‘Our city isn’t as wonderful as we think’
Online campaign reveals Torontonians’ everyday experiences with racism
Despite living in one of the most diverse cities on the planet, racism is embedded in the everyday experiences of racialized Torontonians, says antiracism expert and educator Janelle Brady.
Brady, the senior co-ordinator of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Integrative AntiRacism Studies, said no matter who you are or what you do, if you’re Black, Indigenous or a person of colour (BIPOC) living in Toronto, racism is part of your life.
Toronto.com recently invited Torontonians to share their experiences with race and/or racism in an interactive campaign called #RaceInThe6ix, inspired by National Public Radio’s groundbreaking The Race Card Project, where people summed up their experiences with race and/or racism in six words or less.
For #RaceInThe6ix, we asked for a one-line response to some big questions — Does living in a city that is multicultural make it a more or less tolerant place? What has been your experience? How do you see yourself, and how do you feel you are perceived by others? What are the challenges you face, what problems persist, what is always on your mind as you make your way through the diverse streets of Toronto?
North York resident Adebe DeRango-Adem, an independent scholar whose master’s degree thesis explored race and inter-raciality, shared a microaggression she experienced when she recently went purse shopping in Yorkville — an experience that was echoed by others.
“I’ve had this experience more than once … I feel I can never be otally free walking into an expensive store,” she said in a followup interview.
“For people working in a store to make such assumptions (about me based on my race) is really to diminish me entirely … I wish I had the freedom to walk in and shop where I want (without racism).”
DeRango-Adem, who is also the author of three full-length poetry books, said dealing with a seemingly unending stream of microaggressions and judgment based on the colour of her skin is both exhausting and demoralizing.
“Sometimes a great day gets turned around. It’s happened several times,” she shared, adding the racism she’s experienced has often left her with feelings of inadequacy.
“I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m sure there are a lot of young people who are even more racially profiled,” she said, noting the situation is even worse for those with a language barrier.
“It’s time to unpack covert and overt racism and have these imop
ions.” West Toronto’s Brenda MacIntyre,
who is Indigenous, provided several #RaceInThe6ix contributions to toronto.com that ranged from microaggressions to overt racism, as well as stereotyping and othering.
Originally from British Columbia but a Toronto resident for 35 years, she said some people try to be good allies, but frequently fail when they don’t think before speaking. Others, she said, simply don’t care.
“Often people question if I’m Indigenous, but for the wrong reasons,” said MacIntyre, who shared an experience where someone who signed up to take one of her hand drumming workshops wondered if she was
“Indigenous enough” to lead the session.
“There are also some people who are just ignorant. They don’t know anything about Indigenous people. Some even make assumptions Indigenous people don’t exist anymore,” she said, adding defending herself and her people from negative stereotypes takes a toll.
In her #RaceInThe6ix contribution, Jane-Finch resident Tiffany Ford shared an experience she had a few years ago with overt racism when she was a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee.
“I once received a random email from a man named John, who called me the N-word and said that I shouldn’t be a business owner.”
During a followup interview, Ford, who calls herself a “serial entrepreneur,” said the racially charged message sent to her business account also called for her resignation from the TDSB.
Ford, who admitted hate and intolerance are often just “part of the job,” said she wasn’t shocked or surprised by this man’s actions.
“It was just sad to see it in writing,” she shared. Ford, who is from North York’s Jane-Finch area, did inform the TDSB’s integrity commissioner about the incident, but said nothing ever came of it and no charges were ever laid.
“All of this shows me there is a lot of work to be done,” said Ford, who admits she’s had to develop a thick skin to deal with the racism she experiences.
“Anti-Black racism is here in Toronto. You just have to look around and see who is in the positions of power.”
Brady, who is completing her PhD studies on Black mothering in the education system, said the #RaceInThe6ix responses “paint a picture that our city isn’t as wonderful or open as we think it is.”
She also said it’s important to remember whether its overt or covert, racism always goes hand in hand with power and those who seek to maintain it, adding things won’t improve until this is acknowledged and concrete actions are taken to dismantle the systems that support this imbalance.
In the meantime, she said racialized people remain underemployed, are subject to work and school environments where racism is rampant, and don’t have equal access to housing, public transit and health care among other things.
“People are not starting at the same spot, on equal footing,” said Brady, who said Black, Indigenous and people of colour have become accustomed to living in a world where racism is ever present through microaggressions like being questioned at the bank, excluded from small talk, and being made to feel unwelcome, and even criminalized, in public spaces.
“It’s part of life, but it is draining,” she said, adding those who perpetuate these biases have learned this behaviour.
“The fear of the other still exists all over Toronto.”