Ontario Oreo: Court the Ethnic Vote, Keep the Centre White

Paikin's non-indian tweetBy Desmond Cole

How do you court the approval of white voters while trying to make everyone else feel included? In Ontario, you do it very carefully. Our province is home to a large percentage of Canada’s visible minority population, and has received the biggest share of immigrants to Canada for the last 10 years and beyond. But you wouldn’t know it by following our political campaigns.

As Ryerson professor Myer Siemiatycki pointed out in a recent Toronto Star piece, white voters need to believe they are at the centre of political conversations. Politicians seen as giving too much attention to immigrants and people of colour face potential backlash. Immigrants and people of colour are disproportionately struggling in today’s economy, but saying so during an election is risky because it may make white people feel left out. When party leaders do talk about immigrants, the piece illustrates, it is most often to celebrate their vague potential value to the economy.

This dynamic is real, and it only works in one direction. There can never be too much focus on issues that appear to impact middle-class white voters—especially since such voters are rarely named and scrutinized as a group.

Politicians dare not campaign on the health of Ontario’s immigrants, even though many of them are being denied basic health care. They can say little about the disproportionate numbers of black and aboriginal people incarcerated in provincial jails. Our politicians refuse to address these issues directly–they seemingly prefer to pose for selfies with people with dark skin, or turbans, or exotic flags.

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David Mamet’s Race at Canadian Stage

Jason Priestley, Cara Ricketts and Nigel Shawn Williams in Race.

By Denise Balkissoon

This is a Toronto blog, and here’s my Toronto take on Race: America is weird. After seeing last night’s premiere of David Mamet’s play (starring, yes, Jason Priestley), my main thought was that we really need to do a Canada vs. USA issue of the Ethnic Aisle, and examine how very differently the two countries experience race and ethnicity. The literal black/white dichotomy of American race politics is always curious to me. It’s not surprising that the Atlantic slave trade has such an enduring legacy on just about every single way Americans look at everything. But at the same time it seems strange that a play debuted in 2009 makes just an offhand mention of one immigrant, and barely flicks at the ever-changing, multifaceted view of race and ethnicity that is my Toronto-born view of the topic, and the world.

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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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Racism, Future: Racial Profiling & the Toronto Police

By Septembre Anderson

“Blacks arrested by Toronto police are treated more harshly than whites….

“Black people, charged with simple drug possession, are taken to police stations more often than whites facing the same charge.

 “Once at the station, accused blacks are held overnight, for a bail hearing, at twice the rate of whites.

 –“Singled Out,” Jim Rankin, Jennifer Quinn, Michelle Shephard, Scott Simmie and John Duncanson, October 19, 2002

 “You were sent here to protect us but who protects us from you?”

– KRS-One

 In 2002, a team of Toronto Star journalists sorted through mounds of police data from over 480,000 incidents to put together the Race and Crime series. The collection of articles, profiles, maps and statistics unveiled an unsettling trend in the Metropolitan Toronto Police culture: racial profiling.

For Toronto’s black communities, the Star series was just quantitative evidence of their qualitative experiences. In the rest of Canada’s most populous city, the numbers on racial profiling caused an uproar. Julian Fantino, then chief of the Toronto Police Service, denied the Star’s allegations, and in 2003, the police union launched a $2.7 billion class-action libel suit against the Star (which it eventually lost).

It’s been almost ten years since the Star released its groundbreaking report and while much has changed, much has remained the same. This year, the Star series “Known to Police” revealed that black people are 3.2 times more likely than white people to be stopped by the police.

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Racism, Future: Sci-Fi Authors Riff

By Jef Catapang

Poster design by Simon Yau. It would be a cool movie, right?

If you read a fair share of sci-fi (written by someone other than Octavia E. Butler), you might be prone to feeling like all this flesh-wringing about race will be looked upon as nothing more than a quaint marker of our times. A lot of sci-fi teaches us that race just won’t be an issue in the future. Besides, if there is still such thing as racism in the future it will be directed at robots, so who cares? Not us. It doesn’t matter how sexy you are, robots. We’re not buying it.

To get a deeper sense of how science fiction has dealt with the possibilities of human interaction and diversity, we called up some of Canada’s most intelligent and most out-there imaginations to talk sci-fi, race and the future of us.

Derwin Mak

The Shrine of the Siren Stone (in which an otaku anime-nerd falls in love with a Japanese girl dressed as a French maid who turns out to be an android)

On why scientific developments won’t change racism:

The concept of race is rather hard to define to begin with. Even though all the scientific research shows that people have the same DNA, that we have the same ancestors, there will always be some differences. I’m not saying those differences are good or bad, they’re just there and people will notice them.

