On Campus

The ease of casual racism

Thoughts on Toronto's Caribana

I have never seen so many black people in my life.

Toronto’s 42nd Caribana ran its course this weekend as North America’s largest Caribbean festival, and downtown was littered with festive spirits, sequins, Calypso music and more black people than I could count. Born and raised in an area of Calgary so white that I was considered Nubian, there were two, maybe three minorities in my neighborhood. High school was even worse -with a student body of 1,500, you’d see one black student every month. It was so rare. We would press ourselves against the walls and stare, like we were witnessing a cat drive a car.

While I missed my first Caribana being run down with a flu, I still managed to see more black people than I had ever seen throughout my life. More importantly, however, it made me realize how surreal and almost unnoticeable the racism was of me and my idiot friends.

On Friday, I passed Dundas Square on my way to Subway, well into my flu, where the cop-to-black-individual ratio was two to one. The East Indian sandwich artist greets me with a vacant smile I recognize all too well in my family members.
“Hello madam, what will it be?”
“Turkey on wheat.”
“Ohhh no, I’m sorry, no bread.”
It turns out that Subway, a sandwich chain where they make sandwiches, runs out of bread two and a half hours before closing. He tells me this, and I have a few options. I could look at him and say something rude (“Listen to me, you balding, pitiful excuse for a human being, you get that emaciated jag Jared on the phone and let him know that I’m going to wrap him in bacon and marshmallows and throw him into a Curves if he doesn’t get me some bread right now.”), I could jump over the glass and beat him or I could glare and shirk away. Deciding I wasn’t fit enough to do the first two, I left without a word, feeling angry.

Hungry, tired and nauseous, Fran’s Restaurant was the closest option. A tacky 50s diner, I sit at the bar with a takeout menu waiting for the bartender to take my order. After he or she doesn’t show up for 15 minutes, I flag down a black waitress.
“Excuse me, is someone working here?” I ask.
She looks at the bar and looks at me. “Yes. A bartender,” and she walks away.
“Oh, well, can someone take my order?”
“Yes,” she repeats. “She will.”
Again: options. I could offer disparaging comments (“Hey, you’re not my prom date, so you can’t just turn around and pretend like I’m not here. Come here and tell me you’re going to get her for me before I staple your ears to your skull.”). I could fight her (I would win). But again, I just sat there, meek, for another ten minutes until the bartender – a white woman – made her way back.
“You look tired,” she says.
“You have no idea.”

After making my order, I pass a group of black men sitting on a park bench on Ryerson’s campus. Early 20s, baggy jeans and drooling mouths. They start talking to me and, thinking they need directions, I stop to listen.
“Hey, guurl.”
“Oh no.”
“Where you goin’ all by yourself?”
“Need some company? You all by yourself.”
Options. I could yell (“I know that being lascivious is really trendy these days, like teen pregnancies and face tattoos, but you’re a gaggle of available young black men. Shouldn’t you be off loitering in front of a 7-11? “). I could fight (or try and fail). Or I could run, run like I was going to die.
Funny thing is, the first followed by the third go together really nicely.

Out of breath, sickly and hungry, I meet up with some friends and they sit with me while I eat.
“Caribana is making me really racist,” one says, who works at a nearby restaurant. “I don’t know, there are just some sketchy characters out there. We usually get one or two dine-and-dashes a year, but during Caribana, we’re getting three or four each in a night.”
“Oh, I hear you. I went to Subway and this idiot brown guy told me they were out of bread, then this black waitress just brushed me off when I needed service, and then this group of scary black guys tried to kill me.”
My other friend looks at me. “You’re – you’re really racist.”
We watch a group of young black men fist fight in front of St. Michael’s Hospital.

I’m all for hating other people. I spend a lot of my day doing just that, but at some point it got easier to blame a vile personality on race. Can’t we all dislike each other purely on the basis that they are, as we see it, obnoxious, loud, dull, ignorant, slow, rude, arrogant, inappropriate, harsh, condescending, vapid, and while I think I’m now just describing my better qualities, I would hope that the hundreds upon hundreds of people that dislike me, dislike me because of personal flaws and not physical appearance.

Perhaps Tina Fey said it best on her show, 30 Rock: “When I leave work at night, I am just riding on a subway car full of scary teenage people.”

When I get back to my apartment, I dread that I have to deal with my East Indian security guards. We may be the same race but there’s no love lost between me and the two men. They look at me as if to know that I’m not really one of them – I understand little of the language, I don’t keep my hair long and straight and sometimes I dare show collarbone. Passing a group of excited black 20-somethings, I get in the elevator and hear a security guard mumble to the other in Hindi, “What would their parents think?”

The sandwich artist is an idiot because he ran out of bread when he works at a sandwich chain, not because he’s Indian. The waitress is rude because she spoke to me like I was a half-witted cockatiel, not because she’s black. The men on campus made me nervous because it was dark and it was seven against one, not because they have dark skin.

I get into my apartment, throw my things on the floor and run into the bathroom. The people that left my building when I entered were going to have fun on a Saturday night. The fact that they have dark skin isn’t indicative of crime or repugnance.

Besides, my night is spent throwing up. I’m spooning my toilet bowl – whose parents should really be disappointed in who?