RACE IN CANADA: Where American Media Went Wrong With Justin Bieber

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Being a Canadian blogger/writer with a majority American readership, I sometimes struggle to balance topics that I’m genuinely passionate about with those that will resonate with the lovely people who read my words.

I feel at times that the voices and experiences of Black Canadians get lost in the roar of our cousins to the south. Working to uncover our own histories and cementing our own identities is hard enough – we’re either sucked into the cultural vortex (i.e., being called “African-American” by Whites, which they think is PC but we know is geographically incorrect), or our experiences are negated because we live in ‘Canada’ – a land whose name has apparently come to mean “blessed nirvana where social ills cease to exist.”

The latter was all too apparent this week, as Justin Bieber – or La Bieba, as I like to call him – was seen on two leaked tapes (the first, and the second) dating 5-6 years in the past, referencing “niggers” and singing about joining the KKK.

Rocsi Diaz (of Entertainment Tonight) said that La Bieba “didn’t know better because he’s Canadian,” and granted him a pass.

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Whoopi Goldberg (of The View) tweeted that “Canada didn’t have the same history” with the word as America, and granted him a pass.

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Don Lemon (of CNN) wrote about his soul-burning question - “Are we to blame?” (before editing the original title) – asking if African-Americans and AA culture was the cause of La Bieba’s ignorance, and gave him a pass.

If it wasn’t enraging enough that these media figures were finding ways to paint La Bieba as a poor victim of circumstance or an unaware patsy, they did it while simultaneously minimizing or ignoring what I feel is the true grievance – the prevalence of racism in Canada.

Allow me to enlighten you all in simple terms.

I am a Black woman.

I was born and raised, and still live in Canada.

I spent my first 23 years of life in a small town very close to the smaller town La Bieba is from.

And lastly – get ready to clutch your pearls – racism is alive in Canada. Don’t let our Olivia Pope-level (seasons 1 & 2, not 3) PR fool you.

Covert and overt racism exist here. From being hit with bananas thrown at me from passing cars as I walked to school, to having teachers keep me separate from classmates because their parents didn’t want us fraternizing, to being followed in stores like a thief or outright ignored due to my perceived lack of finances, to most recently when my physical space was violated and both myself and my unborn child were called niggers – I’d love the Rocsis and Whoopis of the world to recognize our reality.

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Visiting my father’s friends – migrant farm workers – who lived in the country surrounding my and Justin’s hometowns, I distinctly recall having to leave before sundown to avoid “trouble.” Ku Klux Klan activity was known and accepted around my town, and it was commonplace to hear young White children holler “Nigger!” from their front yards as Blacks passed by, to the delight and pride of their parents. I see La Bieba in the same light as these children from my past – absorbing learned behaviours and sustaining those lessons as they move through life. To the Don Lemons of the world, please understand that for many of these children, hip hop and African-American culture were not their introduction to racist terms. The red carpet to that entranceway was rolled out by families and communities who instilled in them the ideologies of racism, White privilege, and Black inferiority, long before a sing-along to Jigga My Nigga or connections with YMCMB gave them any level of permission.

Canada’s spectacular PR team laid out the most delicious of cookies and Kool-Aid, and people like Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don took the bait. Canada is not populated by unsuspecting yokels who sing Kumbaya with their multicultural neighbours. Canada is not a place lacking in its own ugly, painful history (and present, to be honest) of disastrous race relations. Canada is not an idyllic oasis that can solely blame the American influence for the soils and stains on its pristine image. Canada is a place where the intent and emotional effect of hurling racial slurs is the same as it is in America, and it is a place where there is no room for the excuse, “He didn’t know any better.”

To Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don: I hope this helps straighten things out.

Signed,

Your neighbour to the north

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24 Responses to “RACE IN CANADA: Where American Media Went Wrong With Justin Bieber”

  1. Daphne June 6, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    I don’t understand why people would not think that racism exists all over the world. Just because his life experiences are not fully from the United States doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been influenced by what he has seen and heard. People forget the history of African Americans as well. Thousands of slaves ran away to Canada, but that doesn’t mean that the mentalites of the white people who had colonized there had changed and that black people weren’t treated just as badly as they were here. I am African American and I live in the South, and while I have yet to experience out right racism first had (thank God) I do believe it still exist everywhere. No one deserves a pass for using racial slurs, I don’t care where you come from.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading! You’re right – there’s so much ignorance within this whole topic, and so much more to learn about our respective histories!

  2. Shells June 6, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    *Slow clap*

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

      :) Thank you!

  3. LadyI June 6, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Thank you for sharing, this was very important for me to hear. I shared it with my readers as well.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate you sharing it – so glad the message got out there because the discussion has been awesome.

