Special to the Tribune/Advisor
I pop the hatch on a delivery van and as the large glass door rises past me I see the word “nigger” written on the dust covered glass.
Hastily re-closing the door I peer at the graffiti.
My two colleagues look at me with incredulity as I ask what “7 nigger”` means. Darko slowly explains that what I perceive as a “7” actually represents a gallows and points out the stick man hanging from it.
After taking in the full meaning of the image I wipe the windshield clean with my bare hands.
Darko, newly arrived from Eastern Europe, and Ramandeep, newly arrived from India, discuss their own experiences with racism in Canada as we load the van.
The light skinned Darko seems surprised that racism exists in Canada while Ramandeep expresses less surprise.
I walk away thinking: “Probably some damn honky, redneck, white trash hillbilly’s kid.”
I now recognize that except among the most enlightened of minds every racist action generates an equal and opposite racist reaction.
Later the offensive graffiti triggers a long ago childhood memory of fear and rage and the beginnings of my personal racism.
I remember walking along Third Avenue near the movie theatre, except in 1974 no movie theatre existed, just houses.
I walked with my mother and little brother.
As I walked I felt happy as a cool breeze ruffled my freshly washed hair and the bright sunlight reflected off my brand new white shirt.
I felt safe and loved as I held my mother’s hand.
Suddenly I heard my mother say, “Oh I forgot my watch. I think we’re late. I wonder what time it is.”
Just then my eight-year-old eyes saw two teenage girls approaching.
One wore a watch with a wide black leather strap clearly outlined against her light skin.
“Excuse me could you please tell me what time it is?” I asked in my most polite little boy voice.
“Get away from me you dirty little HINDU!” the girl screamed as she walked by. My mother squeezed my hand a little tighter and none of us spoke.
In fact, we never spoke about it, but the first seed of racism landed on to the fertile fields of my young mind.
“White people hate us, and what the heck is a Hindu??”
Today I’m a middle-aged turban-clad Sikh and as I speak with another clean shaven Sikh in a grocery store the discussion drifts towards finances.
After a furtive look around the man says in a low voice, “I’m not prejudiced, but white people can’t save money.”
On another occasion a Caucasian friend labels another Caucasian a “Jew” because he saves too much.
A cousin from Calgary states that Black people dress well, but never clean their homes.
An oriental friend tells me that First Nations lack a solid work ethic.
My uncle states that all Muslims are terrorists.
An acquaintance explains that all Catholic clergy harbour pedophiliac tendencies.
As I listen to my friends and family express their prejudices I regale them with my own ethnic and religious jokes.
Together my friends and I comprise the minions of intolerance frantically shovelling coal into the ancient steam engine of racism as it rumbles along the winding tracks of history.
This engine stops regularly at railway stations known as discrimination and oppression while occasionally visiting the hub station known as genocide.
I know the average prejudices held by the average Canadian seem insignificant, but when we study the cumulative results of these seemingly insignificant attitudes over time the destructive effects of our attitudes become starkly apparent.
In our tolerant and gentle country we know that collective Canadian racism led to:
• the genocide and oppression of First Nations from First Contact forward
• violation of agreements and military oppression of the Metis people
• continuous tension between English and French Canadians
• the enslavement of Black Canadians until 1833
• the Vancouver race riots of 1887 and 1907
• the Komagata Maru incident of 1914
• the Chinese exclusion Act of 1923.
• the classification of Eastern and Southern Europeans as “Non-Preferred” immigrants in the 1920s
• the anti-Semitic immigration practices and anti-Semitic restrictions on professional and social opportunities for Jewish Canadians throughout the 1930s
• the widespread presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Canada in the 1930s
• the illegal arrest of 30,000 Japanese-Canadian citizens in 1942
• the 150,000 strong 1990 petition rejecting the federal government’s Sikh religious symbols amendment to the RCMP uniform policy
• the 2014 Quebec government’s attempt at passing a law banning civil servants from wearing ostentatious religious symbols
• the 2015 federal government’s legislation making illegal Muslim women’s religious apparel during citizenship ceremonies
• a Quebec judge’s refusal to hear a hijab clad Muslim women’s testimony in February of 2015
• and the millions of other racist and intolerant actions great and small, recorded and unrecorded that transpired and continue to occur in our great country.
Our individual racism enabled and enables our collective racism.
If I recognize my past racist attitudes I might begin transforming myself into a better person and as a result a better Canadian.
Perhaps Zunera Ishaq, the 29-year-old former kindergarten teacher from Pakistan who wanted to wear her Niquab during her citizenship ceremony deserved my support.
Maybe Runia El-Alloul, a hijab wearing single mother in Toronto, who wanted her car back, but whose testimony a Quebec judge refused to hear because she wears a head scarf needed my assistance.
In every case, however, I remained silent, a mute witness trapped within the raging river of racism that flows within us all.
Our courts ruled in favour of these women even as I blissfully swam in the familiar currents of this river whose headwaters sprang from the great mountains known as ignorance.
I understood that these judges made our country better and I knew that future Canadians will look back just as we look back at previous generations and say, “How idiotic? Thank God we are smarter than those morons.”
Despite this knowledge I remained steadfastly silent and assented to racist practices through my quiet acceptance.
I along with the majority of Canadians remained silent while a few brave souls carried the burden of improving Canada on their well-worn shoulders.
Despite the struggles of these anti-racist heroes a March 2015 EKOS poll reported that 41 per cent of 2,000 Canadians surveyed believed that Canada accepts too many non-white immigrants.
Older, less educated Canadians formed the majority of the people holding this viewpoint.
Is it possible that the less welcoming and accepting our nation, the less visible minorities and their children feel connected to our country?
If lack of understanding and discrimination generate alienation why do we feel astonished when Canadian kids forsake Canada?
Why do we express surprise when our Canadian children risk their lives in far-away lands fighting for causes that we perceive as barbaric?
Let’s accept and embrace all Canadian children regardless of ethnicity and religion so that no child feels the need to seek acceptance in foreign lands.
Let us move forward together and escape the river of hate and cycle of conflict so that we may walk upon the shores of love and live in peace.
By the way if you are the racist who scrawled “nigger” on my rear windshield I forgive you because I know you will be a better person in the future.
I know this because we live in a better country today than in 1974.
We all learn from our experiences and reflect the values of our times and as we evolve our country evolves.
I believe that the teenage girl I met in 1974 comprises a better person today than her younger self.
I believe if I asked her what time it is today she would tell me, and instead of silent fear and hidden rage I could respond with a heartfelt “Thank you…”