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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This One’s For the Children

N927S32ABy Denise Balkissoon

I’m a former child bookworm who was hurt and confused by the racism in some of my favourites (I suppose Frances Hodgson Burnett was just “a product of her time”). I’m also a very new parent who wants my babe to love books, but avoid those icky feelings. So I was unhappy to see the stark stats in a recent New York Times piece about characters of colour in children’s books–of thousands of books published in the U.S. last year, not even 500 have African-American or Latina protagonists–and pleased that it sparked some good convos on Twitter.

I figured that compiling all of the suggested books into a handy list would be handy. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions, most especially Amena Rajwani of the Toronto Public Library . If you’ve got more, add them in the comments!

After the jump: a WHOLE BUNCH of multicultural books for babies, kids and teens (in absolutely no particular order):

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My Big Fat Non-Traditional Wedding

By Bhairavi Thanki

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 2.14.17 PMI went to my first traditional Indian wedding when I was 13. The whole experience was harrowing. It wasn’t the fact that this wedding went on for five days, that there were about 500 people there, or that I had to sleep on the floor of a crowded house filled with relatives I didn’t even know. It was how uncomfortable the bride and groom seemed, sitting by the mandap, looking confused about what exactly was happening. The whole ceremony went on for what seemed like hours with the priest going on and on in Sanskrit about God and union (probably). The only question running through my young teen brain was “why”? The traditions felt hollow to me.

Now I’m 25 and in a relationship that’s cozy and just right. I go to a lot of weddings these days, thanks to the fact that almost everyone I know is getting married. I take my boyfriend along, and he doesn’t hesitate to join in while I check off things that we absolutely should not do at our own wedding. And I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t want any of my own ethnic traditions in my wedding. None whatsoever.

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One Bride, Two Dresses

By Denise Balkissoon (well, by all of the brides, actually)

For many, The White Dress is an essential piece of the wedding, symbolizing everything from a massive new commitment, to celebrity status for a day, to long-guarded virginal purity (ha). But for mix-and-match Torontonians, those traditions often dovetail with others, which are also marked with fancy dress. Here, some local brides talk about why they chose to wear both a white gown as well as an outfit with different cultural meaning.

Jaclyn Law, Chinese-Canadian
Married in 2001
I’d redo certain things about my wedding, if I could (like not having it in January!), but I still love my wedding dress – it’s so simple and pretty. My husband and I decided to have a traditional Chinese banquet (his idea, actually), so I went with a cheongsam, too. I changed into it after the third course. When I entered the room, everyone started applauding — I probably turned as red as the dress! I got both gowns plus matching hair decor in Scarborough. My husband, whose background is Czech, wore a rented black tux with a mandarin collar. In the pictures, we look like a couple of kids.


Cindy Ramkissoon-Shears, Indo-Trinidadian-Canadian
Married in 2008

I have always wanted to wear the traditional Hindu wedding sari, even though later in life I became a born again Christian.  Growing up in a Hindu home and attending many Hindu weddings, I fell in love with the designs, colours and accessories.  I remember being a small child and seeing one of my elder cousins in the traditional red sari walking down the stairs to meet her groom, having the veil of flowers hanging on her face. From that moment I knew that is what I wanted to wear at my wedding.  My spouse is not of my culture but he welcomed my ideas and so did our wedding party. I chose to wear baby yellow, as the traditional wedding colours are red or yellow.

We were married in a church and our pastor was very excited that although were we being married under Christian rites, other cultures and traditions were still being represented in our clothing.  My pastor and his spouse also wore traditional Indian outfits at our ceremony.  After the ceremony, we changed into the traditional white dress and white suit for the remaining of our pictures and for the reception.  Honestly, if I could dance in a sari, I probably would have continued to wear that throughout the night!

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On Being Muslim and “Dark-Skinned” After Boston


Yassine Zaime and Salah Barhoun are both innocent, but worried that this New York Post cover could affect the rest of their lives

By Ali Zafar


Last Monday’s trending hashtag intensified my suffocating sense of dread, the one that’s ebbed and flowed since Sept. 11, 2001.


That dirty word stripped Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of his white privilege: he had been identified in news reports as a Chechen, terrorist and radical, but never American.

Because he’s Muslim. Like me.

