Canada vs. America: The Great Race Debate


Canada vs. America: The Great Race Debate
Cut by: Davita Cuttita

With the recent “upsurge” in the news covering cross-border race-related events such as the attack on Black man by a group of Whites being caught on tape in Vancouver, British Columbia and a day camp of Black children being turned away from a swimming pool in Philadelphia, USA; a particular question has been coming up quite often…

Out of America and Canada, who is more racist?

This is a somewhat tricky question that as a coloured person, I hear quite often and it can be looked at in a variety of ways.

Firstly, if we were to examine this question in terms of let’s say, “Racists per 50 miles” or something like that, I would not be surprised if America has Canada beat in terms of how many racists might be living there. Afterall, America has a population of 300 million people while Canada only has a population of 33 million. The more people you have in a country increases the chances that some of those people are going to have very serious issues.

The second part is where the question gets tricky—who, exactly, is more racist?

How does one even begin to gauge something like racism in the first place? There isn’t a test we can distribute to determine whose racism is “better” or “worse”, and even beginning to think about racism in those terms in an attempt to have some sort of moral superiority contest between people or nations is obscene.

In my opinion, one can never and should never try to determine who is “more” racist as this is just going to set one up for failure and possibly bring them down to the same level as a racist as this is just another way to typecast reality and nations of people for personal comfort and benefit (or White privilege, if applicable).

To me, it is more constructive to understand how the racism works and manifests rather than trying to gauge it in terms of “better” or “worse”.

Stereotypically, Canada is seen as the friendly, climatically colder, somewhat dorky and socialist (we’re not) neighbour of America; the stereotypically loud, aggressive, arrogant, super-achiever of the Western World.

In my experience, White Canadian history is slightly glazed over with half-assed anti-Americanism as it attempts to paint the country in a positive light especially in regards to race relations. There are no mentions of Coloured Canadians existing and contributing to the country eversince the 1600s, no mentions of slave revolts or race riots; nor are there any mentions of segregation or even the Coloured Canadian civil rights movement. Typical White Canadian history portrays White Canadians as benevolent do-gooders pulling overtime on the Underground Railroad. Within its pages, the Coloured population is virtually non-existent, unimportant and contributed nothing to the nation until White settlers were “nice enough” to let Black slaves flee there to escape their evil American Masters and begin living lives wrought with racism, segregation and ridiculous amounts of snow.

In short, Canadian history is so caught up in trying not to seem “American” in its greatest faults and even in its achievements, that it ends up literally, disempowering itself and its people—especially Canadian citizens of Colour.

The world over, it does not surprise me that Canada is seen as a nation full of White people, “The Great White North” as it’s so often billed. I have not yet travelled as extensively as I want to, but for some reason, there is occasionally a glint of shock whenever I do mention that I live in Toronto.

While in England two years ago, almost everyone I met immediately began attempting to decipher my accent whenever I spoke.

“There’s something American about it,” they’d say, “but not quite…where are you from?”

“I was born in Jamaica but I live in Canada” was typically my scripted response.

“So…is that a Canadian accent then? Is there a Canadian accent? Doesn’t really sound Canadian.”

“No,” I’d respond. “There’s no Canadian accent, they mostly talk like Americans, really. I just talk a little funny because Jamaican Patois is my first language.” After a few seconds pause and a smile, the kind European would usually say “I like how you talk!”, I’d respond in kind and we’d be on our way.

A weekend ago, I was up in Oakville. Oakville is a suburban city with a population of 170,000 people about an hour or a little less up north from where I am. With a population of 2 million, Toronto is Canada’s—and quite possibly the world’s—most multicultural city. I’ll leave the demographics of Oakville to your imagination…

While drinking with some friends of a friend, the topic of race somehow came up as I was slightly irked with one of the White males’ “blanket statements” against religious people.

“Well, I’ve never seen racism or experienced it myself but I think racism has gotten better in Canada,” he said to me.

“OK…so…did a non-White friend of yours tell you that was his or her experience or…?” I asked.

“No, no…it’s just, you know, what I’ve experienced,” he answered.

“Excuse me, but how can you talk with a voice you do not have? You’re full of shit,” I said.

“Take me for example—I’m a girl, I’ve always been a girl. It’s like me saying ‘I think my dick just grew an inch’ when I don’t even know what it’s like to be a man, let alone have a penis. How the hell can you speak with a voice you do not have?”

“I see your point,” he responded.

To his credit, he seemed fairly receptive to what I had to say for the rest of the night and my friends and I were with a fairly seemingly stable crowd but I was still quite disturbed by the comment. I could probably write a whole other post on the full conversation about race and history we had, but we’ll stay focused on this for now…

It was beyond me to understand how someone who *admittedly* had never seen racism, let alone experienced it first hand, had the BALLS to look me in the face and say that. He must have been on some extraordinary shit.

Then again, I feel as though it’s almost a thing a lot of White people do whenever it comes to discussions on race—what they read in the paper, in a book or watch on TV is taken as good enough evidence to comment on the issue or come to an air-tight conclusion about it rather than seeing it or feeling it first-hand or even hearing about it from the perspective of a Coloured person they know.

This is where the line is drawn between Canadian brand racism and “made in America” racism.

Canadian racism is sneaky like a woman cheating on her man. Much of the time, it is so perfectly integrated into the system that you actually have to sit down and have a fucking caucus (and probably take it to the Maury show for a lie detector test) before you can concretely decide whether or not an incident was racist because of the stereotypical guise that all of Canada is friendly and multicultural.

American racism on the other hand—that’s the shit. American racism, in my experience, tends to be a bit more direct. That racism is so fucking succulent; you can taste it and feel it run up and down your spine. You know who it’s coming from and more often than not, you will know what to do.

But what do you do when something punches you in the dark up in the Great White North?

I once took a vote with my Coloured Friends at a party we threw during Obama’s inauguration. Who would we rather deal with more—the closet racist who’ll talk shit about your back and deny you a job (without you knowing it was because of your race and not your qualifications) or the guy who’ll just call you a slur and then threaten to lynch you.

We all picked the slur-and-threat fellow. We all know how to deal with his kind from experience; they’re a dime a dozen but a cunning snake—ah, different story.

So back to the gauging.

If you were to ask me if racism in Canada has gotten better or worse, I’d say that it’s gotten significantly better in some areas but worse in a lot of areas as well. Canada has done an OK job so far but we’re still far away from doing an amazing job—hell, there’s nothing wrong with room for improvement.

The biggest adversary to the REAL Canada’s future and justice for all its people is that good racism is NEVER called racism—it’s called a “mistake”, “a misunderstanding”, “immigrants” or “reverse-racism”.

Oh, Canada.


~ by davitacuttita on July 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “Canada vs. America: The Great Race Debate”

  1. I agree with you that our national history is painfully focused on the white experience. What surprised me is that I hear a lot about the non-white contributions to our local history (Edmonton) quite a bit. This area was settled by a large group of Arab Muslims and their family names crop up quite often in my browsing. There was a sort of forced multiculturalism on the open prairie 100 years ago our of necessity.

  2. Hi Carolyn J,

    I had no idea about anything in regards to Muslims helping to settle Edmonton, that’s quite interesting! People of Colour have contributed a lot and fought a lot to live freely in this country eversince the mid 1600s.

    I sure do wish Canadian historians would put ALL the history of everyone into one book and I dunno, let school children learn from it in class. Don’t you?

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