In my eighteen years of life, I have not once felt as though I have been subjected to racism. But when I say this to other people of colour, why do I feel as though my experience is not acknowledged? Why does my experience place me in a position where I am not allowed to have any opinions on how people of colour should be treated. Why do my opinions on racism no longer hold any weight? Nor can I voice my perspective in front of white people, for fear of my experiences conveying a congratulatory message or for fear of instilling pride in them that racism has been “solved”. They might think that they should be proud of not being racist towards me or anyone else. Of course, all they are doing is simply being what any normal, good human being should be. Not being racist isn’t to be celebrated, by them, by me, or by anyone.
Growing up in Canada as an East Indian and person of colour, to me, has been relatively good compared to how it would be in many other countries. However, it is not anywhere near perfect or ideal. There is explicit, hidden and internal racism left and right. During summer last year, CTV News covered a story in Edmonton of a woman who was filmed while she called a man a “paki” with “shit coloured skin”. She later called CTV Edmonton saying that she was “not a racist.” Hearing and reading about such stories where words like “paki” are actually used against people allows me to realize that I have lived a sheltered life and I acknowledge that.
I acknowledge that I am extremely privileged to be able to say with confidence that I feel as though racism has not affected my life. There are a number of reasons why that might be — I am a straight male, born in Canada in the 2000s when people are actively trying to become unbiased global citizens. I grew up in the extremely diverse city of Winnipeg, in a neighbourhood with people of a higher socio-economic demographic and a variety of ethnicities. I attended a school of 1500 students where even my classes had tremendous diversity. All of these factors combined have allowed me to live a life where being brown hasn’t negatively affected me. I feel as though I can do what I want, when I want and I do not feel that I have to change my goals in any way due to my ethnicity or skin colour.
While racism and being a person of colour may not have had a direct and explicit impact on my life, it has on my family, resulting in my experiences today. My dad came to Canada at the age of three, and racism was not lacking in his life. Growing up, he and his brother were two of the very few people of colour in their large school. They were the only Indians that would be at the malls or the movies. Determined on not allowing me or my brother to have the same experiences, my parents made the decision to move to an area of the city where there was more diversity, where more people were of an upper-middle class and where the chances of me experiencing racism would be lower.
Today, I am lucky enough to be able to say that I believe their efforts worked! In fact, not long before I came to Pearson, I was watching my dad scroll through Facebook, and one of his friends had made a long post about his experiences of being a person of colour in Canada, and he had used the term “paki” in his post. Some may say this was ignorant, but I had to ask what that word meant. “Paki” is a racial slur that refers to anyone who looks to be of South Asian descent. The same slur that my dad and the rest of his family often heard living in Canada and I have never heard in my life. It is the slur that I can imagine my children will grow up never hearing. The fact that I had never heard that term used against me, or even at all, brought so much happiness to my dad. This was really the moment that I started to look back on my memories and start examining them for evidence of racism.
Soon thereafter I came to Pearson, and I very quickly realized that my experiences were not shared with any of my peers. It seemed as though no matter which person of colour I talked to, racism was an integral, defining feature or at least present in their life. Even my peers who were of colour and had grown up in Canada didn’t have the same experiences that I had. In fact, the only reactions I got, when I talked about my experiences, were those of complete disbelief. I felt alienated. I was told that my experiences couldn’t be true, that this life as a person of colour was impossible. Even if someone agreed with me and said it was possible, it was said with sarcasm, and from then on I was perceived as naive. At the same time, the idea that I couldn’t give my perspective to white people was imposed on me by other people of colour. I couldn’t let them hear my experience. I couldn’t let them think even the slightest that racism was being solved, that they were doing “so good”. While this is fair, I’ve come to realize that my perspective still needs to be heard, and my experiences need to be acknowledged and validated.
No, I haven’t experienced racism. No, I am not naive. No, racism hasn’t been solved. But it’s getting better. It’s getting better, enough that people of colour are not discriminated against to the same extent. It’s getting better, enough for me to hope that one day, maybe just one day, racism will be an issue of the past. It’s getting better, enough that more and more people can have the same experiences as me and will not be treated as naive. Because being brown was supposed to bring me down… but it didn’t, and maybe one day, it won’t bring anyone down.