, as there is a large South Asian population. However, we are in no way the majority. Growing up, I never thought much about my heritage, or the impact it had on my life until middle school, where everyone grew increasingly aware of the differences between each other.
It’s grade 7: a period of time where everyone is in a state of confusion, trying to find their identity with their newfound independence. It’s a time of insecurity, and confusion about what the world expects of you.I remember one distinct day where I grew aware of the multiple expectations held for me as a South Asian Canadian female.
The day is like any other day:
The bell rings.
It’s a distinctive 3 beat, 3 tone bell that immediately makes my stomach turn. To others, this bell means lunch time. To me, despite being extremely hungry, this bell signifies the end to the safest time of day, class time.
Class time is a time of work, and lessons. There is always something to do, something to distract myself with.
Lunch time is when I am thrown into the outside world, and forced to interact with others, while trying to kill 40 minutes.
I head over to the group of people I usually sit with. They are all either white, or Asian-Canadian, with the exception of Kelly. The only way one would identify Kelly as South-Asian would be by the colour of her skin, as on the inside, she is anything but South Asian.
I open up my lunch: Biryani. Yum. I quietly eat my food, keeping to myself. I shut the world out. Nobody talks to me, as usual. One spoon. Then another. I am almost done, when I something catches my ear.
“Yeah she’s really pretty, for a brown girl,” says Cassie, a Chinese Canadian.
I do not think much of it. In fact, I lean over and peer at her phone screen. It is some girl’s instagram post. “I agree”, I hear myself say, without thinking. After all, it’s what I’ve heard about myself, my entire life.
Kelly scrunches her face up, “I don’t like her nose”, she whines.
Suddenly Sanjana, an Indian Canadian from the neighbouring table spins around in her seat. “What do you mean by, ‘for a brown girl’?”.
Cassie doesn’t even flinch. “I have never seen a pretty brown girl. You know what I mean?”.
Sanjana starts to list names of female Bollywood actors, while Cassie and Kelly search them up on Google, and discuss features they do not like about each of them.
Briefly, for a moment, I let myself think: Does the North American world expect more of me as a woman, than the already high standard that India has set for me? Then, once again, I shut the world out. Nobody talks to me as usual. One spoon. Then another. “I am almost done,” I tell myself.
In retrospect, while I do regret not taking action against such microaggressions throughout middle school, I do feel somewhat hopeless as to the difference it would make. These people genuinely believed there was no beauty in South Asians, and it was their personal opinion. In middle school, while many girls were struggling to find self confidence, and a sense of identity, not only did they face pressure from the media, but also their fellow peers. Growing up Indian Canadian put two sets of expectations on me: Indian beauty ideals as well as Canadian beauty ideals. And if brought up in such an environment it can be hard to find beauty in even your own heritage, like Kelly finds it.
All of this made the fight to self confidence harder, which in the end only made me stronger. My experiences shaped who I am today: a proud Indian Canadian female. Perhaps I am privileged to grow up in a diverse community where my background does not make me stand out, but this does not mean I am not oppressed, or that there is no struggle.
I’m three years old. I had just moved to the sunny (and very rainy) city of Vancouver. Okay, well not actually Vancouver. I had actually moved to a city forty-three minutes from Vancouver, called Surrey, but more commonly known as “New Punjab” by its inhabitants. Over 20% of Surrey’s citizens spoke Punjabi, and it was quite common to spot Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worships) or Desi restaurants as you made your way through the town. My move to Canada had been exciting; I was excited to experience the diversity and opportunities that existed here. What I was not excited to experience was what happened next.
Being in Surrey, my parents had enrolled me in a Khalsa School (a Punjabi pre-school) even though I had no connection with the language or culture. They had needed someone to look after me while they spent their days searching for jobs and attending interviews. I was dark and “exotic” to everyone in the class, and it wasn’t long before I truly felt different.
The competition had just ended and all of us are at the Gurdwara, after having just read the Guru Granth Sahib. I’m excited to hear the results. I had practiced my reading over the past two nights alone, because my parents didn’t speak a word of Punjabi. Nonetheless, I loved it, and I think I did pretty well today.
Everyone goes quiet. The announcer at the Gurdwara congratulates everyone for competing, and talks about how choosing the winner was a very difficult decision. His words fly past our ears. We know he’s just stalling, and we wait in anticipation for the name of the winner.
“And the winner is…” Me? No way! I won! I jump out of my seat, because I can’t believe what just happened. This is the first time I had ever really won something, and I can’t stop smiling. I proudly walk up to the man and sport the first place prize on my back: a dark green knapsack. I wish I could have captured that moment, because all I could feel at that instant was happiness.
“He doesn’t deserve it! He’s dark!”
“I can’t believe he stole first prize.”
“This is our Gurdwara. I don’t know what he’s doing here.”
The words hit me as soon as I get down from the makeshift stage. It’s as if everyone had taken off their sunglasses and are finally recognizing who I am. I might be able to speak the language, but I am not Punjabi. I am not one of them. I am a thin, dark skinned boy who had just stolen their first place prize, in their place of worship. The words hurt; they pierce through my 3-year old heart. The ecstasy from that very moment disappeared, even though I lived in one of the most multicultural and diverse countries in the world, I felt like an outsider.
