While there is no doubt that we, as ostensibly civilized human beings, have come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement back in the late 1960’s, there is no denying, however, that racism and racial stereotyping is still very much alive and kicking today. We can certainly fool ourselves all we want into believing that racism/racial stereotyping hardly exists, due to the reason that many parts within North America has now become a melting pot of diverse ethnic races that are now seemingly “living in harmony”; yet, the fact of the matter is that intentional, as well as unintentional, forms of racism still exist, and it manages to leak into our everyday lives, despite our being an ‘enlightened’ and ‘progressive’ society.
More so, sadly, I sometimes hear colleagues, acquaintances as well as people I’ve barely met start conversations with, “I am not racist, but…” and it perturbs me because these people are fully aware of the blatant racist or stereotypical remark that they’re making, yet are completely oblivious to the fact that they themselves are in fact racist too, or have some sort of phobia against certain races. These are people who are unintentionally racist. They realize that what they are about to say will mostly likely be perceived as inappropriate and offensive, but they don’t mean to cause any harm; they may actually mean well –for the most part, at least. These are people who have, unfortunately, fallen prey to the uncanny societal stereotypes that currently exist in our society. They may or may not agree with those stereotypes, but because they are so heavily ingrained in our society and especially in the media, they feel comfortable enough to succumb to these bigoted norms, insofar that they clarify their “non-racist’ status.
However, on the other hand, there are those who are intentionally racist. These are people who have a very skewed perception of certain, more “exotic” races, going as far as using intentional, blatant stereotypical remarks in order to hurt or offend someone. They unashamedly assume things about certain cultures, without logic or reason, and use words or phrases that are very narrow-minded and offensive. A prime example of such ignorance was depicted at a nightclub in Canada — Peterborough, Ontario, to be exact — over a year ago, where a bouncer approached a young woman, pulled her aside and impudently advised her, and I quote:
I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing for you people but East Indian people like yourself have a cultural odour problem.
Ayesha Asghar, who identifies herself as a Pakistani-Canadian woman and not East Indian, was at Club Aria on May 10th, 2013, minding her own business, when the boorish bouncer approached her and indirectly asked her to leave, because the ‘guests’ (there were less than ten on the dance floor that night) complained about the ‘odour’. And even though Ms. Asghar might have been the only woman of colour in the said nightclub at the time, it gives no one the right to treat her the way they did, assuming things about her simply based on the colour of her skin. As a Pakistani-Canadian woman myself, I am fully aware of the stereotypes that currently exist against South and Central Asians, and “being smelly” is usually at the top of that list.
There appears to be a common misconception that “Indian people stink,” because it is often, albeit wrongly, believed that in India there is no concept of using deodorants as most just make do with using “soap and water.” This is the stereotype that is currently prevalent against many South-and Central-Asians, and we see this depicted everywhere, especially in the media. And while some of this depiction has been tried in good humour, it is however insulting and degrading for the most part. It is not funny or humourous. And it is certainly not entertaining. While it may perhaps be true that some South-and Central-Asians prefer to use soap over deodorant, it is very unfair to paint every single person — every single South-and Central-Asian — who happens to hail from that region of the world with the same brush. That’s like saying all white (Canadian) people play hockey, or that all Latinos love and eat tacos, or that all Arabs are terrorists. Stereotypes are ugly and unethical, because it makes us assume things — baseless, highly erroneous assumptions — about a certain race without truly understanding it. Besides, not everyone with a dark/tan skin tone is automatically “Indian” for the same reason that not all people with slanted eyes are “Chinese.” Asia is huge; there are hundreds and thousands of different ethnicities on that continent alone. Thus, to categorize a person or groups of people into one single race, because they happen to “look it,” is very ignorant and foolish.
Besides, Ms. Asghar’s experience with racism and stereotyping is not the first of its kind, and it’s certainly not the first time that racism has been depicted in a night club in Canada. A similar incident occurred a few years ago, in 2011, where a woman of mixed heritage (Cree, Metis, Ojibwa and Scottish) was denied access into a club in Vancouver, British Columbia, because she’d arrived with a golf club and was told she was not allowed to enter with it. She then returned without it, and was once again denied entry because she was wearing moccasins. And when she protested and stated that her moccasins bore a strong connection to her ancestors and for centuries of hunting, the bouncer told her that she should “hunt outside since there were no buffalos inside the club.” The woman was then physically assaulted and called a “prostitute,” and when she reported the incident through the Human Rights Tribunal, the spokesperson for the club simply stated that the woman was “unruly and intoxicated.” As appalling and distressing as this incident was, it was not much different from the way Ms. Asghar was treated either, minus the physical assault and being called a prostitute bit.
Nevertheless, Ms. Asghar’s dreadful experience at Club Aria last year did not go unnoticed or without fairness, because about two weeks ago, her case was brought to light in front of a judge and jury, after she’d filed a complaint against the club through the Human Rights Tribunal. And the verdict that ensued, which was that of a fair settlement, was not only glorifying but Ms. Asghar also received the justice that she deserved and was entitled to.
Needless to say, had the club addressed her concerns and apologized for the horrible way she was treated at the club, there wouldn’t have been a need to take the case to the courts. However, the owners instead sent her a letter stating that she was “drunk” — a blatant lie, considering that Ms. Asghar does not drink — and that they, “yet had to speak to the specific bouncer about the incident.” To make matters worse, this was aired on the local news, adding more salt to the wounds.
Thus, filing a complaint against the club through the Human Rights Tribunal proved to be an excellent decision, as it not only shed light on the problematic issue of racism that still currently exists in our society, but it will also hopefully allow more women like Ms. Asghar to come forward and share their experiences with racism, not shying away from demanding the justice that they deserve.
Racism is disgusting. It’s horrible, and it seriously needs to end soon. We need to learn to look past skin colours and other physical differences, because at the end of the day, that is all what we are: human beings. No race is more superior. And no one has the right to belittle you, or make you feel worthless, just because they happen to be suffering from a superiority complex. Ms. Asghar sums it up perfectly on her blog:
Standing up to racism, discrimination and harassment is an important part of encouraging people to speak up. Our communities need to know that there are venues where we can challenge systemic discrimination and racism. Our voices will always be heard and there is no power in the world to ignore us.