How to Understand Racism in Canada

Is racism killing black people in the US? I hope not, and as a Canadian, it is easy to pat myself on the back about our lack of racism when we watch our American neighbours implode every weekend with news about cops shooting another black kid. It made me wonder how racism in Canada affects me?

Racism in Canada
Photo Credit: Mike Licht, via Compfight cc


I was visiting family in Newfoundland when I began chatting with my father’s uncle, Bruce. That’s when I found out I was an Indian. It was a surprise.

I didn’t know I was an Indian.

Up until this point when anyone asked where I was from, I would answer I was a long-time Canadian. The typical follow-up question is “But where are you originally from?”  Most everyone here immigrated from somewhere. I heard that my family came from England but I really don’t know more than that. I am a proud 8th generation Canadian, that’s a  long time in a country with a short history.

As soon as I found out I was Indian, suddenly I was more than 8 generations. I was a part of the fabric of this country.

Bruce explained how he had gone through family history and found a Micmac ancestor. Bruce joined the local band and was exploring that part of his (and my) heritage. I was intrigued. I applied and now I also own a status card. My identity suddenly felt different. It is hard to explain, but I felt rooted to this country in a new way.

I was also surprised to discover a new aspect of racism in Canada.

As a new Indian I suddenly heard comments I previously missed about Indians.  People talked about lazy Indians and I wanted to speak up. I sometimes did. My Indian blue eyes would flash in disgust and I would ask “Are you calling me lazy!?” I would try to shame the racist a bit. Put him in his place. It felt personal.

People asked me all kinds of questions. The same kind of questions that I had wondered about Indians before I became one:

  • Do you get money from the government?
  • Do you get free education?

When I told people I was an Indian, people would tell me stories that they had heard from their brothers friend who knew an Indian guy who got a new truck from the government on his 18th birthday. I was excited. Where do I sign up for the new truck!? Like many other myths about native entitlement, that one is also (sadly) not true.


I began to Ignore Racism in Canada

It began when someone would say something questionable about Indians and I didn’t bother saying anything. I remained silent. I was not intimidated into silence or afraid of consequences. I just got tired of speaking up. I didn’t want to be that humourless guy with a cause that people don’t invite to parties.

When I was just another white guy, I never had to think about these things.

When I was just a white guy, I used to say that there was no true racism in Canada. I thought of racism in terms of Ku Klux Klan, American history X, and southern slavery. It was easy to feel superior to other nations with deeper racial issues and naïvely believe that we don’t have racism in Canada. I remember minorities talking about Canadian racism but I wasn’t sure how that applied to me.


An Entitled Invisible Minority

It was a lot easier to think that there was no racism in Canada when I was never in the place to feel any of the affects of racism. As an invisible minority – no one would ever assume that my blonde hair and blue eyes are Native.

It was easy to hide.

I do not kid myself. I cannot really identify with people who have experienced racism in Canada but I am beginning to understand it in a new way. Let me be clear, I still hold all the power and trappings of white privilege, but I am starting to see how we let subtle racism continue. It is tiring to be the guy defending a whole culture. I never had to do that when I was just another white guy.

Now when I hear other white guys like me say ‘racism is a thing of the past’ my question is simply this. “How would you ever know?”

What do you think? What are the forms of racism in Canada?

Mark Crocker

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