On why ‘first contact’ won’t bring about world peace:

Often science fiction authors will say that we’ll all suddenly become one unified human race as we realize that we’re not alone. I’m going to take the opposite approach and say that the arrival of aliens will not make us see ourselves any more unified than we already were.

A good example is when the Europeans came to North America. That did not end the squabbling or the warfare amongst the Native American or Canadian First Nations tribes. They still fought against each other, and indeed, they even sought out alliances between the English, French and the Spanish against each other. So I don’t think that the arrival of aliens will make human ethnic groups feel like they have any more or less in common than they do now. Unless, of course, we end up being common prey.

Suzette Mayr

Moon Honey (in which an 18-year-old white waitress suddenly turns Black)

On everyone being beige in the future:

When I go to Toronto, I’m always struck by all these mixed-race couples, children, and people that I see. That it’s actually in ads now, which to me suggests some sort of acceptance in the mainstream of this as being normal—in quotation marks. You don’t see it as much in Calgary. You see it on the street but you don’t necessarily see it reflected in the media. And I remember someone telling me statistics about Japanese-Canadians, about how they’re gradually kind of disappearing as they’re inter-marrying with other races. My feeling is that perhaps what will happen is we’ll have this blending as we go. On the other hand, there’s tons of Islamophobia. I think about the Tea Party, and all the kind of stuff that’s happening in the United States, which suggests a return to segregation rather than an inter-mixing.

On our increasing capability to control what our bodies look like:

Weirder and weirder things are happening for beauty. People are altering their faces and looking more and more like cats. I wonder—there’s a certain kind of aesthetic that goes with bi-racial Asian people that seems to be fetishized and seen as beautiful. And what about these lips that people are getting, these kind of big lips? I don’t know. Are people wanting lips like Black people?

On why racism is here to stay:

There will always be an underclass and there will always be racial undertones associated with that. Think about the historical movement towards the prairie, where the desirables and the so-called whites were English people or Scottish people, and then the Irish came and they were black. And once they were integrated, well, the Italians were black. Then the Ukranians and now it’s the visible minorities. I think that’s just the way we’re genetically engineered: to be mean to somebody, to find justification to exploit somebody else or treat somebody else poorly.

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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.

The Shipment: On now at Harbourfront

By Septembre Anderson

If you’re looking for a soft and fuzzy feel good play to ease you into a discussion of racism, then Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment isn’t for you. While “dissect[ing] what it means to be [B]lack in America,” Lee pulls no punches, spares no feelings and handles no one with kid gloves.

The five-person production opens with the talented Douglas Scott Streater performing a stereotypical, in your face, potty-mouthed stand-up comedy routine á la Chris Rock, Paul Mooney or Richard Pryor. Ripping into the nearly all-white audience, the routine touches on reverse racism, colour blindness, stereotypes, white privilege, the evolution of racism (overt vs. nuanced and subtle) and the fallacy of post-racialism. The play then segues into a series of sketches that delve further into stereotypical Black caricatures: the drug dealer, the hyper-religious church lady, the dancer, the convict and the dude on the block who is always going on about “F*ck school man. I just wanna be a rapper.” Streater, Jordan Barbour, Jennings, Prentice Onayemi and Amelia Workman perform in a hilarious, deadpan style.

In the second section of the production, preconceived notions about both racial stereotypes and the audience are truly thrown on their heads. The actors all gather for a party on-stage.  Through their interactions and the devolution of the party (Streater’s character has a depressive episode), we realize that not all of the “characters” onstage are necessarily “Black,” even if the actors playing them are. Prentice eloquently calls this “designating self by designating other,” and the audience is meant to struggle to decide who this “other” actually is. What is the race of the group of characters? Are they white, Black?

The beauty, ingenuity and intelligence of The Shipment is that the play is truly meant to be experienced and viewed differently by every person in the room. Each audience member brings their own preconceived notions about race and racism to the performance and those thoughts and feelings can be perceived throughout. “This show was not meant to be a painting on the wall that the audience sits and consumes,” said Jennings. The play was entertaining and extremely thought provoking, but the show, for me, was in the audience. What did they laugh at? What made them squirm? Would they get angry? Riffs on bestiality and pedophilia were met with stone cold silence while Black stereotypes were met with raucous laughter; when Streater turned the microscope on white people, all that could be heard were nervous chuckles.

One of the (many) problems for the Black community in North America is that we are rarely the ones telling our tales. Non-Black directors, writers and screenwriters produce and narrate our stories further rendering the Black community voiceless. There is power in the story and storytelling, but with the exception of a small handful of film producers – namely Spike Lee, John Singleton and modern day minstreler Tyler Perry – we just aren’t telling ‘em. The Shipment was enjoyable and dialogue about race and racism is great, but I’m still not sure how I feel about the Inception-like Korean-telling-white-people-all-about-Black-people storytelling.

THE SHIPMENT runs until Saturday, May 12, at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre.