Reflecting on Blackness

In the last five days there have been two disgusting acts of racism in the sporting world. On April 28th 2014 a fan of Villareal threw a banana at FC Barcelona wingback Dani Alves during a match between the two sides (Alves cheekily responded by eating the banana before proceeding to take the corner kick). Two days prior an audio recording of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling *spits* and his girlfriend was released which revealed that Sterling does not want his ‘bae’ to be seen in public with minorities. Apparently we’re worse than Crocs. Although the NBA community responded swiftly, the Clippers players responded with an act of protest and Sterling has been banned for life from all NBA related facilities and is likely going to be forced to sell the team, the whole thing still bothers me. What bothers me more than the actual events is the fact that I know that there are people out there who are fully in support of the racism.

The problem isn’t so much the incidents themselves, although they are upsetting and disappointing, my beef is with the incidents that we don’t see. These are not isolated events. Acts and beliefs of this nature are not uncommon, however much we would like to believe they are. I’ve heard them myself, I’ve had people tell me about their beliefs and feelings of this nature because “i’m not black” so it’s ok. Which lead me to question ‘do these people not really like me because i’m black or do they like me in spite of it’. Even the “better| option was not much better. Although I guess it’s nice to know my personality carries more weight than my skin color, it’s not very comforting to know that if I didn’t have it i’d just be another some porch monkey in their eyes. And we’ve all heard the classic line “I’m not racist I have (insert race) friends but that don’t quite cut it. That one or few friends aren’t proof that the person doesn’t have a hateful or stereotypical attitude towards some race, the friends are just outliers. Think about it like this: claiming you’re not racist because you have a couple exceptions to your rule is like saying because there is one song you like on an album full of songs that you can’t stand you can say you like the album and think it’s great, when in truth if it were any other song from the album you’d skip it almost immediately.

The other day I watched an interview with Tyler, The Creator in which he spoke about the F-word (the homophobic one) and the N-word. In the Interview Tyler said they’re just words that he uses often because they have no power and don’t mean anything. While I partially agree that the words don’t have the same power they used to because they’re meanings have been altered and they’re often used out of context. But I don’t think that that means the words don’t have power or that they’re okay to casually toss around. I’ve heard ‘nigga’ and ‘fag’ used by and in the presence of black people and homosexual people, respectively, and it hasn’t appeared to bother them, but again, this doesn’t mean the words don’t have power. As long as these words are used with the intention of hurting and excluding someone and the people they are used against are not completely welcomed or accepted members of the community the words will always have power. It’s uncanny the amount of times I come across “nigga” or “that’s gay” or “fag” on a day-to-day basisand though I usually don’t react to it, it never sits well with me. It makes me uneasy because I know in my heart of hearts that for some of the people using these words, they’re not just words they’re using to spice up their sentences, they’re words that represent their hateful beliefs and feelings towards a group of people that happen to be a little different then their own. And though there are cases where there is absolutely no malice or ill-will involved because not ever case is like that and it’s not always possible to tell who means it and who doesn’t i’m going to have to say these aren’t okay either (though I’m not the absolute authority nor am I completely free of use of these words altogether).

I recently wrote an essay/magazine article for a school assignment on the topic of implicit (or quiet) racism and I thought with the recent events in the sporting world now would be a perfect time to post the piece:

Smiling Faces Deceive: Racism in Toronto?

