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