Please note – “random ramblings” is just me emptying my brain – some of these may not make as much sense as they should. They may be slightly skewed in my way of thinking. You’re welcome to read and comment, but not all of these will have a strong point, and please don’t start trolling me because of them; they are loose thoughts in my head only.
“These damned immigrants are spoiling this country. They’re so lazy. They come in with their disgusting habits and ruin the country…”
This sentiment often came out of my ex-FIL’s mouth, which always astounded me – because he himself was an immigrant to Canada. It showed his (mistaken) assumption of being “better than” everyone else. Maybe it went back to the caste system in India? He grew up in Goa as a Catholic Indian man, with a Portuguese surname, so did this make him better than anyone else?
He would go on and on and then somehow morph into how the Hindus were uneducated and dirty and who should be wiped off the face of the earth. These comments disturbed me for two reasons – firstly, I am an immigrant to Canada. I entered the country in the late-90s as a permanent resident and went through the process to get my citizenship. I’ve been a citizen of Canada since the early 2000s.
Secondly, even though I grew up in Trinidad, my Father’s family originally got to this country as indian indentured labourers. They were Hindu (and many of my family members still are to this day…), and no, they were (are) not “uneducated and dirty”. In fact, many of the people who entered the Caribbean as indentured labourers, despite their religious beliefs, were very educated and were even often of a high caste family. The Indian indentureship by British Colonialism sort of “deleted” the caste system among the “coolies”, but that’s a whole other different story.
Either way, I AM the person he spoke about, whether he knew it or not! If I said anything, though, he’d suddenly backpedal and go “no, I’m not talking about the ones like you….”. Ones like me? What separated me from being the target of your hate-filled prejudice? The fact that your son married me? And does that back pedalling excuse your prejudicial ignorance or make it worse?
This was not the only time I have been “excluded” from prejudicial attacks, though. Do you remember September 11, 2001? I know that many of you reading this may be younger than this instance, so let me do a really quick summary (enough for you to go research it yourself).
On September 11, 2001, two terrorist-hijacked (Al Qaeda) planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City, while another was flown concurrently into the Pentagon (there was a fourth plane, but the passengers on the plane managed to act enough that they were able to overcome the terrorists and they missed the target, crashing instead into a field). It was the first attack from a foreign enemy on US soil in US history since the attack on Pearl Harbour, and is the first and only attack from a foreign enemy on US mainland. Saying that a lot of lives were lost, is an understatement. Saying that a lot of people (around the world) were (are?) traumatized by this is an even bigger understatement.
After this incident, rampant anti-islamic sentiment spread across the world, but the concept of what the definition “Islamic” was and what an Islamic person would look like…was ridiculously skewed and blurred – so a lot of people were errantly identified as Islamic in their everyday life and the hatred of the specific militant Islamic sect responsible for this heinous act was pointed in the direction of peace-loving Islamic people, and in the direction of anyone whose skin was not lily white, especially if they wore turbans (for example, the Sikh people). In a way, this hatred still continues today…but I digress…back to my story.
Soon after 911 (which the incident is commonly known as), I was on a TTC streetcar with a friend on the way back home from Exhibition Place in Toronto. It was dark, because we had gone to an event there. I can’t remember what it was, but I suspect it was a Halloween event they used to hold there called Screamers. We were chatting and passing somewhere near Bathurst when the man in front of us, turned around and yelled at us to shut up and how we had no right to be on the streetcar talking so happily when our people killed his cousin in 911 and how everyone on the streetcar should either throw us off or kill us because we killed good people. He immediately looked at me and went “oh, sorry, not you though – her” and he pointed to my (Presbyterian) friend who happens to have darker skin than I do. After attempting to ignore him for a couple of blocks, my friend decided to engage – the wisdom of engaging with him is still questionable, but it’s hard not too when a stranger is invading your personal space to scream at you in a randomly abusive manner.
She did her best to stay calm and started saying (originally in a calm voice) “I had nothing to do with it, and I’m not Islamic and it’s unfair to blame …” to the obviously drunk Indigenous gentleman; to which he reacted and started cursing her out with words I will not repeat here, stopping only to take a breath and to address ME to tell me that none of this was for me to worry about because he was talking to HER. That’s when my friend (justifiably) got angry and asked the streetcar driver for help….the streetcar driver kept his face forward and pretended not to hear. Please note that I say “pretended not to hear…” because we were in the front four seats of the streetcar and there was NO WAY he did not hear the commotion. Maybe he agreed with the over-imposing and aggressive male who was harassing us, or that he just decided he did not get paid to intervene. Whatever the case, since we were getting no help from anyone on the streetcar, we decided it would be safer for us to leave the streetcar in question. Yes we eventually got home safely, but my friend was very, very shaken, as you can imagine, after having such a visceral hatred thrown in her direction for no reason. Again, what made me “better” than my friend, that the man felt compelled to tell me that his belligerent behaviour was not directed to me, but rather to the girl next to me, who I was obviously close to?
So this is the thing – neither of these men realized that their socially-infused built-in prejudices took over during these conversations (despite any other contributing aspects of their lives/situations) and neither realized exactly what they were doing because “oh not you” came into play. “Oh not you” doesn’t count though – because just by saying that, you reveal your bias, and in verbal interactions, it doesn’t make the person it was directed to feel any better. In excluding me from the insult, you’ve almost insulted me more, in a way, because you’ve separated my existence from the person I’m with that I respect and love, and you negate the work that has been put into THAT relationship in the first place.
The answer? Recognize, acknowledge and work at getting rid of these built-in prejudices. I know it’s easier said than done, and God knows I have a few myself……no one is perfect. Perfection of self, however, is achieved by the humanitarian process of improving oneself. And only one person can do that for you. YOU.