In the 19th century, when black American slaves were escaping north along the underground railroad, they would refer to their final destination Canada as “heaven” or “the promise land”. Although slavery had been abolished in the British colonies since 1834, upon arrival these newly freed black men and women faced the reality of legislative, systemic and overt racism.
When my parents came to Canada in the early 1960’s, it was at a time of a large migration of West Indians, mainly professionals who had been educated and were living in England. Canada was again considered “the promise land”, especially due to the perception at the time, that it was a more favourable society for blacks when compared to the racial turmoil occurring in America. Listening to some of the experiences of my parents and their peers who had lived in England, things there weren’t that rosy for black people either. So emigrating, living, working and raising a family in Canada was desirable.
Blacks in Canada: A Long History
My parents took me to Jamaica to stay with my maternal grandparents while working to establish themselves in Toronto. By the time I came to Canada at 5 yrs. old, I had a sister and the country became my home. Although we returned to Jamaica for a while to live, now with 2 sisters, I consider myself a Canadian. I love and appreciate the country, although in no way is it “heaven” or “the promised land” for some immigrants. Despite perception and reputation, Canada has it’s problems and issues regarding racism and discrimination: NIGGER!
I have had white people in Canada tell me there is no racism here. They sincerely believe this, particularly since they are comparing Canadian society with race relations in America. It’s a lot more overt and in your face there for sure, but racism in Canada is more systemic and covert. It’s finely interwoven within our society, starting with legislative policies regarding Aboriginals, immigration and multiculturism, straight through our education, justice and social services, ending within our interpersonal relationships. Canada appeared to be such a heavenly place, that when the apartheid government of South Africa was planning to set up their Bantustans, they came here in the 1940’s to examine our “Indian Reserve System” and later modeled elements of apartheid after the Canadian system.
However contained and suppressed the overt racist impulses are here, every so often they bubble over. Recently I posted this news article about a KKK costume winning first prize at a Halloween party in Campbellford, Ontario. 2 brothers in Nova Scotia were also recently convicted of inciting racial hatred and criminal harassment after a cross was burned on an interracial couple’s lawn, while they and their 5 children were at home (read here).
There are those who will say these are just isolated incidents and don’t represent true Canadian society. On the flip side, I’m not saying that these incidents prove that Canada is without doubt a racist country. What I am saying is that depending on which side of the colour line you’re on, heaven is a place where nothing ever happens: