Struggling to be inclusive in multicultural society isn’t easy

Last week, 21-year-old Sarah Khan walked into the recreation centre in her condominium at Don Mills Road and Finch Avenue when a worker at the front desk stopped her. She asked her if she lived there.

Khan, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was more than a little surprised. She’d been living there since 2004. She opened her mouth to say so, but the worker called security in a split second.

The worker, a young white female in her 20, proceeded to complain to the senior citizens gathered in the recreation centre about “these kids” who walked in and made her feel scared for her life.

This occurred while Khan was upstairs in her condo looking for something to prove that she lived in the building. Her friend, who was with her at the time, remained downstairs and overheard the worker trying to gain the crowd’s sympathy.

After all, all young brown kids are dangerous, right?

Khan is my best friend. Unfortunately for her, this was the first racist incident she’d experienced. Through tears, she felt it was unfair that racial profiling targeted her in her own home. She was enraged and still is.

It’s happened to me too.

I was 11 years old and visiting Khan with my family. We were on vacation two months before 9-11 from Pakistan. My family dropped me off at her place in Richmond Hill and went off to sightsee downtown.

Meanwhile, Khan and I decided to board the bus and go to the local strip mall for ice cream and catch up on gossip. I hadn’t seen her in two years. We had plenty to talk about. We were excited and couldn’t wait to transit on our own.

I was told to get off by the bus driver once I stepped inside.

“No brownies allowed,” he said.

I was shocked. My 11- year- old mind was confused.

What had just happened? Why couldn’t I board the bus? I had the ticket. I swear I had the right ticket. Maybe he didn’t see it. Maybe he thought I was dangerous. What did he mean by “brownie”? I’m more caramel as it is. Was I a “brownie”?

Maybe he was just racist.

Racism still happens. I see it every day. You might not, depending on how much faith you have in the multicultural “It’s a small world after all” myth that has grown in Canada.

You could work for an equal opportunity employer but still have a prejudiced boss. It shows one way or another. Maybe you get more work or less pay. Maybe you get fired a little too easily.

I was standing in line at Tim Hortons in my Scarborough neighbourhood a few months ago. There was a black female cashier behind the counter. She was serving a white man who looked to be in his 50s.

I believe something went wrong with his order because he suddenly started screaming and yelling about black people and how they can’t get anything done right.

This was in the middle of the day, in a crowded Tim Hortons, surrounded by Canadians of all colours.

It still happens. Don’t kid yourself with multicoloured flags, ribbons and bumper stickers. Adornments advertising anti-racist sentiments don’t cut it. People standing up for victims of racism, on the other hand, are the real deal.

Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one.

About this article

By: Maryam Shah
Posted: Mar 4 2011 4:25 pm
Filed under: Opinion