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The Shape of Things Too Dumb

Posted by Dirck on 6 November, 2012

I’m about to launch into another digression which will eventually descend into unoriginality; I’ll warn you when I get there.  Something awful in the direction of human idiocy passed by me yesterday afternoon, and I find it is festering and needs some light put on it.

I am also flirting with revelations about The Regular Job, but that’s the context in which the events took place.  I got a call from a client (in the Regular Job use of the word).  After attending to the matter at hand, the client began, with some basis in the preceding conversation, to recount a near-collision he’d had a couple of days earlier.

“How shocking,” say I, hoping by my tone to convey a degree of appropriate sympathy alloyed with the sense that I’ve got other duties to attend to.

“Yeah.  Boy, they shouldn’t be allowed to drive, those… new Canadians.  Hur hur!”

There now follows a pause , on his part waiting for the convivial laughter of one in sympathy with his views.  It draws out for about forty seconds, taking on a new nature; the silence of harsh, icy disapproval; I say nothing, because to say anything would either be understood as encouragement (not interested) or shouting of invective (must not).  He eventually said “Er. Um. Goodbye,” and rang off.

Thus ends the original content, really.  What follows is stuff you’ve likely heard before in various forms, and it is an expansion of the shouted invective I was unable to offer as a lesson to my dim, racist caller.

Let us start with the obvious; Canada is a nation filled with the offspring of immigrants.  Unless, in my local context, your name ends in something like Ahenakew or Seesequasis, you are countable as a “new Canadian”.  Given the region the call came from (revealed to my by technology), I suspect the caller’s antecedents arrived about 1900 in a wave of immigration from central Europe; these folks were, of course, made fun of by the diversely British previous wave of immigration, but as is always the case they’re just part of the tapestry now. 

Now, onto the less obvious.  This is not a video phone.  You cannot tell by the sound of my voice that I’m anything more than good at adopting local accents; I may be anywhere in the world, and I may be any colour including bright blue.  As it happens, I am from (with the broad radii we use in this part of the world) the same place as you, but… I’m also a first-generation Canadian.  My father is a “new Canadian”; an immigrant by choice rather than a refugee, but an immigrant all the same.  As it happens, his point of departure was Europe, so I’m as off-pink as any other long-established Canadian… except, of course, for those whose families came from China to help lay out railroads, who are both not quite the same skin-tone and have a rather better claim by eminent domain on the title “Canadian”.

What troubles me, what really gets under my off-pink skin, is that the creature who revealed his racism to me and thought I must necessarily be on the same track is not some crusty old guy who formed his view of the world before Rosa Parks took her famous bus ride down in the US.  My powers of snooping at Regular Job reveal to me that he’s the same age as me.  I find this shocking.  I grew up with a face-full of Sesame Street.  I spent my school years in classrooms containing kids of skin tones from Leah Pinsent to Andre Braugher, and last names from all continents except Antarctica and Atlantis.  I heard a diversity of accents; mostly the accent of the Canadian prairies, but enough others that I’m seldom confounded by someone speaking “broken” English.  I grew up in a city, yes, and the chap I spoke to may have been a farm kid… but that’s hardly an excuse for intolerance of anything except locusts and coyotes.

I am sad, in the end, because while I knew in an academic way that these attitudes were still abroad, it had been a long time since the last time I actually rubbed up against them.  There’s no amount of showering that gets it off, either.  At least my response is no longer just racing around in my head, scuffing up the floors and damaging the woodwork.  Thanks, internet!

Today’s immigrant pen: Waterman Carène
Today’s ink from elsewhere: Herbin Lis de Thé

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4 Responses to “The Shape of Things Too Dumb”

  1. Sadly that does seem to be an alarming trend these days..down here in the states too.

    • It is a grim state of affairs, isn’t it? I’m anxious to blame sports, with it’s perpetuation of the urge towards tribalism, but that’s proably just my own prejudices at work….

  2. …and then two days later I find the following as a search string which actually brought someone to my site: “decline in white population usa”

    I have to imagine they were entirely disappointed in my All Pens content, whatever the motivation.

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