A Story of Racism

When I was very young, perhaps six or seven, but not much more, I lived in Orleans, near Ottawa. I remember my mother had brought me to play in a park near the Rideau Canal. It was a tiny little place with a wooden play structure, the kind that proliferated in the eighties and has been replaced by colorful plastic constructions now. I know I might get the details wrong, but the gist of the thing has been seared in my memory forever. Not to worry, nothing so atrocious you’ll have nightmares, just a life-changing experience for a very young boy. It must have been spring or fall, because there were no leaves on the trees, and the ground was wet. A chill hung in the air, if I recall correctly. The only two other people in this tiny park were a little girl and her father. I say little, but she must have been the same age as I. They were of Indian descent, or perhaps Pakistani. I can’t be sure, apart from the little girls’ accent when she asked me to give her a push on her brand-new bicycle, which was much too big for her. Both our parents were out of range at the time, so our interactions could only be inferred, not directly interpreted. I agreed to the push, and got behind her to do so. Whether by weakness of mine, lack of bicycle-control skills on hers, or a combination of both, I watched with horror as her enormous front wheel wobbled after I had released her. She soon fell sideways and I ran to her to see if she was all right. In the meantime, her father, who, as I mentioned previously, could only infer our interactions, came running toward us, yelling. He was mad. He yelled things at me. I was a terrible person. I felt pretty terrible. He picked up his daughter and the bicycle and left, yelling all the while how horrible I was, under his daughter’s protest.

My mother and I both watched, bemused at what had happened. I don’t remember if I cried. I think I just felt bad for that poor man, who thought I would have wanted to hurt his daughter. I think about that man and his daughter, once in a while. I think about kindness, and misinterpretations of acts. I try to be kind to others, even though I slip up sometimes. I wish I could speak to this man, sometimes, and tell him I am sorry for his experience. I wish I could take it back, somehow. In my mind, he’s carried this terrible thought about white people and their intentions toward his family, and it saddens me. I’d like to tell him that most people aren’t like that. I hope it would put that terrible thought to rest.

Now that I’m older, I know that the vast majority of humans on this planet only want a place to raise their families, to have jobs, and to enjoy safety. These are things that matter, and that we should aspire to give to everyone, if we could. I wish that others understood that underneath the thin differences that separate us in looks and thoughts, we are truly all the same.

Today I see how the West is stirring the pot of unrest against Muslims in general, as if Muslim equals terrorist. I’ve already let go of one friend because he fell under the spell of hatred against an ‘enemy’ he knows very little about. Canada, as a country, didn’t used to be like that. Canada didn’t fall to fear and prejudice. Canada fought these things, tooth and nail. In my simple interpretation of what Canada was, of course. But Canada is changing, and the racists we fought before are sneaking out of the bag like slimy, hate-coated eels, and stand openly raging against non-whites.

Right now, it’s Muslims who are the ‘Evil Ones’. Hatred of Jewish people is making a resurgence. Tomorrow, who knows? How many good people will stand against the bigots, I wonder. Who will have the courage to tell them to sit down and shut up, so that people may keep coming to Canada as a safe haven from the strife and dangers of their own countries? So that all those immigrants, and especially their children may come here and be able to ride a bicycle and not have that thought ever-present in their minds that the white kid on the playground just wants to push their kids down into the dirt, like the racists in power do. Of course, that requires courage, and more than just the “share-a-meme-on-Facebook” kind.

I do wonder where we’re headed. And I hope that there are more good people willing to fight than lazy people who don’t want to get involved. Hater, or lover, or “neutral”. Those are our choices, when it comes right down to it. But it’s not because you’re a lover that you aren’t willing to fight. It means that you are willing to fight for something that is bigger than you are. And those are the good people. The people that we need to make a better country.

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