Like peanut butter and jam, with Malcolm Subban in net for Team Canada during the World Junior Tournament also came the racist tweets and comments. It is becoming old news: black hockey player = racist taunts. If you would like to see what was tweeted check out this article by Rachel DeCoste, ‘A N*gger in Net': Racism at the World Juniors, or this one by Neate Sager, World junior championship: Racial tinge to social media slams of Canada goalie Malcolm Subban. Like I said, it’s nothing new when social media enthusiasts capitalize on the rarity of a watching a person of colour play hockey to write about bananas, cages, and monkeys, but what I noticed this time is how writers and commenters are so quick to defend Canada’s multicultural identity. Granted, not all of the tweets are from Canadians but regardless of where they come from we as noble Canadians often uncritically stand up and say “Whoa! Racism is not cool and that is not what the maple leaf stands for.” I think it’s time to face that fact that maybe it is what we are about, at least a little.
Sager wrote, “It’s brutal. No one should be singled out on the basis of race, least of all during a spots [sic] event….It should be embarrassing that some Canadians revealed such an ugly side while getting caught up in the world junior championship.” Similarly, Decoste concludes her article stating
Nevermind the naysayers: the values Canada stands for have seeped into our roster at the World Juniors. Canada will continue to prove to ourselves and the world that our multiculturalism, our diversity and our spirit of inclusion form a hat-trick that cannot be beat. Go Team Canada!
First of all, a sports event is the PERFECT arena to single out an athlete for any reason. Much like gladiators in the Colosseum, they are the centre of attention. We see their faces on the jumbo-tron when they score and when they get a penalty. We single out the game-winner and we single out the game failure. If you want to make a fool or hero out of anyone a sporting event is where to do it. Furthermore, when Sager writes, “least of all during a sports event” it is as if sport represents something holy and sacred where expectations for both players and spectators are higher than in any other activity. If best behaviour is expected at sporting events then they should probably stop selling alcohol, but I digress. In other words, you can have racist thoughts and share them but not at a sporting event. Maybe sports is supposed to bring out the best in us but we should not be so naive, or perhaps ignorant, to think that the worst in us stays at home on game days. Unfortunately, we are package deals and if you discriminate at work, home, or school you will also discriminate on the field.
Second, Decoste’s statement drips with polite Canadian ideology. This is not necessarily a bad thing to believe that we are an inclusive nation and it is definitely accurate to describe us as a diverse peoples; however, to say that diversity inherently breeds inclusion is a problematic, and usually false, conclusion. Just as Canada has prided itself on a peacekeeping identity so too have we puffed out our chests with regards to multiculturalism. But when we stop living in the past and rhetoric that makes us feel good we realize that in 2006 Canada ranked 55th out of 108 countries for peacekeeping participation and currently approximately only 100 of the 70,000 peacekeepers deployed are Canadian. Similarly, when we shake the house that represents our multiculturalism we learn that it is not nearly as solid as some would like us to believe.
Not talking about race and pretending not to see colour is not multiculturalism. As Joseph Mensah (2002) explains “As Canadians, we have the tendency not only to ignore our racist past, but also dismiss any contemporary racial incidents as nothing but aberrations in an essentially peaceful, tolerant, charitable, and egalitarian nation.” (p.1). This is a perfect explanation of the articles I referenced earlier where both of the writers treat these racist tweets against Subban as aberrations. I suggest that they only seem like aberrations because watching a person of colour play hockey in Canada is itself an aberration. However, if every time someone who is non-white puts on a jersey and a racist comment is made then the act of racism is consistent. Decoste says that our “values…have seeped into our rosters” but I think that as more Kadris, Subbans, Kariyas, and Tootoos make their way to higher levels of hockey that is when we will truly find out which are our Canadian values.
As a Chinese-Canadian woman I grew up with the same philosophy that both Sager and Decoste write about, that as Canadians we welcome everyone and that race doesn’t matter. Today, I understand that this an ideal and far from reality. We should use these instances to reflect on the separation between our words and our actions. Don’t get me wrong, I am and always will be a proud Canadian and hockey fan but I think it is time we acknowledge that there are more racist and discriminatory feelings and acts within our borders than we would like to believe. We can either continue to believe the myth or make it a reality.
I will conclude with excerpts from an open letter titled, The Myth of the Mosaic as food for thought:
The picture that we have is that Canada is a land where new immigrants are encouraged to retain their traditions, where we respect the uniqueness of minority groups, and where pluralism and diversity are honoured. Canada is contra the U.S., where immigrants are assimilated, where they are forced to pledge allegiance to the American flag first, and where their traditions must be secondary to the American way….
Government policy is one thing, but the question remains, how do people actually live in Canada? In Vancouver, as in Toronto and Montreal, there is a very different perception of diversity than in the rest of the country. For those who live in one of these three cities, it probably seems like Canada is a pretty diverse place. But even in Vancouver, this may not be as true as we think. Our ideal of different people living together, each enriched by others’ cultures, has typically manifested itself as a series of ghettos for minorities.
The myth of the mosaic betrays the Janus face of Canadian diversity: we live in a country where women couldn’t vote until 1918, where Japanese-Canadians were forcibly moved into camps during World War II, where Aboriginals on reserves were denied patronage until 1960, where it was illegal to be a homosexual until 1969, and where we’ve been bragging about our multicultural, tolerant mosaic since the late 1930’s.
Mensah, J. (2002). Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions. Halifax: Fernwood.