I am a Nigerian born Canadian citizen, or so they say. While I legally am a Canadian, the way I’ve been treated by fellow citizens seems to imply otherwise. But I mean, it’s Canada, a nation that boasts its diversity and acceptance, right? At least that’s how the country is portrayed across the world, and many people, including Canadians, believe it’s just that. Living in Brampton, a statistically diverse city, one might again assume racism and any sort of prejudice is but a relic of the past.
It’s grade 10. I am one of many students who spend their time trying to be both academically productive and trying to find as many distractions as I can to prevent just that. At this time, I’ve lived in Brampton for 8 years and I’m fairly used to the people and customs of the city. Nothing could surprise me, or so I thought.
I’m in second period class suffering through yet another biology presentation about how “immensely crucial” the diaphragm is to the body. For some reason, my science teacher believes pointless hyperboles are key to a student’s understanding. My phone vibrates, and I pick it up to be reminded that my best friend’s birthday party is tonight. And of course I’d been so excited I forgot to grab her a gift. Luckily the party wasn’t till 6:00pm and school ends at 2:45pm, giving me a little over 3 hours to get ready.
I’m out of breath. I just ran half a kilometre to catch this bus, so if there was ever a time my diaphragm felt “immensely crucial,” it was now. All that matters was that I bought the gift, caught the bus and I can now safely make it to the party on time. I look at the gift in the bag and have a hard time understanding how a rather bland t-shirt for some unknown band managed to cost me $60. But it’s my best friend’s birthday, is there ever a better time to spend ludicrous amounts of money?
The bus driver then takes a turn I wasn’t expecting, and only after minutes of freaking out do I realize that I took the wrong bus, meaning I’ll be half an hour late to the party. So I decided to call my friend and tell her I’ll be late.
She picks up and I tell her of my bus predicament and her response confuses me.
“Oh I hate when that happens, besides where are you going?” She asks
“I’m on my way to your house for your party, remember?” I respond
“Oh, my party…” she says, awkwardly
The call goes on for a few more minutes as she explains that I’m not invited to her party, because her parents aren’t comfortable having me there.
Now while this has me upset, it’s not uncommon in this city for parents to want an all-girl party for their daughters and so I understood. I was just wondering how I’m to give her the present when I unlock my phone and check Snapchat, to see how the party’s going. And within seconds I realise that it isn’t an all girls party. In fact, at the party were many of my male friends who have but one shared characteristic. None of them are black.
One call back and twenty minutes of explanation later, I now understand that her parents didn’t have a problem with boys coming over, as long as they weren’t black. I’m sad, shocked, and slightly angry. “What’s this supposed to mean?,” I think. At this time I’m not sure whether to direct my anger at my friend, her parents or myself.
This moment had such an impact on how I saw myself, how I saw the city and how I saw people in general. The message was clear: I was black and so I was unwelcomed. The city that boasts acceptance and diversity rejects me and I can do nothing about it.
Canada, a place that we call home. A place where we think we can express who we are without discrimination, or judgement. A place where we feel welcome. That is the image of what Canada is on the surface. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the reality of our nation. The stories above are a clear indication of how our local communities are still littered with judgmental thoughts that make it difficult for minorities to adapt and live the Canadian lifestyle.
And so, we must ask ourselves, Why this is happening? And what can we do to stop it? In order to make Canada a welcoming place for everyone, we need to educate others and spread awareness. We’ve taken the first step by deciding to share our personal stories of discrimination.
Here in Brampton, a grand portion of the population is made up of South-Asian Canadians. With that being said, the feeling of being out of place is easy to come by. In Act 1, we can see that South-Asians have a predisposed image of how they should act based on their culture. By not following those standards, it is easy for them to be seen as outsiders, leaving them vulnerable to the backlash of society. We often find that people of colour are often considered unattractive because they do not exemplify “normality”. This can make life unquestionably hard for someone living in an area like Brampton, where the majority of people already have expectations on your identity and actions.
Minority groups are harassed physically, verbally and mentally day by day because of their differences. Certain groups of people are unable to celebrate their beliefs just because their faith isn’t shared by the majority. What makes this worse is that these beliefs are being sewn into the very fabric of our nation. Racism and discrimination of minorities have become a part of the everyday culture, and are slowly destroying the free diversity that existed in this country.
As mentioned before, education is the key to ending the harassment and racialization of people in our community. We all have a voice and we can all make ourselves heard. Whether it’s by educating people who don’t know any better or sharing stories of your experiences to raise awareness of exclusion in the community you call home. We can bring up these issues to the people who represent us in the government. Their power and position give them the ability to control the well-being of our country, and our words can open their eyes. As people say, “charity begins in your home”, it is important for us to assess ourselves and how we treat others before we can attempt to change others. Today, you’ve read this blog post about discrimination in Canada, and it is now up to you to play your part in order to challenge and ultimately eliminate prejudice in the nation.