Is racism gone in Canada?

24 Feb 2006

Or Has It Been Replaced by a More Subtle Version?

Oscar Peterson….

If you don’t know who he is then please google his name, or take a trip to your nearest library. He is a profound jazz musician, whom we are very lucky to have gracing our generation and those who choose to open up their ears. Oscar Peterson, who resides in Canada, was born in Montréal and for the last 40 years, has been blessing the world with his beautiful jazz piano renditions. Whether it was his personal renditions or soulful arrangements, he is a true masterpiece who stands out in Canadian history. He stands out not only for musicians around the world, but more importantly for Black musicians.

Multiculturalism or Stereotypicalization?

Canada prides itself in being a multicultural community. It is known as a country where individuals and their families, from all over the world, dream of immigrating to due to the acceptance of culture, and opportunities, which seem so promising. For many, the struggle to get here seems worthwhile until they arrive and have to endure the subtle, yet blatant racism.

Subtle yet blatant was a deliberate choice of words. It means that racism has now taken a step up. It can be compared to starting out driving a Reliant and then later obtaining an M series BMW. Racism these days is quite “classy.” Subtle with a smile, yet direct with its strike. This sort of racism usually takes place in a business environment or a classroom, even amongst friends on a quiet afternoon. In these sorts of environments one will hear peers say the word nigger followed by the words, “Oh I don’t mean you. You know what I mean.” Then you will inwardly respond to yourself “No I don’t know what you mean” and continue on with your day, forever lacking an answer to their statement.

One will also have those who will say “but I put an a at the end (nigga) as in opposed to an er (nigger) how come you can say it and I can’t?”


I should not say it and neither should you, regardless of your skin colour or the percentage of black you claim to have in you. But before we further continue with the confusion which both sides of the fence are faced with, let us take a deeper look at the subtleties at our door step.

The Subtleties of Discrimination

The novel Roots, by Alex Haley was, and is was a pivotal point in black literature. It is a novel that sold over 1 million books in its first year as well as a novel that is a curricular foundation in hundreds of college/university courses around the world. Yet it is withheld from the hands of many. The expression “many” is based upon personal inquiries regarding the purchasing history of this novel in 3 major cities in Southern Ontario; Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto. I need not proceed to provide you with demographic figures provided by Stats Canada, due to the fact that Toronto alone is on the map as one of the major multicultural melting pots in the world. Brampton and Mississauga are also included in the great white myth, because it is part of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).

Hunting For an Internationally Famous Black Book in the GTA

One afternoon I decided that I would like to own and read this novel, which is so highly recommended and spoken about. So I decided to take a short trip the major Canadian book store, Chapters. My first stop, which was supposed to be the only stop, was at the Brampton location. Not able to find the black literature section, I proceeded to the next best source of information, which happened to be the sales associate. She had never heard of the book. I had to spell Haley for her. The database stated that they were sold out. Which prompted the question, how many were in stock? To my surprise there were a grand total of two novels previously in stock. My next logical question, was whether I could place an order. Once again to my surprise the answer was a big no! How come? I asked. Kindly with a smile she said it’s highly possible that the novel is out of print. As I walked away, my mind boggling and utterly confused, I promised myself this was not the end of my search

My next stop was Mississauga.  I was still confused but prepared for another eventful quiet evening with Chapters. With in five minutes upon entering the bookstore, my search came to an abrupt halt. African History, the indicator read. There it was. Not a full shelf, but almost half of that. Could this possibly be it? I was in the world history section. I decided to be optimistic for a brief moment, and said to myself before I was accused of crying wolf, “let me take a closer look at this ‘so called’ world history section.”

Chinese history had 3 shelves, British history had several shelves, European history had several shelves and even Jewish history had 2 and ? shelves. Whose quarter where they all imposing on? African history, which had 5 books (and I may be being generous with 5 books) of duplicates. Once again I found a sales associate, hoping that she would be able to shed some light on the situation at hand. The lovely associate walked me to another sector of the library where the big heading read, Gay and Lesbian. At the time it did not make sense to me but there it was in the Gay and Lesbian section. Black authors. On half of a shelf.

The true irony lies in whom the other half of the shelf belonged to. Another race of people who were not only physically raped by the conquering civilized European, but were also spiritually raped and made a mockery of. Who else but the Native Americans? Now isn’t that funny? Gays/Lesbians/Black Authors/Native Authors all cozily grouped together in a corner of the store. One may wonder what these groups have in common. Well, they are all minorities in todays, yesterdays, and sadly tomorrow’s society.

Where in the GTA is Alex Haley’s Book?

My last stop was Toronto. Disheartened by previous encounters with major bookstores, I found that Indigo as another mass distributor, was quite disappointing. Demographics were the source of the issue, according to the sales associate. Demographics an issue in the heart of Toronto? There I was, brushed away once again. The absolute final destination was the internet. The Amazon/Chapters hybrid site was not too useful. Roots seem to be lost in the oblivion, but the Da Vinci Code could be at my door step within 24 hours.

Who would have thought blatant oppression and discrimination would be found in a house of knowledge? I am sure there are, were and will be plenty of African American people, young people, who will be disgusted by the lack of representation of the Black author and Black history. Some will say it is just another issue to add to the list. But this is another example of the subtle and silent racism that goes unnoticed in our society.

Getting the Brush Off

Just as I was brushed away with assumptions, and consumer-pleasant hypotheses, Oscar Peterson’s situation is being dismissed as just that. Despite the fact that he said he had been receiving racial slurs very often when he was at home, he was just brushed off as an elderly man over exaggerating a petty situation. Police recently released a statement on the airways stating that Oscar’s wife claimed that there were no racial slurs being shouted on a nightly basis. Canada, Ontario and Mississauga have not taken this incident seriously. That a man, who has made hundreds of steps forward, unfortunately has to witness several steps back in the later years of his career and life, is an abomination. If this can happen to a prominent member of the Jazz world, and Black community in Canada, just think about all of the discrimination cases that go by unheard and are unjustly dealt with.

The trend ranging from the bookstore experience, to a quiet evening amongst friends, to the attitude at work, seems to be subtle dismissal. The book is out of print? Apparently it’s not in demand. The people driving by Oscar Peterson’s house according to the police were not making derogatory racial remark? False accusations. Here we are in 2006 and what do we have to show for it. A lot of change has been made, but one can’t help but feel that things seem quite stagnant at this point in time. But nevertheless this overwhelming feeling, shared by many African Americans, has sparked great change.

This situation is an eye-opener for all blacks around the world. You must always put your best foot forward, and be conscious. Conscious of where you came from, and where you are going, as well. We must fight the battles in our homes and the battles at our doorsteps. For darkness is not eternal. The sun always rises.

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