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!”

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummm I see you're point but this is the way my white mom is treated as well. we're eastern European and she has a very thick accent with broken English…I think it has more to do with intolerance and laziness. People cant be bothered being sensitive to each other anymore, especially in highly populated areas. White or not. People always have a group they use as a scapegoat but because it’s easier to complain, blame and be intolerant than to change yourself. You should had told this girl she was rude and needs to try being a little more patience because this lady’s probably lived a longer life and see more things than her and should be respected.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey u, so great that you are writing again esp in the 'ghetto' where the pulse of life truly exists for us 1st gen Torontonians!

As for anon's comments -listen white immigrants are totally higher up on the totem pole. while intolerance and laziness might be true, i still believe that 'visible' minorities are still considered to be inferior by most that reel out 'racism -2006 remix'

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Racism isn't necessarily white against brown or black. I guess technically, we'd call it xenophobia -- fear of the other. I think intolerant people about in this city, primarily because of ignorance. Ignorance leads to fear, and fear gets manifested as hate. Dutty Brown Boy, I really enjoyed reading your blog, and I think you should keep writing. And I totally feel you when it comes to the talking down to me because my skin is another colour thing. I just answer them back in my best British accent, and then they s. the f. up.

7:34 PM  

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