My time slot on Metro Morning seems to be moving later and later, which I’m going to take as a compliment. This morning, I discussed multiculturalism with Matt Galloway and Doug Saunders, kicked off by Doug’s column on whether children-of-immigrants find the term or concept outdated.
A 10-step cover story in the Grid.
Happy Pride! The latest issue of the Ethnic Aisle is all about sex, gender, bodies and big ol butts. As always, I am so proud of what we’ve put together: this issue has our first audio posts (from Mc Jazz and DJ Cozmic), some art, some fiction, some amazing stuff.
I once dated a man who wore this rhinestone-studded bullet shaped necklace. Yes, I did.
Everything about that is embarrassing, including the fact that this embarrassing “man” told me that he spent $600 on this, a shiny bullet dangling from what appears to be a chain that was once attached to a bathtub drain stopper. That may have been a lie, since he lied about everything. The going price for the Marc Ecko Loaded Bullet is now about $250 on eBay.
Let’s call him Leb, for Loser Ex-Boyfriend, and also because “Leb,” is a term I heard used disparagingly to refer to Lebanese people when I lived in Ottawa. Leb wasn’t a Leb, or maybe he was. See, Leb didn’t know what race he was, and in my humble but correct opinion, that was a big part of his many, many problems.
Leb was adopted in Quebec, in the mid-1970s. He grew up outside of Edmonton, where he was regularly called “nigger,” or maybe, creatively, “sand nigger.” I’m not sure quite how much he was teased and bullied (see: compulsive lying) but at some point decided to take on whatever tough-guy persona he associated with the n-word. His powdery-white parents bought him everything he wanted (including a Porsche) but he still did break-and-enters, just to be a badass. Or something.
In the mid-1990s, Leb moved to Ontario. Overnight, Leb became white. Maybe Spanish or Algerian, but basically white. In Alberta, Leb had been a black guy. Here, he was a white-guy-trying-to-be-a-black-guy.
By the time we hooked up, Leb was pretending to have a sense of humour about this (i.e. saying to friends, “help a wigga out”). From time to time, he’d mix up his hip hop gear with a Diesel-type look; on these occasions, he’d say something like “today, I look like a Gino.” Leb had a brown-girl fetish and while I knew deep down that was idiotic, I kind of liked it for a minute. It was especially intriguing to Leb that I was Trinidadian, since apparently his biological father was too (possibly a lie). He’d ask me all the time if Trinidadians were “smart” and whether I thought he was brown or black.
Fetishists make the current object of their obsession feel like the centre of the universe. And y’know, it was more attractive than I expected, because yeah, every day of my life I’ve been suffocated by tv shows and magazine covers and everything and everything else focused on the apex of beauty, white women. It’s childish and dumb to say “white girls are flat-assed and ugly.” But hearing it was strangely comforting. I knew straight off that Leb was a racially confused soul, but that didn’t bug me at first. What it took me far too long to accept was that he was a lying liar who threw distasteful and scary temper tantrums and planned on funding his champagne lifestyle by bullying money out of me, his friends and his ever-infantilizing parents. Why am I telling you this shame-inducing story? Don’t judge me.
The particular nexus of low self-esteem/absolute insanity that led me into this “relationship” is not something I want to revisit, but in my defense, I did protest the Marc Ecko Loaded Bullet. I pointed out that it was bullshit of the first order to appropriate violence as something shiny and fashionable when one had grown up in a dangerous, strife-ridden suburb called Spruce Grove. He told me that it was just a cool, shiny object and I should stop overanalyzing everything.
But that’s me, dog, I was born overanalyzing. So, I’ve thought about it and thought about it and thought about it and—I don’t think you’re brown OR black. You are totally Portuguese.*
This post is part of the Interracial Dating issue of the Ethnic Aisle, the only publication for which I would publicly regurgitate this much TMI. Inspired by the piece Negroni Season, which made me laugh, cringe and empathize until my abs hurt.
