By Paul Aguirre-Livingston
A t-shirt given to the writer by his late father, Juan.
I am a person with white skin. I concede to the idea that, by certain interpretations, I am considered “white.” I unwillingly accept that a white skin colour represents the infallible truth of the status quo. It affords some of us certain positions and privileges. I acknowledge that I may have benefited from those privileges that I was previously unaware I even possessed. (Deeply unaware, even.) That error in judgment is easy enough when, well, I do not identify as “white.”
I don’t come from a clear lineage of Caucasian-ness – not genetically, culturally, or socio-economically. My father immigrated to Canada from Chile with his parents in 1980, and my mother is Canadian-born with Irish heritage. My father, like my grandfather, was dark-skinned (with our origins in northern Chile, the closest tip of the country to the equator), and my mother is fair-skinned. Shortly after I was born, my mother left, and I went to live with my paternal Chilean grandparents. When I was eight, I lost my father and these grandparents adopted me.
Posted in The White Issue
- Tagged assumptions, authenticity, Chile, diversity, ethnicity, family, immigrants, Latino, queer, race, Toronto, whiteness
By Lisan Jutras
About 10 years ago, I found myself taking the St Clair streetcar through a rainy autumnal haze to a church near Old Weston Road. I wore a grey dress and my good shoes and I was alone and I was going to see a concert by Donnie and Darryl, the Gospel Midgets.
I was glad I dressed up because the vibe was pretty formal. Underneath the cross that hung outside the church, casting a neon reflection of the words JESUS SAVES onto the wet pavement below, a crowd was massing. I showed myself into the church and took a seat among families dressed up, bald dads with maroon shirts and matching handkerchiefs carrying little girls in layers of lace, moms in bright suits and shiny pumps, grannies in yellow silk and Mrs. Doubtfire glasses. The church got more and more full until every seat was taken. There had to be 500 people in there. Even after the pews were filled, people stood at the back of the room.
And everyone was black. Except me.
By Kath Halloran
I grew up in Toronto’s East End in the 1970s when the city was so painfully white “Catholic” was considered “ethnic.” My only taste of a wider racial world came from my Jamaican nannies, Peggy and Rosie, generous, patient, indulgent women who raised my brothers and I five days a week to support their own children, both those in Toronto and those left behind in Jamaica.
I loved these women dearly. One of my earliest memories is refusing to watch Gone with the Wind, angered to the point of tears by the idea of slavery, let alone that anyone should watch a movie about people who owned slaves who were clearly bad people because they owned slaves. Morality is gloriously binary to children – the good do good thing, the bad do bad things. Racism, particularly the ugly, murderous racism of the Antebellum (and post-bellum and, in many ways, the contemporary United States) offended my burgeoning sense of decency and my innate sense of fairness. And I loved my Rosie; a world where she was an unperson because of her skin was an intolerable concept. Continue reading
By Nina Boccia
Nonno Genesio standing beside his tomato plants at his Jane and Sheppard home
Confused and nervous, I swung around and stared at my mother, who was standing at the foot of our driveway on a quiet cul de sac in Toronto’s west end. I had no idea what the kids standing in front of me were saying. Sensing my panic, she rushed over to take the post as translator. I was three years old and I didn’t speak a lick of English.
Up until then, my parents and I had communicated entirely in Italian. My father Bruno, the son of postwar immigrants, and my mother Violante, an immigrant who docked at Halifax’s Pier 21 in March 1964, decided that as soon I started speaking, it would be in Italian. It also pleased both sets of Nonnis (grandparents named Genesio, Pina, Gino and Angela), whose broken English – Italiese – had not been fixed despite nearly 30 years of residency and moderate assimilation. Nudged by the incident with the neighbourhood kids and the looming start of kindergarten, my parents figured it was time I learned Canada’s official language.
I went to Catholic elementary school, where the curriculum included a daily Italian lesson. I can still recite the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers. I can sing Fratelli d’Italia – Italy’s national anthem – and I can watch the evening news on OMNI without subtitles. I can properly pronounce the names of every single Italian woman Silvio Berlusconi has allegedly slept with and I can translate each issue of Corriere Canadese, the “Canadian Italian Daily News.”
By Sarah Nicole Prickett
"Not Guilty," Mr. Brainwash, 2011.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to the valedictorian of my high school, because I’m too lazy to go look at her Facebook. She was so funny and smart and she said the funniest, smartest thing about all of us at South Secondary School in London, Ontario. “I was glad to go to such a diverse school,” she said. It was the opening line of her speech on the last day of those lives. “There were white kids who shopped at American Eagle, and there were white kids who shopped at the Gap.”
I was a white kid whose mom shopped at Winners, and these acute small discrepancies in class were all I could think about. Race hardly occurred to me; intersectionality I would not understand til after I had dropped out of university twice. It wasn’t only that I had grown up in the middlingest town, a place so white and so dull it spawned the guy who made Crash. It was also that I had been homeschooled, and that for years and years my only friends were other (white, Christian) homeschoolers. One day we were visiting my mom’s best friend, whose kids were regular-schooled, and one of them was wearing a “stop racism” pin. I wasn’t sure what “racism” was. I was twelve.
By John Michael McGrath
Though my title cleverly references a TV show and the luckiest number in Asian numerology, I can’t deliver on its promise. Lord Almighty, it turns out there’s no one Chinese Girl TM out there to date and marry. They’re all different! My wife Vicki is even totally different from her sisters! It’s weird. The internet did not prepare me for this.
I also blame the internet, nerve centre of all fetishes, for the super-awkward first meeting with Vicki’s closest friends. Immediately upon sitting down for coffee one afternoon in 2000, they asked if I’d ever dated a Chinese girl before. Answer: No. Next question: have I dated any other Asian women before? (No.) Third question: Are you sure? (Um, yes.) My answers didn’t actually seem to convince anyone. I’m pretty sure I was considered a rice king until proven innocent. Almost 12 years later, I’m relatively certain I’ve put them at ease.
I’d actually recommend this experience to other people of a paler persuasion. Not specifically accusations of Yellow Fever, but I think more white people could use some baseless assumptions about their skin colour making them really uncomfortable at least once or twice a year. At the very least, it would make that score look a bit less like the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.
By Jesse Kinos-Goodin
There’s an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Carlton tells Will that he borrowed his Public Enemy tape to jog to. “You like Public Enemy?” Will asks, to which Carlton replies by singing in what can only be described as the whitest, most Vegas showman-sounding voice possible, “Get up get, get, get down, 911’s a joke in this town.”
“That used to be my favourite song,” deadpans Jazz, a line I’ve used a million times since.
Carlton was the symbolic white person — from his privileged lifestyle and tucked-in shirts to his complete obliviousness to black culture. Carlton’s “whiteness” not only made for one of the sitcom’s funniest running jokes, it also sent a message to a young, impressionable me: Black (Will and Jazz) is cool; white (Carlton) is, well, not.