  4. tete June 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    You couldn’t have said it any better. When people think of Canada they see Toronto which only makes up 10 percent of the multicultural landscape of Canada. When I moved out of Toronto to study I never experienced such an unwelcoming and racist environment. People have so much to learn and even Canadians have so much to learn about black history in Canada and how far it truly stretches.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      You said a word right there. I didn’t grow up in Toronto, and traveling to other parts of the country reveal that there’s a LOT more we need to be looking at when we talk about racism in Canada. Thanks so much for commenting!

  5. Sara June 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I’m Canadian and white. Also not far from Bieber’s hometown. Believe me- he KNEW what he said was wrong. He chose not to care.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      Welp! That’s it right there! Too many people want to give him a pass, but nah. Not me. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  6. Gavin Grayson June 7, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    I took my beautiful African-American girlfriend to a fine Vancouver hotel for vacation while in the service those many years ago. She was accosted by security and questioned about her intent while there. The implication was that she was a prostitute. Though we were well dressed and civil, there were were older Canadiens who were distinctly unfriendly to us at our hotel and restaurants around town. This was in significant contrast to most Canadians who we found welcoming and friendly. Unfortunately Color prejudice exists all over the world…

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      Wow. I hate to hear stories like that, but that experience is all too common here. I’ve been treated the same when I’ve traveled for work within Canada, and it’s disgusting. Glad that the majority of your interactions were pleasant, but still…

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Celine June 7, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this and setting the record straight. I have shared this article with friends as well. Racism is every where. The USA is not the only one country to experience racism. The statements made by Whoppi, Don and Rosci minimizes the experience of black Canadians. To say that ones experience is more poignant than someone else is wrong. To have a perception that Canada is an “oasis” where racism does not exists demonstrates a lack of understanding and ignorance. Instead of having an ethnocentric point of view, start integrating an awareness of difference and learn from it before speaking from the point of view of and “expert”.
    What Justin Bieber did does not surprise me at all. Like Sara said above, what he did was wrong and he does not care. This behaviour already existed and has been unnoticed. No matter what the case is, this behaviour any where in any country needs to be challenged nonetheless.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and commenting! The challenge is on, simply with discussions like this – we’ll see how things progress from here…

  8. Mummyluv June 8, 2014 at 1:49 am #

    Wow I am sad to hear how you were treated. I am 48 and grew up in Calgary. We had one family in our neighborhood who was Chinese. Their daughter was my age and had the same first name as me and were friends. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I got to know a black person ( I don’t even know if that is an okay term today) she was great and we became friends. My brothers best man at his wedding (to a Japanese girl) was black. I have only had positive interactions with black people and have found them to be great people. Maybe it’s an east/west thing but the most racism I saw growing up was when my parents watched All in the Family which is where I got my first exposer to the N word.

    • Nayo June 8, 2014 at 11:36 am #

      I grew up in Calgary too, we’re about the same age. I heard nigger all the time. I heard it in the park, the school yard, the mall, on the sidewalk while I just stood there, I heard it walking in the alley where I cud hear ppl who thought their voices weren’t traveling further than their yard, I was called tar baby, shoot, let me stop there. If ur not the subject of ridicule and persecution, its easier not to notice it.

      • Bee June 26, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

        “If ur not the subject of ridicule and persecution, its easier not to notice it.” – so true.

        Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Thanks so much for commenting! There’s a range of experiences and thoughts in Canada when it comes to racism, so I was intrigued to hear yours. And as for the proper term – I can only speak for myself, but Black or African-Canadian is OK :) Better than calling folks “African-American” when we’re not American…lol!

  9. keshia June 8, 2014 at 6:43 am #

    I am so grateful to you sis for laying this out so astutely.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

      And I’m grateful to you for taking the time to read and comment! Thank you!

  10. Also Canadian Natasha June 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    When my family moved to the province of Saskatchewan about 16 years ago, one of the “fun facts” I learned was that southern Saskatchewan was the capital of KKK activity in all of North America in the 1930s. (Yes that included the U.S.). That mindset is still sadly alive and well as friend of ours who were refugees from Sudan could testify;I’m pretty sure the coworkers who harassed, threatened, and defiled property of one member of this family were familiar with both the use and meaning of the n word. Yeah I am an invisible minority (pale skinned Metis) and I haven’t been directly subjected to overt racism but anyone who claims that we Canadians are all innocent and ignorant of racism is delusional.

    • Also Canadian Natasha June 16, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

      Oops, that should be “friends of ours”.

    • Bee June 26, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

      You hit it right on the head. The delusions around racism and bigotry in Canada are on another level, but there are too many instances of people being affected by those very things to ignore it. Thank you for commenting!

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