*”White” people in Trinidad are descended from Portuguese colonizers. They’re pretty mixed by this point though. They kind of look Lebanese.
When people talk about the Great Downtown/Suburb Divide, they are also talking about ethnicity.
Don’t agree? Educate yourself on the GTA’s demographics with this extremely handy page from the blog Pundit’s Guide, which cross references long-census data with federal political ridings.
Scarborough Rouge-River (where I grew up) has the highest non-white population in all of Canada. The GTA riding with the highest population of Chinese people is Scarborough-Agincourt. South Asians are most numerous in Brampton-Gore-Malton. Those who checked “Black” and “Latin American” on the census are most populous in York South-Weston
, in central Etobicoke*, while Southeast Asians are abundant in York West, a bit north. The largest congregation of Filipinos is in Scarborough Centre, while Arabs prefer Mississauga-Erindale, and West Asians and Koreans represent Willowdale.
The only “visible minority” (ugh, hate that term) group counted by the Canadian census which has more members in downtown Toronto than in the ‘burbs are the Japanese. Toronto Centre is their most populous GTA riding—it’s 19 on the list, after 18 areas in British Columbia and Alberta.
The Suburb vs. Downtown conversation is also about income, since it’s long been known that the outer 416 has a higher concentration of poverty than downtown. In this city at this time, class always has an ethnic angle.
After last fall’s municipal election, when downtowners stung by Rob Ford’s ascendance were circling their wagons, they seemed to take comfort by trashing the stereotypical suburbanite: a gas-guzzling art-hater laughing it up in a big backyard. Ford notwithstanding, that’s not necessarily who an outer 416 suburbanite is. But it’s definitely confusing that the people with the most to lose from service-cutting governments like that led by Rob Ford—poor people of colour—seem to have voted for him.
“The Fords misled people to thinking there was gravy,” says Avvy Go, a member of Colour of Poverty, a four-year-old campaign to educated Ontarians about the racialization of poverty in the province. Last fall, Colour of Poverty gave each mayoral candidate a grade on their “race report card,” noting the candidates’ history and their stances on transit, housing and employment equity. Rob Ford got an F.
“Yes, people in the suburbs voted for a government that would cut services that they need,” says Go, who recommends that we all read The Trouble With Billionaires. “Some politicians are very skilled in dumbing down, picking an overly simplistic portrayal of the problem.” When $60 equals a week of groceries for your family, cutting the vehicle registration tax seems like a good idea. Ford is to blame, and voters are to blame, but also to blame are the mayor’s losing opponents, who obviously did not do a very good job explaining their own platforms, or picking his apart. And really, there are downtowners that drive and suburbanites that always loathed Ford. More than anything, the Harris Tories divide-and-conquer amalgamation plan is still succeeding, over a decade later.
The role of ethnicity, income and the 416/905 divide is a hot topic among politicos. Suburban Dream-type suburbanites are living in the 905, and they, too, are largely non-white (white people who want a slice of backyard are apparently skipping over the 905 in favour of exurban paradises). The erosion of ironclad Liberal support among immigrant groups is making it easier for both the Conservatives and the Ontario PCs to live without winning votes in Toronto, and to win those 905 votes, they’re playing the race card without shame. Brampton has the highest income of all of the GTA cities, and politicians are falling over themselves kissing brown ass out there.
This week, we’re talking race, ethnicity, 416 and 905 on the Ethnic Aisle. I don’t know exactly what it means, but I know that it matters.
*Thanks to Rob Salerno and Dave Scrivener for the fact check – York isn’t Etobicoke. What’s the role/identity of midtown in all of this?
A few years ago, the window display at Get Outside at Queen and Spadina stopped me in my tracks. There, among the trendy leather moccasins, was a family of Native dolls posed in front of a teepee. There was a bare-chested, six-packed chief dad, a scantily clad, pigtailed mom, and their cute, primitive little kids. I pitched this as a story to a local weekly—I wanted to stop some passers-by and do quick streeters on whether they had the same reaction I did—but they didn’t buy it. So I just went home and muttered to myself.
