As some people might know, I am in what has been termed an "interracial relationship." I like to think of the world consisting of one human race divided into a plethora of unique shapes and colours rather than to think of a world consisting of a complex division of races. Unfortunately for my idealism there are many people in this world who enjoy dividing people into separate races and not only categorizing them, but also creating general laws about their behaviour. Because of these people, race does exist.
One of the questions I am often asked when someone finds out that I am dating an African woman is whether I encounter a lot of racism. No one has burned a cross on my lawn, yet, and sometimes I think that is the sort of incident people are fishing for. The racism I have encountered is a lot more subtle, but it still can sting. A member of the K-9 unit ordered us out of a Wendy's because we were "scaring off customers." People have gone right out and stated that I am wrong to be involved with an African woman. One such incident which sticks indelibly in my mind is the seven-year-old who stated matter-of-factly that, "white is for white and black is for black." In order for a child of this age to learn such a thing, I believe they have to be taught by society or an older adult.
Usually, however, the racism is a lot less blatant than even that. Racist jokes are cut off half-way through, not because of my glowering face, but because a friend of mine is jutting his elbow intensely into the side of their unenlightened friend. People refer to my girlfriend and all of the people who share her skin colour as "them" and then proceed to make generalizations like, "I hear black girls are wild in bed." Now, I can't make an empirical judgement on that because, being a virgin, I've never had sex with a black girl or a white girl or an asian girl; and if I had, I'd have to sleep with all of them before I could make a scientific judgement. Still, I can say with reasonable certainty that such a ridiculous statement is merely the manisfestation of a racist's objectified fantasy of black women imposed upon reality. I'm entirely certain there are black woman who are terribly subdued in bed. All this to say that race, although it may shape an individual, does not determine personality or character.
This past summer, at her workplace, my girlfriend was having a lot of difficulty getting any amount of cooperation with one of the managers she had was working with. She finally told her supervisor of her difficulty, not as a complaint but as an explanation. The next day, this manager called her into her office.
After explaining himself he apologized profusely and then defended himself, "I'm not a racist. I've worked with all kinds of people and I've never had difficulty. I've worked with Vietnamese, Pakistani, Russian, and Chinese and even you people, and I've never had difficulty."
"You've worked with Burundian people before?" my girlfriend asked in surprise.
The manager gave her a bemused look of confused perplexion and then continued his defence. My girlfriend was oblivious by this time, completely irate at being relegated to the status of "you people."
I was taught in school that racism was no longer a problem. I remember in grade 4 some East Indian women were invited to share their culture with my class. They spoke about their culture and traditions and then the time for questions began. One of the students raised their hands and asked, "do you have trouble with racism?" One of the ladies answered that yes, she did, and then she explained how one of her neighbours would cross to the other side of the street rather than pass her on the same side of the street. After the women had left my teacher dismissed their story and explained to the class that racism wasn't a problem anymore.
Martin Luther King had made his speech, see? Everyone was equal, see? I won't argue that the rights of visible minorities haven't improved immensely but I will not settle into the comfortable ridiculousness of claiming racism is no longer a real problem. Many people seem to want to confine racism to incidents where the KKK shows up with torches or some local kids scrawl racist epithets on a wall. Racism in Canada often manifests in a sort of "polite racism." This involves polite shunning, polite generalizations, polite refusal, and polite ignorance. Okay, I'll be honest and admit that "polite racism" is an oxymoron and that Canadians are often worse than southern Americans. Why? If a southern American is racist he or she will come right out and tell you, a northern American or Canadian, on the other hand, will constantly hedge.
Canadians shouldn't comfort themselves with the opiate that most people aren't racist. One racist teacher, one racist boss, one racist policeman, can taint an entire institution. Stereotypes and generalizations create distrust and foster hatred. We need to build an atmosphere of love and communication between Canada's vast a varied cultural mosaic.
"Until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, this a war." - Robert Nesta Marley, putting the words of Emperor Haile Selassie's 1936 speech to the League of Nations to song.