Don’t Name Your Sports Teams After Aboriginals. Just Don’t.


By Denise Balkissoon

Today on Twitter, the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner asked why sports teams named after aboriginal tribes/artifacts are problematic when the Minnesota Vikings et al. are not. I’ve been thinking about this ever since the Atlanta Braves announced the return of its “Screaming Savage” logo in December, so here’s my answer.

The only team that I could think of that’s named after a symbol of privilege is the Ottawa Senators. So first off, why don’t we name teams after actual symbols of power, rather than just weird caricatures of power? The Toronto F.C. Derivatives! The Georgian Bay Docks! It’s worth thinking about why some groups are allowed to be caricatured (like the Senate, am I right?) and some are not.

Team names are meant to be mythologizing. As such, they are kind of dumb (who else is still mad our NBA team is named after a Spielberg movie? BAH). Rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs doesn’t mean being kinder to urban trees or considering the effect of climate change on maple syrup. Yes, this is a tangent (but no, I shouldn’t lighten up): my point is that team names aren’t connected to their namesake in any meaningful way.

This disconnect allows a group that is now privileged to mythologize its history. The Vikings are the ultimate example, because the history of Swedes in Minnesota is now celebrated. In the United States, the Vikings are 100% history. So go for it, wear a foam spiked helmet and consider yourself badass.

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The Past, Present and Future of Racism in Toronto

The only photo of the 1933 riot in Christie Pits

This week at the Ethnic Aisle, we’re exploring the past, present and future of racism in Toronto. Racism was and is part of Toronto. Moreover, our racism is evolving. This isn’t a value judgment so much as an observation: as the city changes, so too do our experiences with prejudice, both systemic and personal.

These posts aren’t a referendum on whether each successive generation is getting any better or worse at being racist (we’re saving that for a March Madness-styled tournament post. Haha, just kidding! Maybe). Rather, think of this as crib notes on issues that often get forgotten amongst the greater narrative of Toronto the Good, with a side of self-reflection on our progressive city’s decidedly less-progressive moments.By looking at Toronto’s racism in greater contextual scope, we hope to get the ball rolling on some conversations about how we’re all getting along and where we all hope to end up.

To get things started, we look back at The Past.

Renee Sylvestre-Williams presents a timeline of Canada’s more egregious racist decisions. For example, remember that time our first Prime Minister didn’t believe Asian or First Nations folks should have the right to vote? No? Well read all about it here.

Chantal Braganza gets municipal, exploring how Toronto’s by-laws have been slightly less than accommodating over the years (hint: very passive aggressively. How totally us, right?).

Then, we address the reality of racism in The Present.

Kelli Korducki talks to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and learns some harsh truths about the way Canada treats the racialized internationals who work on our farms.

Lisa Charleyboy dissects last August’s Holy Chuck Burger scandal, when the Toronto restaurant thought it was ok to have a sandwich named the “Drunken, Dirty Half-Breed” on its menu.

Illustrator Roxana Parsa shares her graphic take on the GTA’s downtown/suburban divide.

Sam Tecle show, in stark numbers, how racialization of poverty leaves many non-white Torontonians in substandard housing. 

Navneet Alang on paying lip-service to diversity in a city where the media, cultural institutions and wealth are mostly white.

Anupa Mistry talks toLiza Paul and Bahia Watson, the playwrights and actors behind the hilarious Pomme is French for Apple.

And finally, our writers move on to The Future.

Denise Balkissoon argues for purposeful, perhaps policy-based, integration as the key to a less racist future.

Jef Catapang asks the experts: Canadian science fiction writers share their ideas on what “race” is, and where prejudice is going.

and Septembre Anderson wonders if racial profiling by police will always be part of Toronto.

Comment, tweet, write a response post! We’d love if you joined in the conversation.

