After an Ontario human rights tribunal ordered a Chinese restaurant to pay $10,000 to a black customer whose rights were violated, there have been several conversations on social media around anti-blackness in diverse cities like Toronto.
Toronto resident Emile Wickham went to Hong Shing Chinese restaurant with three black friends in May 2014 to celebrate his birthday. Wickham said when the server took their orders, he and his friends were asked to pay for their meals upfront — a policy the restaurant apparently had.
“We were asking them, ‘How could you do this to us? This is not right,’ and we were very clear in that,” he told Global News on Monday. “But even then, we had to watch our responses to them because we are black. We can’t show our frustration as somebody else would because we’re seen as aggressive.”
Wickham asked other customers at the restaurant if they had to follow the same “policy,” and the ones he spoke to replied no.
WATCH ABOVE: The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a downtown Chinese restaurant to pay a black customer $10,000 as compensation for violating his rights. Shallima Maharaj has the story.
The tribunal ruled the restaurant did not offer a credible non-discriminatory reason for its employees’ actions and concluded that Wickham had been racially profiled.
On Twitter, several social media users talked about anti-blackness in the city and even shared similar experiences.
Prof. George Elliott Clarke of the department of English and the faculty of arts and science at the University of Toronto, says anti-black racism from non-black people of colour is embedded in “new world societies” and trickles down from colonization by Europeans in their own countries. And as diverse as Toronto is, it can still be anti-black.
“Torontonians are not immune to this history,” he tells Global News. “I think this is a glorious city making great strides in showing that it is possible to bring together people of different faiths and racial backgrounds … but at the same time I acknowledge the racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and attacks of people against faith. We rely too much on a rhetoric on multiculturalism and togetherness.”
Impacts of colonization
Prof. Ajay Parasram of the University of Dalhousie’s department of history and international development studies, tells Global News much of anti-blackness from other minority groups like South Asians boils down to the racial hierarchy that existed when they were colonized.
He says what’s important about Wickham’s interaction with this particular Chinese restaurant is how different colonized people internalize white supremacy, which he believes is the root of anti-blackness.
Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto adds to understand anti-blackness as a whole, we also have to look at societal structures and how blackness historically has been linked to violence, criminality, laziness or other negative cultural representations. This, he adds, is the effect of white supremacy.
“White supremacy is not just located in one particular context, it’s an idea that transcends borders to which many immigrant groups subscribe to, whether explicitly or implicitly.”
Then there is the general representation of black men and women in the media, often as aggressive, criminal or angry. To a new immigrant, negative messages like these can easily turn into stereotypes of the black community.
The ‘model minority’
And while he adds some Asians in particular also hold values around family and education — or as Parasram says “good” stereotypes like being nerdy or smart — Lee says this doesn’t tackle the overt and subtle racial discrimination against black and Indigenous groups.
READ MORE: The #FirstTimeIWasCalled project
Clarke says there are also global political reasons for the model minority model because when colonization ended in countries in Asia and started to spread throughout Africa and the Caribbean, Asian countries were able to quickly adapt to a capital model and became players in world markets for technology and cars, for example.
He adds although some African and Caribbean countries lagged behind, it may also fuel anti-black perceptions of hardworking and successful communities — especially as they emigrate to North American countries.
Growing up with shadeism
Shadeism or colourism is also an important factor as to why some minority groups are anti-black, and this is evident in several countries.
Parasram says in countries like India where skin whitening or bleaching creams are so normalized, it still roots down to the racial hierarchy discussed earlier. “We are still bleaching our skin and this is something Indians, East Asians, Africans do,” he continues. “We make ourselves look presentable and therefore treated differently, but the root of all of it is the racism.”
Clarke says even within their own countries, some minority groups already demonize darker skin complexions, and for a long time (and even arguably now), darker skin was associated with poverty, while lighter skin was associated with success.
And while anti-blackness can’t be fixed overnight and just doesn’t happen when black customers go to restaurants, Parasram says we need to focus on larger structures within society. He says when we hear about stories like Wickham’s experience at a restaurant, we have to be critical and stand together in solidarity.
Lee says we have to change the conversation about black Canadians and break down how our justice system, for example, continues to discriminate against them.
“Microaggressions add up and they become traumatic over time. If we allow these things to happen, larger forms of discrimination become easier to stomach and we shouldn’t ignore it.”
— with files from The Canadian Press