xenophobia and racism, such an easy itch to scratch

Yesterday I purchased something from a small, independently-owned store near where I live in Mississauga. I was the only customer there; the only person working was the owner, a brown-skinned man who spoke thickly accented English. A business card on the counter displayed his long, multi-syllabic last name: Mr. K.

While he was helping me, Mr. K got a phone call which made him angry. He had hired the person on the phone to do a job, and it had been done improperly, and he was trying to withhold payment until the job was re-done. Every once in a while Mr. K would say, "I have a customer here, I'll talk to you later," then continue arguing.

I waited until Mr. K finished his angry conversation and hung up. We completed our transaction, I wished him a nice day, and was about to leave when he began his rant.

"Do you see what is happening to this country?" Mr. K. yelled. "Anyone can come here, the government does not even know who these people are!"

I looked at him with confusion and surprise.

"Did you see this in the paper today?" He waved a Toronto Star in my direction. "Did you see this? These men came from Sri Lanka, they made this deal, they left the customers high and dry, and they took the money out of Canada! Did you see this?"

I said tentatively, "People born in Canada make dishonest deals, too."

"That's not the point!" he yelled. "The government just lets them in, we don't know anything about them! They come to Canada to cheat us!"

"But you came," I said. "I came."

"That was different! I have been here since 1973! 1973, I got here! Things were different then! Now anyone can come here."

"Actually, that's not so," I said. "It's more difficult to get into Canada than it once was."

It's no surprise that a man who would rant like this in his place of business was not listening to a word I said. "You hear me on the phone? That man, he did a terrible job, he wants me to pay him, what happens if I don't pay him, he wants to rip me off! He is from Somalia! Why is he here trying to rip me off? All these criminals want to come to Canada!"

I say quietly, "Someone could say that about you, no?"

"That's different! Nowadays the government just lets in anybody!"

I took my package and left him to his rant. I felt so discouraged.

If I hadn't completed my purchase when he began his tirade, I would have said, "Thanks anyway, I'll shop somewhere without the racism." We certainly won't go back to that store. But it's a purchase I make less than once a year. Mr. K will never know that his inappropriate remarks drove me away.

But Mr. K is hardly the point. I hear similar sentiments on a regular basis from an acquaintance of mine: a woman born in China, who lives mainly within a Chinese-Canadian community. She also believes "they let the wrong people in now". Her evidence? "Everyone knows it! A bad element comes here now."

How easy it all is - the scapegoating, the stereotyping, the myths. How it must seethe, barely contained, to surface so quickly and often.

It's bad enough to hear xenophobia and racism from the old guard of Mississauga - the descendants of European immigrants who cleared someone else's land for their farms. But hearing it from a member of the vast mosaic of newer Canadians, former immigrants, who make up modern Mississauga... it's just so sad.


James said...

In a stand-up routine, Jon Stewart described his grandfather's arrival at Ellis Island: he walks up to the gate, fills out the paperwork, steps through, then turns around and yells at everyone who was behind him in line, "Get out of here! You're ruining my country!"

laura k said...

Ha ha, that's a much better take!

James said...

There was more to the routine -- it was brilliant -- but that's all I can remember at the moment.

laura k said...

I'm pretty sure I've heard it. I'm not much for standup, but Jon Stewart is one of the very few comedians I really enjoy.

Amy said...

Sad to know (though not surprising) that people are racist and xenophobic wherever you go.

Some Person said...

One of the quickest and surest ways to prove your bona fides in the new ingroup is to castigate the outgroup. Consequently, one of the quickest ways to frustrate oneself is to point this out.

laura k said...

Amy, so true. At least it's not the norm here. Although maybe that's too low a standard?

S/P, that's a very astute observation.

"I've been here since 1973!" Oh well then, alright...