I am weary when I receive compliments here because they are usually signs for the inevitable questions that are usually the first thing most Canadians ask me, often before they ask my name. example, ”Where are you from?” these questions were asked right from my first day in a Canadian high school; as a newcomer I was happy to tell them about my background but everywhere I went it seemed like “déjà vu” because the same questions were being asked all over the place.
One time this was asked after an old lady I bumped into at a department store in the mall went on about how different and nice my accent is for about five minutes. My reverence for old people was tested because although she was charming and meant well, she couldn’t do without touching me. It was summer so I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts; she examined my hair with her fingers and held my arm up to the light applauding its radiance. One part of me was somewhat impressed by her familiarity but I knew the questions were going to come flooding in sooner or later.
Then she asked me where I was from.
- Where is that?
Just like most Canadians, she thought Africa was a country so I took my sweet time educating her about the countries in Africa, at least the ones I knew. She was shocked that I spoke the English language properly then asked me where I learnt to speak English. I was getting used to this particular question because most people I’ve met assume Africans speak either Swahili or some other language that’s not related to English. So I told her we actually do speak English in Nigeria and most parts of Africa, it may not be our mother tougue but we’re definitely educated and can speak the English language fluently.
When I came to Canada, it became clear to me that race is tied to nationality for most Canadians. I have had to let go of being offended in order to live here. Although more people of color are moving to Canada each year, it is a pretty white space. My friend, who came up for vacation went walking around by herself while visiting me. She came back perplexed. ”There are no black people here” she said. ”How can you live here?”
After that old lady at the market finished speculating about my African Roots, she turned her focus onto her fellow Canadians saying “Some people are stupid. They believe all kinds of crazy things. If anyone says something bad to you, ignore them.” Then she gave me the warmest smile.
That experience got me thinking a lot about the kind of world we live in and don’t get me wrong, Canada is a great country with lots of opportunities abound for both men and women but there are still traces of discrimination against race and gender, but it’s a lot different compare to the 19th century. It just comes quietly, slowly, sometimes so quietly that you don’t realize it until you start looking back. This is why education is important because, people here and those planning on coming abroad need to know that discrimination still exist. It is still real in the workplace, and we should not take that for granted.
Image Source: modelmayhem.com