“Is today a black day or something?” asked a cashier at a downtown convenience store. The man directed the question to my girlfriend and I as we checked out our items one summer day. It was hard to hide the disbelief from our faces as he casually let the words flow freely.
Why would he ask such a question? Well, he mentioned that he had noticed a number of black people that day, so there had to be a reason why. Because black people don’t just walk around Vancouver unless it’s a special occasion, right?
As an African international student, racially charged interactions are not new to me, and only reinforce how far away I am from home. Vancouver is often celebrated as a universally inclusive place — however, in reality this is not always the case. After numerous other troubling encounters, I have accepted that it may not be the perfect bubble of unity many believe it to be.
I remember during my first year, I explained to a Canadian coworker of mine that I intended to transfer from college to university in Vancouver. His advice to me was that I should avoid certain schools, due to their high Chinese population. As a then-newcomer to Vancouver, I sobered up to the possibility of ethnic prejudice even in beautiful British Columbia.
Browsing web forums, the title of a certain thread jumped out at me: “Too many Asians in Vancouver!” Beneath it, various responses proceed, with prejudiced remarks such as “Canada should stop catering to foreigners (for what? for some foreign cash? for stupidity?)” Numerous other threads like this exist online, and add to the deadly fire that is unfounded prejudice. The issue may not seem prevalent, because it is usually not as overt as it was during the colonial era; however, I am here to tell you that it does exist.
After troubling encounters, I realize Vancouver is not the bubble of unity many believe it to be.
In a country built on colonial rule and the efforts of generations of immigrants, it is utterly asinine for people to denigrate others based on their ethnicity. It is highly regressive, especially in Canada, to hold these prejudices, yet many still do.
The diversity of Vancouver is often celebrated, but often this is used as a safety net that allows people to ignore the possibility of prejudice. Some may say, “Look at how many immigrants there are; we are so accepting of foreigners!”
Sorry to burst your bubble, but no. It means your government is open to the foreign investment, and you have to deal with the consequences. However, we can still work towards fostering a genuine community where we truly accept each other even if we are uncomfortable at first.
We need to face this issue head-on instead of hiding behind the notion of “tolerance” in an attempt to seem agreeable. I feel as though “tolerance” maintains that we don’t like the idea, but will put on a smile and fake it. In my view, all this does is provide an excuse to further dodge the problem.
It may be naive to believe we can do better as a society, but there is surely space for us to build a more inclusive community in Vancouver, rather than a complacent population full of hidden tensions.