Questioning Being Black and White in Canada

Posted in Articles, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive on 2012-08-28 02:27Z by Steven

Questioning Being Black and White in Canada

Canadian Dimension: for people who want to change the world

Denise Hansen

“Canadians have a favourite pastime, and they don’t even realize it. They like to ask—they absolutely love to ask—where you are from if you don’t look convincingly white. They want to know it, they need to know it, simply must have that information. They just can’t relax until they have pin-pointed, to their satisfaction, your geographic and racial coordinates. They can go almost out of their minds with curiosity, as when driven by the need for food, water, or sex, but once they’ve finally managed to find out precisely where you were born, who your parents were, and what your racial makeup is, then, man, do they feel better. They can breathe easy and get back to the business of living.” —An except from Lawrence Hill’s Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

Lawrence Hill dubs it The Question and, indeed, for most black/white mixed Canadians The Question has become a reoccurring topic of conversation fielded in classrooms, workplaces, out with new friends, in busy line-ups and crowded bars…most any public place. Most commonly asked in the form of “where are you from?”, “what’s your background?”, or put ignorantly simply as “what are you?”, The Question has become a defining aspect of the black/white mixed race experience for people of black and white descent living in Canada.

But is The Question just harmless curiosity? Or does The Question unconsciously reveal deeply held racial assumptions, sometimes even racist values? Either way, The Question puts race centre stage in a society where, ironically, the topic is often avoided, evaded at best. Is it time to take The Question as an opportunity to educate Canadians about issues of mixed race and blackness?…

…“People are socialized to uncritically accept racial categories. They want to know who mixed race people are affiliated with, perhaps as a guide to how they can engage with them,” explains Professor Leanne Taylor who studies multiracial and multiethnic identities at Brock University. Taylor adds that in Canada the idea of mixed race has even been commodified and exported internationally as the lived reality of what multiculturalism is—the message (falsely) being: ‘look at all these beautiful, mixed people as a symbol of how well people are getting along in Canada’….

Read the entire essay here.

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