There’s this inherent racism that the majority of people will carry, but especially in places like Canada where we have built ourselves on the narrative of multiculturalism, acceptance, and tolerance, it won’t manifest in ways like brandishing a confederate flag on your truck very often. People might have those inherent beliefs; they might not even be wise to the fact that they are racist, or think they generally aren’t, because they are Canadian. But then, if you got a guy who is bold enough in a Canadian society to put a confederate flag on his truck, you know he literally doesn’t give a shit. I was in Peterborough, which is an hour outside of Toronto, and it is big city, and it is a liberal hub. They got a lot of artists there, they have Trent University, which is one of the most progressive universities in Canada, and I was just taking one of my friends to the hospital, and right in front of us, there was this big, bright red F150 with a hockey stick jimmy rigged to the bed with a massive confederate flag just blowing in the wind. This is an hour from Toronto, less than an hour away from places like Whitby, and Ajax, and Pickering, which have tons of people of colour, and this guy is just blowing through town with it, a huge confederate flag. And that is the exception to the rule; most of us aren’t like that. Sherene Razack calls it the race to innocence, when we are pointed out on the ways in which we oppress people. Everyone wants to say, “Well, it’s not that bad, I’m not like that guy.” And we do it too as people of colour. For me as a straight man, immediately, I’m like, “But my racial oppression. Tell me more about racial oppression. I don’t want to hear about the ways I’m oppressing other people.” This race to innocence in terms of Canadians, but white Canadians specifically, is quite obvious and very laughable in a very not funny way, you know?
I am almost finished the second year of my program, but I was gone for seven months, from last May until November. I was in Malaysia. But then I came back, so now I am here until the end of April, mid-May to finish my courses, and then I am just writing my thesis. I am not sure if I will be in Victoria for that or moving around a bit. I wouldn’t even say Victoria is necessarily welcoming. There is a narrative about that is what it is supposed to be like, but I haven’t found it to be particularly welcoming. There is like an exterior, and once you crack it, if you are the first one to say hi for example, and they hear that you have no accent, or hear that you have an accent that they like, then all of a sudden the smile brightens up and they are ready to talk to you. Victoria is such an interesting place. I think the rest of Canada sees it as this progressive, literally and figuratively the furthest of left. It is the left coast, it’s granola hippies out here, everyone who is supportive of everything, and it is simply not the case. Places like Victoria, where the living is easy, it is so simple for people to stay in their bubbles, and then feed themselves this narrative that, “we are welcoming, we are Victoria, we are progressive, we are liberal,” without actually ever having to exercise that. When the time comes, and we have seen it time and again, Victoria is one of the most racist cities in Canada. This is the sight of where the Chinese first landed, where the Japanese first landed, where the Indians first landed. All indentured servitude, and trying to build themselves up from nothing. All of that farmland around Duncan, in the valley, in the Cowichan valley, first Chinatown in Canada, Japanese fishermen who carved out existences for themselves and their families in spite of everything, that all happened here. Before the multiculturalism movement came to Canada, that was in Victoria, on the island, 1700’s, and you go to Chinatown today, and with all the history that it has there are bath bomb boutiques, and yoga studios. You used to say that this was the dirty quarter, and no one could come here, and there were signs on the street corner that said no Chinese or dogs allowed, that’s how they differentiated the Chinese. And now, that is the hippest place in the city to be. (Gentrification) Is just stark in Victoria, because as a city, it fashions itself so counter to that, but they’re perpetuating it just the same. In Toronto they will tell you we have our racial conflict and tension, and you go to Ottawa and it’s the same thing, Montreal the same thing, Edmonton the same thing. But in Victoria, everyone is like, “no, we are happy!” It’s like the happy coast.
This project is important because it is giving a voice. Already people of colour have less of a voice in our society and we know that, but especially when we are speaking up about the ways we have been oppressed on the basis of our non-whiteness. All of sudden people really don’t want to hear that because it flies in the face of their own perceived innocence. No one likes to be called out, least of all white people.