I’d logged off from the 24-hour cycle of the world’s misfortunes that afternoon, deciding to take a breather before my workday started. I always expect something big to be breaking when I show up for my evening newsroom shift, but the news of the Boston Marathon bombings was still a shock. My stomach churned as I looked at graphic images on the newswire: the blood-splattered streets, the volunteers racing to help a man in a wheelchair with a missing leg.

And my heart dropped when I logged onto Twitter and saw #Muslims trending alongside #PrayforBoston. Was it possible that a person who calls himself a Muslim was behind those horrific images? What if his first name was Mohammad? Like mine? What if he had dark hair? Dark skin? Like me?

Anxiety, embarrassment and a shade of fear began bubbling inside me like a violent thunderstorm. Watching the news made it worse.

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Hennessy and Enemies: Booze, Brands and “Liquid Bling”

By Denise Balkissoon

Can you read that wine label? Cause this brand causes dictatorships.

Can you read that wine label? Cause this brand causes dictatorships.

There were many things to be upset about after last summer’s shooting on Danzig Avenue: the deaths, of course, plus the youth of the accused shooters, and how easy it seems for firearms to slip through our porous border.

Farther down on the list, but still troubling, was “Henny & Hip Hop,” a story that ran in the Toronto Star about 10 days after the incident. Dotted with lyrics by Mobb Deep and Eminem, the piece informed the reading public that “Hennessy has been part of hip-hop culture for almost 20 years.” It quoted a Brazil-based spokesperson from Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, who emphasized that the company “was not part of the party.” In other words, it was embarrassing and nausea-inducing, and almost a year later, it still bugs me.

Does alcohol make people violent? Unquestionably, yes. But I can’t think of a culture other than hip hop for which a string of brand citations follows every incident. When Vancouver Canucks fans tore their city up after losing the Stanley Cup two years ago, I don’t remember hearing what kind of flat beer they were overcharged for in the Rogers Arena.  An upper-class Scottish chef killed his girlfriend last fall, but the news coverage has yet to inform me about what sorts of fine wines he might have been drinking. At a time when there were many important, heart-wrenching things to consider, “Henny & Hip Hop” was just another piece of Othering tripe letting us know that “in urban culture, [Hennessy] is seen as liquid bling.”

I have some questions of my own about liquor brands and identity, questions that I might have considered stupid if the country’s biggest daily hadn’t opened these floodgates. Let’s start with the most important one, and move on from there.

1. Obviously we all want a world without prejudice or hate. Anheuser-Busch InBev is on track to own every major beer brand in the world. When Corona tastes just like Rolling Rock tastes just like Hoegaarden tastes just like Quilmes, will racism be over?

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A Dubliner’s Rantings on St Patrick’s Day

By Séamus Conaty


Being born and bred (and buttered) in Dublin, I will not attempt to debunk any myths regarding the stereotype that Irish people drink too much. We do. This is not because we have an inherent love for what smart people call C2H5OH. What we have is an inherent love for socializing, and this happens in pubs. Our fondness for the juice is a bi-product of our necessity for chat. You will rarely (if ever) see Irish people drinking with the explicit intention of getting rat-arsed. It just happens, like shit.

When I was growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was not unlike Canadian Thanksgiving. Until the early 1980s, pubs in Ireland were actually closed on St. Patrick’s Day. There was little or no alcohol consumed—it was like a day off from alcohol. One went to mass in the morning, had a nice meal with one’s family, went into the city to watch the parade, and then threw stones at Protestants. (Ok, we didn’t throw stones at Protestants, we actually all get along quite well despite what the newspapers would have you believe.) Anyway, I loved it. We used to have great fun mocking the Yanks that had made the 5,000 kilometre trip to the Vaterland for a relatively low key family affair where they were reminded that, no, they were not Irish, they were Yanks, and should go live with all the nasty shit they’ve done. Rather than being a phony celebration of all things green, it was a religious celebration of our most famous patron saint. (Tip: he’s not our only one. Having several patron saints is our bonus prize for tolerating a millennium of molestation, which is a delightful segway into the relatively kiddie-diddler-free land of the maple leaf.)

I moved to Toronto in 1998. Following my diasporic trail like a fly to shite, I ended up working in an Irish pub for a few years. I loved it! I met great people and earned lots of cash, which I spent on booze, drugs and guitars. As March rolled near, I first found the Christmas-like hype around my national holiday rather flattering. But when March 17th arrived, fuck me: my Thanksgiving was a complete and utter blatant pissfest. The worst of all pissfests! Premeditated, plastic, phoney and pathetic (nice alliteration there).

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