“Racism is the bedrock institution of Canadian society embedded in the social fabric of our thinking” - Mary Ann Shadd
While doing some reflection on the Zara incident and more generally, the everyday racism that people of colour face and live through, the concept that has been foremost in my mind is that of resistance. This has also come to me by way of two very intense courses that I am taking right now: Introduction to Equity Studies and Introduction to Aboriginal studies. For the last three weeks, I have been coming home depressed every day after class. Abject and desolate, simply wanting to curl into a ball and lay there for the rest of eternity. However, whilst in conversation with a good friend who always knows how to make me feel better (you know yourself), she reminded me that it is crucial to remain positive and believe that there is a better way to live. Therefore, the theme of resistance and remaining resilient through everyday struggles is something that I have been trying to come to terms with and learn how I can resist in my everyday battles. How can I remain resilient against the white man at the futon store who laughs in my face? How can I stand up to the waiter who refuses to seat or serve me? How can I talk up to a racist ignoramus? All these questions have been at the focus of my reflection and analysis.
What is everyday racism? Everyday Racism is found in everyday interactions that chip away at one's psychological well-being (Essed) For people of colour, it is our psychological being that we must fight to keep intact. It is our mental and spiritual wellness that we must fight to preserve. And until there is a severe revamping of the social and global order, it is our lives that we must continue to fight for. Therefore, in the midst of my reflection, I started thinking of everything that I do everyday and what it means. What it means to me and what it means in the context of the society around me. For a white man to say to a black woman "go back home," it must really mean that my presence, as a black, continental African woman, here is truly unwanted. And therefore, my very presence is an act of resistance! While thinking about and reflecting on this, I wrote this poem. Of course, there are many other things that can be added to this list but for the sake of time, I will stop here and perhaps continue adding to it as we go along. This, is to the power of resistance and resilience in the face of oppression!
Waking up is my act of resistance Walking out the door is my act of resistance Wearing my hair natural is my act of resistance Refusing to comb (read: straighten) my hair is my act of resistance Walking with my head up, tall and proud is my act of resistance Refusing to bow down to the white men and women in my way is my act of resistance Remaining headstrong and courageous while they laugh and try to steal my soul is my act of resistance Being is my act of resistance Being is my act of resistance
Shortly, after I posted my last entry, a friend wrote to me describing her experience at Zara. I was shocked at the blatant racism and classism that was directed towards her by Zara's manager. Although I've had similar experiences (although not to the same extent), I was appalled by the vulgarity and unprofessionalism shown by this particular person at Zara. Judging people based on skin colour and their appearance is a dated ideology that should not be tolerated whatsoever. Zara needs to be exposed. It doesn't stop at individuals but the people behind that individual who give them the right to act in demeaning ways. I've posted the story below as written by Samantha Peters herself. If you are on facebook, please join the facebook group and let us mobilize around this issue. We will not be silent any longer!
By Samantha Peters
"I was at Zara (in the Eaton Centre). I usually dress presentable, but it was a cold winter day, so I was dressed too "scruffy" for that store. I had bought (just the day before) a dress because it was the last one in my size. When I went home, my mom said that I should return it because it didn't look good on me. So I went to Zara to return it.
The cashier was about to ring it in and had to get his manager to sign the return. She looked me up and down and said "I can't return this, you wore it!". Mind you, I never wore the dress. I was like no, I bought this yesterday (and explained her the situation). I then said, why would I wear something and return it?, that's tacky! She continued by stating, "well, it looks like something YOU would do".
She then wrote all over my receipt so that I couldn't return it elsewhere, took a bag from the garbage and put my dress back into. I broke down and tears, and no one said anything. The store was packed!! It was a couple of days before Christmas."
Recently, too much racist shit (excuse my language but it's necessary) has been happening to me and I have been too silent about it for too long. I will no longer continue to support systems of oppression by remaining silent, I will no longer participate in my own domination by perpetrating the silence and secrecy that is crucial to oppression and the abuses of power. From now on, I will be rewriting personal incidents that I have personally experienced. As well as a form of resisting, this will be my way of trying to make sense of the incidents by reflecting and trying to place them within an analytical framework. Please bear with me.
About two weeks ago, I walked into a certain futon store in Toronto. I proceeded to browse my way through the store but since I had been to that particular store only a couple of days before, I decided to focus on a particular futon that I really liked. Eventually after a few minutes of looking me up and down from behind the desk, the white man wearing a turban approached me and asked whether I was interested in the futon. I answered yes and pointed to which futon I was interested in. For some reason, this man felt that it was still necessary that he direct me towards the less expensive futons at the back of the store despite the fact that I had already pointed to the one I was interested in. Nevertheless, I decided to ignore his efforts to redirect me by going over to look at the futon covers and as soon as I approached the futon covers, I was met with a very loud "Oh those covers are too expensive." When I confronted him and asked whether he had a problem with me, he laughed and replied "I don't understand. Is there a problem?" laughing away as if I had just cracked a really funny joke. I then turned to walk out of the store angry, frustrated, humiliated and without a futon.
A few days ago, I walked into a spring rolls around lunchtime and it was packed so we (a friend and I) waited to be seated. A waiter came up to us and asked for how many. I said for two. He looked around and said that it was really packed so we'd have to wait anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes. (Side note: From the entrance of this particular restaurant it is not possible to see the entire seating area) We were tired, hungry and that did not seem like to long to wait so we said we'd wait. Two minutes later, an asian man and his girlfriend walked in. When they said they were looking for a table for two, the waiter at the door replied "sure!" without even pausing - that is until he saw me looking at him. And then he quickly said "actually, there's a take out branch just two doors down which is less packed." Note, he did bother to inform us of this during our conversation. Rather, his immediate response "sure" and then quick change of direction informed me that in fact, there WERE tables of two. Just not tables of two, for a black person. I turned to walk out in frustration, anger and with a growling stomach.