The way our societies interact, when you say “white supremacy,” people’s minds go to, “I don’t wear a hood, I’m not going around burning crosses. How can I be a white supremacist?” It runs deeper than that; the daily things you say, the ways in which you think, the way you are socialized to think. Do you see how those inherently are upholding the system that prioritizes whiteness and white people? Again, most people don't. I genuinely believe people are good people, and I genuinely believe most people in Canada are not proud racists, they don't want to be racist, but our society is such that we have normalized people and socialized people to be racist. Even people of colour, we have internalized racism in the ways that we enact racial hierarchy on each other. This is not stuff you are born with, we are socialized into it, and no one wants to be that. Most people don’t want to be that, but are you willing to have the mirror held up to you, to examine the ways in which you are complicit in the problem? That is where people are like, “Ok…pause.”
(Victoria) is racist, but not maliciously so. I think you have more people here who buy into that myth of colour blindness, who buy into that myth of “I don’t see race.” It is Victoria, it is liberal from a very Eurocentric idea of what that means. I think you would find more people in Victoria, even as racist as they are, who don’t want to be, they just don’t know any other way. A great example, I’ll never forget this, it was my first year in Victoria, and I was in my first year of my masters, just hating this city. I had just come down from the Yukon, where there is community and when people have issues they talk about because you have to. Then I moved down here, and was not feeling it. Then Chinese New Year came around and I usually don’t go to the parade anyway, because I think a lot of times it is something that is held for white people, but I thought, “you know what, I’ve griped about Victoria so much this year.” There are two professors at UVIC who really helped me come to terms with a lot of it, and this is a tangent, but I think it is important. I went to one of my profs who is an Indigenous queer woman from just outside Ontario, but she had been teaching in Toronto. I went to her and said, “How did you do it? It is obviously way harder as a queer Indigenous woman to make it through academia, but I’m just a straight racialized man, but I feel so isolated here, in our school and also in our city. How did you do it?” She was talking me through her process, but she said, “One thing I can’t just fall back and say is that Victoria is so white, it is, but when I say that, I’m erasing histories of resistance from people of colour who have been here. The longest surviving histories of Indian, Japanese, and Chinese people, in Canada, are in Victoria. So, when I say this place is so white, I am erasing their histories, in a way, discursively.” So, she said, “I challenge you-you can say that, but you also have to do your work, and acknowledge the histories that have been here.” I thought, “Oh damn, she called me out in such a good way.” She schooled me. So, that was part of the reason I thought, “I should go to this. It is the oldest Chinatown in Canada, second oldest in North America, if you can believe it.” It is really cool, which makes the bath bomb boutiques all the more atrocious. I thought, “I should go, I should honour this legacy and this history.” I get there, on Fisgard, and they had blocked the whole street, it was just slammed with people, packed bodies to bodies, shoulder to shoulder. I kind of expected it, again because Victorians want to believe that they are multicultural. So, I got there, and am jostling for a position, and I find a spot right by the gate, by one of the archway posts. So, I am standing there, and they are just starting to get going, the lion dance, and some of the folks are explaining the origins of the lion dance, and they are doing it in Chinese. My friend texted me, she was somewhere further down the line, and said, “you’ll never guess these two old white ladies next to me are like, ‘this is so nice, I’m so glad they do this every year, but they should really explain these things in English, like none of us understand.’” It is Chinese New Year! They are allowed to speak Chinese! As we were texting, I hear this commotion behind me, and I turn around, and you know that plaque that was put up by the NDP just in September 2017, brand new, right when they came into power, they put it up right away. “British Columbia government apologizes to the Chinese community of British Columbia for centuries of wrongdoing”; the head tax, the 1885 Immigration Act, the 1919 Immigration Act, the Chinese exclusion act. It is a really beautiful thing that they have put up there, and at this point it was less than 6 months old, and there is this white woman being helped up by her boyfriend, climbing on top of it to get a better view of what is happening, of the Chinese New Year parade. I turned around, because I couldn’t even comprehend what I was seeing. The commotion happened because one of the storeowners behind it came out and started screaming at her, and she had no idea. He said, “This is so disrespectful, get off!” They climbed down, I guess they were scared, and walked away; they didn’t even take a look at what the thing said. In my mind, I thought, “Damn, this is what Victoria is.” These people are here, for all intents and purposes, because they want to engage with the culture and learn a bit more, but they are so unaware of how they are doing it; them, and then my friend’s encounter with those two old white ladies. People who are well intentioned, but don’t see how they are centering themselves continually in their enactment of goodness. The country was built on the backs of people of colour, and now you want to turn around and say, “but we are so welcoming!” It is pretty wild. Again, it is one of those moments that is laughable, but not funny laughable; I can’t do anything but laugh.