We all want to believe the things we love are good, pure and safe from the evils of the world; they’re not. I learned that lesson the summer of 2008. I was warming up to play in the soccer tournament at the annual Eritrean Festival (Eritrea is a country in eastern Africa with a sizable Toronto community) that takes place by St. Clair and Dufferin. The coach called the players over to pick the starting lineup, and when he called for defenders my hand eagerly shot up. He scanned right and left looking for hands, when he saw the skinny frame attached to mine he looked back in the other direction and picked one of the boys standing in front of him. I was crushed. I had played well in practice, quite literally saved the team from loosing to our bitter rivals from London the year before and there was a group of players who’d surrounded the coach trying to make my case. I couldn’t understand why I had been overlooked. Then Samson (the coach of team from the previous year) approached the coach to have a word. The coach glared over at me, hissed at Samson in another language and stormed off. Though I couldn’t tell what had been said I knew it wasn’t good. I turned to my Eritrean friend Simon, who had invited me to the tournament to see if he could offer me some sort of explanation. When I looked over I just saw him standing there with a grim look on his face, like a parent preparing to deliver bad news to their child.

It took a few years for the fact that I had experienced racism that day to really sink in. But thinking back to it, how could I have known? Before that racism was just something I would hear about in school whenever February rolled around and being the naïve, unexposed teenager I was, that’s all I thought it was. I thought that stupid southern Americans in the 1960’s was the only way racism could exist. I didn’t think it could happen; at least not in Toronto, the largest city in Canada (AKA the friendliest place on earth), a city where almost half it’s inhabitants are immigrants, a city that is host to a handful of cultural celebrations such as Taste of the Danforth and Carribana. I didn’t think racism could happen in the 21st century, not within the soccer community and certainly not from another black man. The whole situation was unimaginable. I thought to myself ‘perhaps I’m wrong about my city; perhaps Toronto and Torontonians are racist’.

Or perhaps I was just wrong about racism.

Growing up I had friends from every corner of the map; I had been to their houses, met their families, tried their foods and we all got along seamlessly. Up until that summer I had never experienced racism, (to my knowledge). I imagined that if I ever was to experience racism it would be like the racism of “the good ol days” with aggressive signs and angry looking white people to let me know I’m not welcome. But the racism I experienced that day was sneaky. Had I not seen the look the coach gave me, the interaction between he and Samson or not known how to read Simon’s facial expression I would have had no idea I was being discriminated against and I would’ve sat on the bench the whole game telling myself I’m not good enough.

Farts are a lot like racism; they do the most damage when they’re silent. When they linger in the air and go unnoticed, people go about life vulnerable and unsuspecting, but once one becomes aware of the stench it quickly becomes unbearable, impossible to ignore, leaving a foul taste in the mouth.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re right, it is disgusting.

Racism by definition is the belief that one’s race is superior to all other races. Racism results in prejudicial thinking, beliefs and attitudes as well as unjustified hatred and discrimination towards people outside of one’s race. Inequality is at the core of racism because if one believes they’re better than someone else they take it as justification to not treat them fairly. Unequal treatment leads to people having unequal opportunities and people are missing out on more than soccer games. One study revealed that the unequal treatment that spawns from racism has effects on Toronto’s housing market. Results showed that it was significantly more difficult for a black Portuguese immigrant to find housing than it was for a white Portuguese immigrant [Ren Thomas]. One of the major issues with implicit and concealed racism is that the racism isn’t apparent at first glance, meaning it can happen often yet go completely unnoticed. Professor Phillip Oreopolous from the University of British Columbia conducted a study which found that applicants with English sounding last names were 40% more likely to hear back from employers despite having the same qualification as their foreign-sounding peers. What’s troubling about the survey’s findings is that it although race is the cause of the issue, to those discriminated against it just appears as a matter of being out-qualified. What’s more troubling about the results is that the fact that the survey took place in the GTA; a place that ‘welcomes’ about 55,000 immigrants per year and is one of Canada’s multicultural metropolises.

This is the problem with multiculturalism; it’s deceptive. We’re made to believe because a place is multicultural it’s automatically inclusive, tolerant, progressive and a virtuous place full of virtuous people. In reality all it means for a place to be multicultural is that there are people of multiple cultures living within it. That’s it. One “honey-colored” woman wrote a story that was published in the Toronto Star about a time where she received a letter that read “Thanks bitch. You really further your stereotype” on her windshield after a parking incident with a middle-aged white woman [Donna Yawching]. Yawching says the incident was deeply revealing and exposed Toronto’s multicultural rhetoric for the “skin-deep illusion” it is. Yawching also said that the insult is proof of “how close below the surface lies the resentment of the ‘mainstream’ population towards the ‘others'”. Although different kinds, Yawching’s story and mine are just two of many incidents of racism in our multicultural city.

