My Reflections on Racism as a Brown Man In Canada

The current situation with racism in America is such a charged issue so I was hesitating to write on it. But I’m going to take a risk and say what I feel.

First, as is obvious, I’m not white, and I don’t come from what you would consider a ‘privileged’ background. I came as an immigrant to Canada when I was 8. I experienced some racism in Canada, but not that much. I was a visibly brown Muslim guy with a big beard. I got through university with government student loans, and then I graduated and got a job fairly easily in the tech field. I’ve been working since then, earning six figures now. Keep in mind there’s 7 of us living off one income though. I’m not what you’d call swimming in cash😅 We make do like any other big family, we recycle, use hand-me-downs, buy on Kijiji, and so on.

EDIT: After speaking to a friend, I realized that being in the tech industry, I am more blind to these issues because my field tends to be more of a meritocracy. This is not the case for all industries

But still, right off the bat where I am coming from, we have much to be thankful for. If they discriminated against me, it was not overtly. I could make my way from nothing to something with just hard work and intelligence. So this makes me biased in a certain regard. I had everything I needed. But not everyone is so lucky. I have not gone through the same struggles than an inner-city black kid would have gone through.

Saying “all lives matter” is stupid because we all know that. “Black lives matter” does not mean you are saying other lives don’t matter!

It just means that you recognize the importance of this one issue right now and the suffering experienced by blacks. As my Black American friend said, almost everyone he knows has a story of how they were harassed just for being the wrong colour or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was accused of stealing his own bike by a police officer just because he was black.

Regardless of what happened in the past, white people need not feel guilty about being white. The most progressive, least-racist individuals are the ones who are doing all the talking about “how to counter our racist biases”. This will not solve the real systemic issues that we face as a society. You need not feel guilty or shameful for what your ancestors did. You can feel angry. Condemn it, hate it, but it wasn’t you who did it so you don’t need to apologize for it or feel somehow that you are the problem. My friend in the UK told me that there was a meeting of white women going to a park and talking about their biases. While it’s well intentioned, it will not solve any problems. They are not the issue. There are real issues here that need to be fixed. Real systemic problems.

If you want fewer blacks to be shot dead for no good reason, I think you have to first solve the gun problem. Police walk around knowing fully well that the guy they are approaching might have a gun and that makes them much more likely to shoot first and ask questions later. Having a society walking around armed to the teeth just makes everyone more edgy. This is the first problem to solve.

And yes, there are very real systemic inequalities that many blacks face. Some grew up in the hoods in terrible conditions where they don’t get good education, where they are arrested simply for looking in the wrong direction, where they are harassed by the police for no good reason (driving while black). Many of them are even thrown in jail because of over-the-top policing strategies where they are given tickets that they can’t pay that escalate into jail-time.

In “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell (which is a fantastic book btw) he tells the story of a young black man who was playing basketball and for no good reason was arrested and eventually lost his job because of this:

I think [the police officer] said something to the effect like, “There are kids here and you’re at the park, what are you, a pedophile?”…The officer then orders him out of the car and the guy says, “Well, I’m not doing anything. I mean, I have constitutional rights. I’m just sitting here just playing ball.”

The officer then actually pulls his gun on the guy and threatening him and insisting that he get out of the car. The way the incident ends is that the officer writes him up for eight different tickets including not having a seatbelt on, he was sitting in his car at the park, not having a license, and also having a suspended license. He managed to issue both charges.

The man even got a ticket for “making a false declaration” because he gave his name as “Mike” when it was actually Michael.

He ends up carrying a lot of charges for quite a while. What happens to him is he gets charged with eight offenses in the Ferguson Municipal Code and tries to fight his case. He ends up arrested on that occasion. He ends up losing his job where he was a contractor for the federal government. That arrest really derailed him.

Mike’s arrest is a carbon copy of Sandra Bland’s, isn’t it? A police officer approaches a civilian on the flimsiest of pretexts, looking for a needle in a haystack — with the result that so many innocent people are caught up in the wave of suspicion that trust between police and community is obliterated. That’s what was being protested in the streets of Ferguson: years and years of police officers mistaking a basketball player for a pedophile. (Talking to Strangers, Chapter Twelve, Sandra Bland)

This was a fantastic book. Please read it.

As my friend P told me:

What would really be good for America is if everyone immersed themselves in another culture at a young age, but that requires some resources. If it were up to me, I’d make a required Civics course in high school that, as part of the curriculum, makes you volunteer in the local community. At least volunteering, especially with homeless, refugees, tutoring, etc will put people out of their comfort zone and get them interacting with people outside their economic and ethnic/racial group. Unless you’re in a major city, there’s hardly any public transport or city squares where people conglomerate. Just that visibility of other people humanizes them. In much of America, people can hide away in their cars and homes and see no one outside their immediate family and friends. Even common spaces like grocery stores are usually segregated by class.

I also worry that companies that are trying to be woke and anti-racist will also end up being racist to whites. Instead of allocating quotas to people of colour for jobs, hire the best person for the job. Solve the systemic issues by investing in schools in black neighbourhoods (or investing in native communities in Canada), not by hiring a less qualified individual just because he’s black or brown. Solve the problems earlier down the line, not artificially at the hiring table.

As for white privilege, it’s not across the board! I am doing better in life (financially or otherwise) than many of my white friends. As my friend Lucas Lynch wrote in a comment: If you are born Hindu, East Asian, or Jewish in America, you are more likely to do up to twice as well as white men in America.

Why? Because the real privilege in society is being born into a family and a culture that values learning as a primary value. The statistics in America back this up.

Even making it easier for more mediocre white men to get into elite universities over equally more qualified Asian applicants — real systemic racism — doesn’t stop this trend by even a notch.

Some people protest ‘but many of those people arrived already with good educations’, which only proves the point.

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Stop apologizing for being white and stop feeling guilty for what your ancestors did. Fix the issue now by taking real steps. And that step doesn’t mean “making a black friend.” (although there’s no harm in that) P’s advice above is fantastic — volunteer at a soup kitchen, travel to Ghana for a an exchange program, spend time in other people’s shoes and see what it’s like. That will have a bigger impact than simply talking about stuff.

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Husband, dad to five, tech enthusiast. Former Conservative Muslim. www.abdullahsameer.com