Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Racism - 2006 remix

“Did I go to sleep and wake up to a racist world?” I ask my boyfriend.

He laughs, and I continue to lug in my groceries.

Of course, I understand the world is filled with racism, prejudices and stereotypes. The best of us are guilty, as it is hard to escape negative attitudes that prevail around us. Still, I felt, that for the last few years, race was not a pressing issue in my day-to-day life. That living in the multicultural hive that is Toronto, my fellow residents had entered the new millennium with more enlightened attitudes. I realize, I may sound naïve. That, in this city there are still bigots, but I still felt that they did not cause the same impact, that I had once felt growing up.

I am standing in the elevator that is probably 5’ by 5’ crammed with probably 10 people. I am closest to the floor buttons, so implicitly volunteer to be operator and field floor numbers from people. This white girl with blonde hair and Versace glasses on says, “Eighteen”. I hear her clearly, but apparently did not press the button fast enough for her pleasure. A few seconds later she almost yells, “Eighteen!” Not even a please.

Today is shopping day and I didn’t give two thoughts to my appearance. I am wearing a baseball cap and some jogging pants with bleach splattered on them and long shirt with a few tears. My skin is already fairly dark, and today especially, I probably appear as one of the thousands of Tamil’s that inhabit my neighbourhood. She has probably assumed that I don’t speak English and that it is permissible to be rude and yell loudly.

Earlier, I had been in Wal-Mart searching for various items in the House Wares section. An Indian lady wandered over donned in a scarf, with her young daughter in hand. She stuttered for a moment, and then hesitantly asked a sales assistant if she knew where the knapsacks were located. The sales girl had a look of confusion on her face, and made a loud snort before saying, “huh?” The Indian lady did have a thick accent, and her English was broken at best, but with a little patience what she was asking could have been discerned. The lady repeated herself, and before she could even finish, the sales girl responds, “No, I don’t have knapsacks here, I only have them in Fashions!” The sales girl repositions herself as to indicate the conversation is over. The Indian woman appears uncertain, she is about to walk away, when she starts to weakly explain that the sales person in Fashion had said that maybe they would have knapsacks in House Wares. The sales girl laughs aloud, “No, I don’t have any knapsacks here.” She gives the Indian lady a look of disgust, “only in FA-SH-ON section.”

Is yelling at immigrants that can’t speak English racist? In certain context’s I do believe this is the case – at least implicitly. Raising one’s volume when speaking, does not cause clarity in meaning. In the case of the Wal-Mart girl, she is a customer service representative and it is her job to seek to understand the shopper. If, the customer had been an old white lady, who could speak perfect English but just spoke barley above a whisper, would she have received the same treatment? And, for the sake of argument, if the girl in the Versace glasses had stepped into an elevator at my workplace, and I was dressed in the Kenneth Cole I am wearing today, would I have received the same treatment? Probably not, as I would not appear as uneducated Tamil, but rather, as the Indian who “enunciated so well”.

As, I write out this post, I realize that I did not wake up to a racist world, but simply began interacting with it again. For the past four years, I have lived in the suburbs, worked in a progressive work environment and was selective regarding the venues where I hung-out. I am now in the midst of the ghetto.

The ghetto has changed dramatically since I was a little boy. I would guarantee, that if you called me a “dumb paki” today, at least ten desi thug brethren would appear out of nowhere and beat the living crap out of you a la Londonstani. But, the ghetto remains a site of contest, as probably a new immigrant arrives weekly onto my block. Here they learn what is acceptable and what is not acceptable while they save up for that down payment for the house in the suburbs. And instead of being called Paki, they will have someone yell, “FA-SH-ON!”

Monday, October 16, 2006

On My Own Again

Free, free, free at last.

I moved out. I am living in a one bedroom apartment, in the most densely populated area in Canada, known as St. James Town. The neighbourhood is quite familiar to me, as I inhabited these ground four years ago, before student loans forced me home. While the area is sometimes referred to as “crack town", I don’t mind the ghetto factor. This is what I can afford right now, and I am living on my own; the master of my own domain.

I recall, once at a family dinner, one cousin asking another cousin, what his five year plan was. The question gave me internal shudders. At the time, I had already changed my major twice, and dodged any sort of commitment. The idea of committing to a life plan was simply unfeasible; I wanted to live in the here-and-know.

As thirty became a number that would soon be my age, I realized that something had to give. I was whoring myself to temp agencies, and refused to become that forty year-old who worked the same job as me, with no hope for progress.

Two years ago, I devised myself three goals. (1) To pay off my student loans, (2) To get a job that paid me at least $40,000, and (3) To move out on my own again. I am filled with pride and joy with myself, for having achieved these goals. They might not be the loftiest of aspirations, but that is what I desperately wanted at that time – and I worked my ass off, and did it in the time frame I had allocated.

I still walk around with a giddy feeling in my apartment. I’ll be dressed only in my gitch, with a cigarette in hand, admiring my handy work in interior decorating, and think, “I did this!” Having achieved my current goals, I have a new set of goals, primarily to become a published writer.

If anything I feel living where I do, will aid me enormously in such an endeavor. As I walk around my building, ride the elevator, or stare out from my balcony, I feel that I have somehow wandered into my childhood as an adult. I stare at the Pakistani mother with the shalwar-kameez she clearly sewed herself, with three children in tow all wearing label free clothes probably purchased at Wal-mart. I can’t help but stare at them, as I feel that is my past being brought to life in-front of me. With approximately a thousand people living in my building, it is simply teaming with life, and I feel that if I try hard enough I can pluck tales from the air.

I can’t afford therapy. But, this time, with me living on my own again, being reflective of my past in my writing will be the best possible healing (and, hopefully let me cash in on the desi love-in that is going on in the literary world).

(Yes, I said I discontinued this blog. But, hey, its my blog, and if I choose to update it every once and awhile, that is my prerogative.)