As mentioned earlier, racism is about inequality; equality in treatment, opportunities or representation, so a city that’s truly multicultural should be equal in it’s treatment and representation of citizens of multiple cultures. But Toronto isn’t like that. Only 6 of the 45 members of Toronto’s city council are visible minorities [Hassan Arif] despite the city being home to over 40% of the visible minorities in Ontario. Not representative and not multicultural, is it? See, multiculturalism and anti-racism are not the same thing, this is why multiculturalism is deceptive. Though Toronto is a vibrant ethnic medley racism is still lurking just below the surface, occasionally showing it’s ugly face.True multiculturalism should be about attitude not appearance. But unfortunately it is and a multicultural city that’s full of tolerant, inclusive people looks just like a multicultural city full of racists who’ve mastered the art of suppression. And I don’t know which Toronto is.

On one hand there’s the white lady from Yawching’s story, the coach and others like them. But there’s no shortage of groups and things being done that actively work to fight racism. For example, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Criminal Code and The

Human Rights Code are legal documents whose laws prohibit discrimination of any kind. The Charter and The Human Rights Code’s laws are meant to protect the interests of all people as well as guarantee equal treatment and opportunity to all Canadian citizens. The City of Toronto has made it possible to report potential issues of discrimination through the Human Rights Office which deals with infractions at the municipal level. Other projects by the City include the Neighborhood Improvement Initiative, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights and Access, Equity and Human Rights Action Plan which are all initiatives whose aim it is, is to provide equality and a better standard of life for all Canadians. I have to say, these initiatives as well as good-hearted individuals who may not be involved with them but embody their beliefs have done a pretty good job of creating (or at least appearing to) equality among Torontonians. There have been many times and many places in my life where my race has not been an issue, many occasions where I’ve felt welcome, safe and included within my community/environment. That one particular day of that summer in 2008 just wasn’t one of them.

So while racism certainly still exists in Toronto there are people and organizations who work to prevent and reverse the effects of racism. I’m just not sure which side to give more weight to. I’m not sure if the coach was a bad apple among a city of exceptional, good-natured people or if he’s a glimpse of what Torontonians really look like behind closed doors. I’m not sure if there’s more people like the coach in the world or if there’s more people like Samson. I’m not sure if the coach is the way he was on that summer day all the time or if I had just caught him in a Michael Richards moment. I’m not even sure if I can say he is a racist. I can’t claim to know

him or his method of thinking, his life, his history, his personality all based off of a single encounter and use it to categorize him. If I did that I’d be just as much of an ass as he was.

What I am sure of is that the coach’s racism created a divide between he and I that was more than physical. His racism destroyed the sense of confidence and unity within our squad and his racism prevented all of us from meeting our goals and being happy. And as a result of his racism we found ourselves down a goal down within the first 10 minutes of the game (the goal was scored on the side I would have been playing on). Racism isolates people, makes them feel horrible for being themselves and turns members of the same community into enemies; which is no way to go about team sports and certainly no way to go about life. It becomes increasingly difficult to accomplish any kind of task when the people involved are working against each other instead of working for each other and trying to reach the same goal. But what I am sure of is that once we get over discriminating against others because they are different from us, in terms of race or otherwise, achieving our goals and enjoying life will become easier.

I was always unsure whether the coach put me in the game because he was trying to be a good person or just trying to be a good coach but both he and I know that it felt much better to be 3-1 winners, with medals around our necks than it did to be losers on the sidelines with hate in our hearts.

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