Racism, Future: Let’s Mix it Up

By Denise Balkissoon

Officially, Toronto is way multicultural. In my experience, it’s increasingly segregated. Aside from the subway at rush hour, I see deepening cliques and enclaves. Some of them don’t bother me as much as others—the white crowd at a Neko Case show is no biggie, the white crowd at the National Magazine Awards very frustrating—but the overall effect isn’t the city where I want to live.

We’ve long known that Toronto is split geographically by income, and that the growing low-income areas tend to be majority non-white. Poverty is definitely racialized in this city and it’s impossible to talk about racism without noting that all of the ways that people can be marginalized are infuriatingly linked. Remember, ethnic segregation in Toronto isn’t just about poverty—middle-class and affluent people often live in ethnic enclaves long after they’ve earned enough to have wider housing choices.

Now, I like that I can get three different Jamaican dishes from three different restaurants on Eglinton West. I’m currently soliciting invitations to go dancing at one of the Ethiopian nightspots on Danforth. But rigid enclaves can encourage an Us and Them attitude, especially since, in hyper-diverse 2012 Toronto, “racism” doesn’t just mean Anglos versus everyone else. Plenty of ethnic groups are ok with white people, but continue to throw shade at other ethnicities. Old country beef fought out in the new land keeps dominant groups dominant—grudges and in-fighting allows the historical cream to stay on top. Lack of interaction gives suspicion an incubator in which to flourish.

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Racism, Past: Toronto’s Bygone By-Laws

By Chantal Braganza

This piece began with a simple premise and kind-of crude headline: A History of Racist Bylaws in Toronto. It presumed the existence of such bylaws, that there were enough of them to constitute a history (possibly a timeline—how readable!) and that they were as easy to find as a sushi shop on Bloor.

Surprise: it’s really not that simple. Happily (with one major exception) Toronto doesn’t have a history of enacting obviously prejudiced municipal rules. What we do have is a habit of going through municipal proceedings without considering all the different types of people who live here, who might not have certain Anglo-Saxon values or whose community-specific practices might be considered “undesirable” (whatever that means).

So forget the timeline. Here’s a look at what happens when the law gets in the way of a community who wants to do things differently.

Laundry Drama

The Wah Chong Laundry, Vancouver, 1884. Courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives and

The oldest example of these bylaws is the most straight-up racist.

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The Ass Issue

Sir Mix-a-lot may like a big butt, but anybody who’s actually got back has stressed over its size. Similarly, slim types with smaller handles worry that there isn’t enough of them to love. No matter where each individual body falls on the curvature scale, there’s a stereotype to bring it down: voluptuous types are slutty, the streamlined are asexual, and there are serious consequences if those lady (or man) lumps don’t fit inside the gender box you were assigned at birth. The more racialized a particular body is, the more stringent the judgments tend to be.

This Pride, we present the Ethnic Aisle Ass Issue. Our goal is to dissect how race and ethnicity in Toronto intersect with issues of body image, beauty, sexuality and the all-important ass. We’ve got some fun stuff, including our first-ever audio post and playlist, and some serious thinking. As always, we’re taking this very, very personally.

Karen K. Ho is tall, curvy, and Chinese. Crazy, right?

Hot for teacher: Vivek Shraya shares the story Bubble Butt, from his book God Loves Hair.

Jaime Woo reveals the most shocking thing about being a faceless torso on Grindr.

Our first audio post! In “How To,” MC Jazz takes on the ultimate signifier of feminine beauty: Barbie, of course.

Farzana Doctor’s poem Open Bar is about one-night stands, commitment ceremonies, long-term relationships, and s-e-x.

Shake your rump! Download an asstastic playlist, courtesy of Cherrybomb’s DJ Cozmic Cat.

If Kim Kardashian and Rihanna have taught us one thing, it’s that someone else can like your rearview, but if you flaunt it, you’re a slut. No fair, says Renee Sylvestre-Williams.

“Desire doesn’t care what your politics are.” Navneet Alang kisses a white girl, just like Undercover Brother.

Speaking with Denise Balkissoon, sexual health counsellor Rahim Thawer discusses HIV prevention, fetishes, stereotypes and, most importantly, keeping the ass fun.

