Reflecting on a Racist Encounter in Toronto

I’ve often learned a lot when discussing racism in Canada with Canadian friends and even some Americans who "know" Canada.  In various settings, often with People of Colour (Canadian and American), I’ve been educated about the exploitation and relationships between settlers and First Nation people, the Japanese-Canadian concentration camps, and the various progressive and punitive immigration policies.  There is much more to learn, but one thing is for certain, there is still common-denominator racism stemming from the root of White Supremacy in Canada.  Not only have I heard it, and experienced it over the years, but last month during ConCentric/Opus, I witnessed it in ugly fashion.

I was at the grocery in the parking lot when the racial incident occurred.  It didn’t seem to start as such, really it was more of a clean streets and environmental concern.

A woman, who appeared to be of East African descent, perhaps Ethiopian, Eritrian, or Somalian, dropped her cigarette out the window of her car she was a passenger in.  She was with several other friends.

A man, who appeared to be White, with his young daughter, who I guessed to be 10, also appeared White, said something.  It came out I imagine with the original intention of wanting the woman not to litter.  But it escalated so fast I was taken aback.

The man said, "hey, pick that up."  The woman said "what?" with some attitude.  Then the man went off.  It was straight to racial epitaphs, culminating with "go back to wherever you came from nigger, go ride your camels or whatever."  He walked away with his daughter.  It was all over in 20 seconds.  I was standing there holding grocery bags, in between them, frozen.

The woman said "you can’t talk to me like that" and said some choice swear words back, and the man, looked at me, his daughter, and then walked away.  I didn’t say anything, but it did feel that my presence was an intervention of sorts.  I looked at the woman, said, "are you OK?", and then got in my car and drove off.

I’ve talked about this incident with several friends, and my reflection is this: racial prejudice, particularly from Whites, has the immediate power to escalate and become hostile.  In most settings, two things seem to be going on.  First, Whites targeting People of Color in a predominately White environment, raise all kinds of issues of safety, threat of violence, intimidation, and marginalization.  Second, the intensity with which Whites can escalate a verbal attack to draw on the arsenal of racist attack, seems to be within closer reach for Whites, with a larger, more dangerous and abusive collection of language, insinuation, and racialized verbal violence.

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