I think now people of colour are becoming woke to it, what it means to be a POC, and our oppressions, and also there’s still a lot of POC, and white people and non-white people, but I think people within the racialized community are also seeing the hierarchical violence we enact on each other. So, the ways that people who are ostensibly East Asian will be situated closer to whiteness by white people, so as to play racial politics amongst each other. You see this in the States right now with the way those lawsuits against affirmative action, it is not led by Asian Americans, it is actually led by white people, but they have enlisted a lot of Asian Americans to be the face of their movement. To say, “see it is not white people, it is people of colour saying we shouldn’t have it.” We are all chess pieces, and I think folks who are in racial justice movements, who are starting to dive down into these conversations are starting to see that we are chess pieces, and starting to recognize the complexities of it all. Colourism, the dynamics around code switching, even where we situate ourselves spatially. It is really fascinating, and I think we can’t continue to do this kind of work among our racialized community to emancipate ourselves unless we locate it within, not alongside, but within the decolonial framework. For me, a lot of the work that I do is around migration and refugee advocacy, and on one hand, how can I be aiming to integrate newcomers into Canada and help them find their footing, and make them aware of the racist reality of this country, and challenge white Canada on accepting these people, but, in the same breath, is that not perpetuating the continued settlement of Indigenous land? There is a lot of scholarship on this, it is not my idea, and it is stuff that I have been challenged on. We need to bring more people of colour, and we need to share the wealth, in a sense, but that is not my wealth to say that we need to be sharing. So, I think, in the same motion we can have Black Lives Matter, for example, be asked to be the face of Toronto Pride, which was amazing, great move, and they used it in an effective way, they took up space, they had a sit-in, and they made some changes. But, I don’t think that Indigenous and two-spirit folks have ever been asked to be the face of Toronto Pride. And they have been here far longer. It is this myth of “disappeared Native.” That is one of the core points of white supremacy; why do we disappear the Native? Because then the land is free to take. Why do we emphasize the Black body? Because then there is more people to do labor, to enslave. Why do we make alien the Brown body, in this case Brownness talking about the Orient? So that we have an enemy for war. So, there have always been those three. Disappear the Native for the land, emphasize the Black for the labor, and alienate the Brown so we have a target for war. We have disappeared our Native; that is something that the colonial system has done so well. Even worse than the States. People are quick to situate Indigeneity with land-protection, the people who are holding up the pipelines, and therefore Canada’s economic growth. But, they are not so quick to emphasize urban Indigenous communities. You don’t find anyone talking about lack of access to fresh, clean water in Indigenous communities. You don’t look at Indigenous sovereignty. Again, we are getting woke to this idea that it is probably a pretty good idea from a PR perspective to do a land acknowledgement, but what are you saying? Do you know? Did you learn to pronounce the name of that Nation literally right before you stepped on stage? It’s performing, now we are performing this idea of solidarity because we are supposed to. Canada is continuing to move forward and not center Indigenous sovereignty and Indigenous liberation as the core focus, and I think non-Indigenous people of colour are complacent with that. Everyone wants to champion their own cause, and rightfully so, we are connected personally to those causes, but it’s complicated for us because we are championing those causes on stolen land. This is not our home. Maybe we have made it our home, but were we ever invited? That is something that all racialized folks, we need to be wrestling with even as we struggle for our own emancipation. Are we trying to be included into Canadian society, or are we trying to rewrite something completely different? If we are just asking for inclusion into Canadian society, we are actually just repeating the colonial project. We are asking for inclusion into the colonial project. But, if we are coming together to re-imagine something completely different from Canadian society, that’s the potential for true emancipation, and it has to be led by, and centering Indigenous resistance, and we are not doing a good enough job of that, in my mind.
But what do I know?