Q & Ass with Rahim Thawer

Rahim Thawer works at a sexual health clinic in Toronto doing counseling with gay and bi men. He also works at an AIDS service organization doing bathhouse counseling. On July 1, he’ll be with Toronto’s Ismaili queers as they march in their first ever solo Pride contingent. Here, he talks with Denise Balkissoon about fetishes, racialization, HIV and, of course, The Ass.

DB: Why do south Asians need their own HIV prevention campaigns?

RT: A lot of people think that HIV/AIDS is still a gay white man’s illness, but in Toronto the rates are growing among women, including racialized women. What ethno-specific HIV organizations try to think about is, how can we reach our very unique communities? We’re working very strategically to do outreach in our cultural and religious communities. As great as some of the more mainstream organizations are, I just don’t think they  have the capacity to tap into the important cultural nuances.

So this ad is a new campaign by The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) called “Protect Your Love.” That’s me in the train scene, but initially I was hesitant to participate. I thought it might be too reserved. I didn’t know what kind of messages it was sending out, whether it was trying to promote monogamy, or sell a particular version of same-sex love, etc. But, you know, it’s not. And it has some really important cultural nuances that can reach far and wide.

I think that racialized and historically marginalized people putting out their own messaging and doing outreach in their own communities is probably the most effective approach. It’s what community development really is.

DB: Do you meet very many non-white guys in your counselling practice who aren’t out, or don’t consider themselves “gay”? Who are they?

RT: Short answer, yes. But it’s important to recognize that it’s not only racialized men who aren’t out and perhaps married to women or leading otherwise “straight lives.” Our tendency to over-culturalize the phenomenon exposes our subtle racism and negative assumptions about these men.

Having said that, for the guys whom I have had conversations with that are non-white, they often talk about a range of things, from having fallen in love with their current (female) partners to the importance and value of having a family, to fulfilling family duty. Many speak about not having the option to “come out” at a younger age, or not ever considering same-sex attraction as a long-term relationship possibility.

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Of Mice and Faceless Men

By Jaime Woo

When I’m bored or restless, I turn to my iPod and open up Grindr, the popular and mildly infamous cruising app for men seeking other men. The app is location-based and uses GPS to determine who else is around: within seconds, my screen is populated with scores of images of men tantalizingly nearby. It’s a delightful hit of instant gratification, a marvel of modern technology, and a progressive juxtaposition to a time when gay men hid in the shadows and bushes.

The land of plenty is not paradise, however. There is a cultural brouhaha amongst cruising app users: a divide between the Faces and the Torsos.

The Faces are the more familiar tribe, recognizable from other social media services like Twitter or Facebook. They present through self-portraits, some choosing close-up beauty shots, others going head-to-toe. Many smile, just as many pose, and an oddball contingent try to appear aloof, as if unaware of the camera’s eye.

The Torsos prefer chest to cheekbones, cropping their photos from the clavicle to just above the hip bones. Often (but not always) the men are lean or muscular, at once devotees to the societal signifier of male virility yet also a middle finger to that same society’s widening masses. The Old Spice Guy may have popularized the idea of comparing himself to the schlub you’re with, but the gays did it first (and did it better).

Shirtless men are hardly shocking: in gay clubs, attendees strip, strut, and sweat in great swarms. Being topless is the de facto gay male uniform. But on Grindr, Torsos make a willful choice to become literally faceless, one of an often interchangeable series of bodies. This withholding annoys the Faces, who see it as cowardly, brusque or disrespectful.

Growing up in a Chinese household, I heard a lot about face. To “bei meen” to someone, literally to “give face” in Cantonese, was to have respect for that person. As a child, I heard of people who were “without face,” those considered to have little social capital or hadn’t much respect for themselves. (The English saying to “save face” probably has similar roots.) When I first began to think of Grindr’s Faces and Torsos, I assumed that to be a Face was to give face.

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