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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How To…

 MC Jazz for the Ethnic Aisle – How To by Ethnic Aisle

MC Jazz is a queer, Egyptian rapper and poet who is proud to be a part of Toronto’s innovative and diverse music scene. Here, for the Ass Issue, she performs “How To,” a funny, smart, biting spoken word piece about Barbie and body image. This Pride, she’ll be performing on the south stage on June 30th at 6 p.m., and at Blockorama on July 1, also at 6 p.m.

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.

Passing, Or Something Like It

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.

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Jesus Saves

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.

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Finding My Canadian Self in Ireland

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

To Be Italian

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.”

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