Native fashion makes me feel weird. It so often reduces a huge and complicated group of people to caricatures. I feel weird, too, because I only know a handful of indigenous Canadians, and only in passing. I’m not trying to adopt anyone’s battles, or be an expert on a topic about which I actually know nothing. But I think it’s fair to say that freezing Native people into Pocahontas poses in order to sell furry mukluks is basically bullshit. Newsflash—we’ve all come into the 21st century together. Or actually, we haven’t: as of this past February, 116 First Nations communities in Canada didn’t have safe drinking water. I think this is what really angers me, that so often Canadians use art, design and culture to reduce Native people to cartoons while ignoring both their painful histories, and their difficult present. Don’t even get me started on Will and Kate watching “aboriginal” dancers (no tribe mentioned), or Stephen Harper putting on a headdress and face paint. No really, don’t get me started. Go look at Kent Monkman’s paintings instead.
Back to fashion: apparently Navajo prints and colours are currently “in.” The adoption of any culture’s art or fashion aesthetic by the mainstream is always cause for an eye-roll. What’s in today is of course out tomorrow, and boo to you, fair-trade Indian cotton, the customers are now bored by your livelihood. The thing is, though, that Navajo design (and embroidered cheong sams, and intricate mehndi) is gorgeous. I’m going to save myself the embarrassment of trying to articulate this fully, as fashion-speak isn’t my forte: let’s just say the colours are vibrant, the prints are bold, the turquoise-and-silver jewelry is stunning, and if you want to know more, hit Google. A good place to start would be the Beyond Buckskin blog, where Jessica R. Metcalfe writes lively and knowledgeable stuff about Native fashion, including celebrating non-indigenous designers who work respectfully with traditional artisans when adopting these ancient arts.
If you’re going to wear Navajo, good for you. It’s some eye-catching stuff. What would make it even better was learning a bit about the history of the people who made it—let’s start with the Long Walk of 1863 and 1864. This is paraphrased from the site Legends of America:
“After years of war and starvation with the United States, 8,500 Navajo and Apache men, women and children were marched almost 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. The ill-planned site, named for a grove of cottonwoods by the river, turned into a virtual prison camp. Bosque Redondo was hailed as a miserable failure, the victim of poor planning, disease, crop infestation and generally poor conditions for agriculture. The Navajo were finally acknowledged sovereignty in the historic Treaty of 1868. They returned to their land along the Arizona-New Mexico border hungry and in rags. Today, they are the largest Native American community in the United States.”
That’s a pretty ferocious history, wear it well.
This post is part of the Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race, ethnicity and diversity in the GTA.
Alright, so here’s my two cents on Toronto Life’s current exodus to the suburbs story. A few notes before I begin:
I write for TL a fair bit (including a story in this very issue! About insomnia! Don’t sleep on it!), and I’m not going to trash the mag in favour of some mythical Toronto publication that gets it all right (more on this later). I’m also friends with Philip Preville, so aside from this—PHILIP, YOU LITTER? GROSS!—I’m not going to trash him either.
Others have already done a good job exploring the rather obvious point that the story has a packaging problem. I agree that it’s not about the suburbs, but small towns that are becoming exurbs whether they like it or not. So I’ll stay away from that, too. I’m going to focus on two things: economics and demographics.
Let’s start with the money bit. I don’t care if suburbanites/exurbanites don’t want to live here, but it’s ridiculous that we let them sneer at the overcrowdedness of the TTC and then turn around and take the money that we need to fix the TTC up to Uxbridge. What the story reinforced for me is that if people need Toronto to fund their gorgeous new Annex-mansions-in-Dundas, Toronto needs to stand up for itself. Most (all?) of the families interviewed have at least one partner who is relying on Toronto for a salary; meanwhile the city is suffering from years of provincial downloading and federal derision. Whether it’s via road tolls, or disincentives for companies with offices in the 416 to hire outside the city, or something else, it’s time for this financial engine to demand some cash money respect.
