Sunday, March 21, 2010

Where are you from?

I have a friend who lives in Vancouver, She is of Jamaican decent. She was born and educated in Toronto.
My friend has been living in Vancouver for a few of years now, her and I have discussed the fact that only a small number of Black people living in Vancouver.

During the Vancouver Olympics my friend told me that she had a large number of people "Welcome her to Canada".
She pointed out that, she had identified most of these people as migrants, people with accents.

My friend was very much offended and felt that she had more of a right to be considered Canadian than any of them.
In fact it is her birthright.

I think there are a number of things going on here.
First Vancouver is a tourist city, and during the Olympics the number of tourist was huge. A lot of these tourists were from the United States. It is well known that there is a large number of black Americans in the U.S.

I also think that these people who were welcoming my friend were doing this perhaps as to assert their own right to Canadian status. I would guess many of them feel marginalize, and often excluded from what it is to be 'Canadian'. Perhaps they are proud to be Canadian and desired others to know this.

Despite their rationale, this 'welcoming' upset and frustrated my friend.

I told this story to one of my professors, this story was of little surprise since she has experienced this same familiar phenomenon over and over again.

My professor’s daughter was once at the band and was being asked for her 'landed immigrant card'. She was asked by a Chinese woman who spoke with an accent. My professor described this accent as “so deep, it was difficult to understand her when she spoke”. My professor’s daughter informed her that she was born in Toronto and offered to show her birth certificate. It was an awkward moment. My professor was present and asked "Why did you ask her for an immigration card? Does she look like an immigrant?".

Like my friend my professor was annoyed at the assumption coming from someone who had clearly not lived in Canada as long.
I think one has an emotional response to any incident that implies lack of entitlement to being Canadian.

Why do people assume that black people are immigrants?
Black people have been in Canada since 1796.

My friend and many other black people I know hate being singled out in a group of non-black people and being asked, "where are you from?". Even within groups of white people, my friend is usually the only one who was actually born in Canada. Most of the people who have asked were born in Europe or the US. Both Europe and the US have longer histories of black migration, yet these questions are just as common. Some sources say more common.

This is discrimination.

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