I also wondered about the effect of flush Torontonians buying up the nicest Victorians in Cobourg’s Rosedale on the current residents of the small towns in question. (Ok, I’ll say it: the focus on gorgeous real estate is sooooooo Toronto Life. It’s hilarious that the one family that lives in a typical nouveau salmon-brick suburban house is shown in their backyard.) Funding a 705 lifestyle with 416 money would seem to replicate awful Vancouver-y real estate markets. That kind of sucks for the original 705-ers. I can’t figure out if I think The New Exurbanites are contributing to sprawl. I suppose if they buy up the old houses, then people who work at lower-salaried jobs are left with new builds, but that’s pretty indirect. I’m still musing on this one.
Random thought unrelated to my points of focus: it’s my understanding that parenting is a fraught and paranoid practice everywhere, and I highly doubt, Philip, that you’re trusting your kids with random friendly small-towners. I was in Kingston this past weekend (itself a lovely town where a four-bedroom, 150-year-old, heartbreakingly gorgeous stone house was $539,000, sheesh) and shuddered when passing the penitentiary. Paul Bernardo’s worst crimes happened in St. Catharine’s, remember? Evil and goodness are not location specific.
On to demographics: There’s no mention of diversity at all, except for a weird comment about the Toronto-ditchers missing the food here. As far as I’m concerned, every single piece of journalism that claims to be about any meaningful shift in Toronto’s demographics has to tackle ethnicity head on. Otherwise, the half has never been told. And it’s fine for the commenters at Spacing to insult TL for white blindness, but let me take this opportunity to say that I don’t think any publication in this city consistently parses GTA diversity in any quality way. Good thing the Ethnic Aisle is planning a Suburbs vs. Downtown issue for September.
Months ago, a (white) friend told me that he and his (white) fiancée figure they’ll eventually move out of Toronto. They want the space and the quiet and all of that. A number of my white friends have talked to me about their desire to leave the city, for the usual reasons, from lower house prices to less road rage. During one of these convos, last spring, my reaction was visceral, i.e. rude: I blurted “well, enjoy life among all white people.” I apologized afterward, but I’m still bothered. I just can’t escape this nagging feeling that when people say they like the “simplicity” of the exurbs (or cottage country), it’s at least partially a code word for “homogeneity.” Everyone loves udon and dosas, but dealing with all that language-barrier stuff at your kid’s public school is so complicated. On Metro Morning, Philip said that his research shows that it isn’t just white people that are moving out of the city. The omission of that info from the actual article is a major flaw. If Toronto’s weaknesses are leading the entire region to self-segregate, that’s something to be obsessing over, not ignored.
Did I say anything new here? I dunno. When I was writing this, I kept humming LCD Soundsystem. Toronto’s having a hard time right now, and sure, it gets me down. But you know what? This is my hometown and I love it. I want to fix it, not flee.
I’ve got 50 first cousins. Yeah, you read that right. As part of the Ethnic Aisle’s Pride edition, here’s a Q&A with Clyde, the only one that’s openly gay.
Was there an actual day that you came out to your parents?
There was. I believe it was 1994, I was 21. I came home from classes on my birthday, which is October 11, which is also National Coming Out Day in the U.S. Oprah Winfrey was having a special where she talked to parents who were dealing with the issues raised by their GLBT kids. I watched the program with my mom. Afterward, I turned to her and said “And you know I’m gay, right?” She sort of sighed and said “are you sure it’s not a phase?” I said no, and she said ok. I kind of left her there with that.
Two days later, I was hanging around with my sister, Suzanne, and late brother, Andy, and mom came up to me. She gave me a hug and said “I don’t care, I love you anyway. I’m glad you came out of the cupboard.” This became a huge lost-in-translation joke.
My latest real estate roundup in The Grid: commercial spaces with apartments on top.