Racism in Canada

How to Understand Racism in Canada

Is racism killing black people in the US? I hope not, and as a Canadian, it is easy to pat myself on the back about our lack of racism when we watch our American neighbours implode every weekend with news about cops shooting another black kid. It made me wonder how racism in Canada affects me?

I was visiting family in Newfoundland when I began chatting with my father’s uncle, Bruce. That’s when I found out I was an Indian. It was a surprise.


I knew people would be upset, but you will NEVER guess what made people mad.

Last week I started up a war. I wrote a controversial post about the country of Africa and said that due to bad press because of the Ebola media hoopla, I was going to share some “lesser known facts” so people could understand the ‘real Africa’. I wrote a blog post. A lot of people complained when I said Africa is a country. It struck a nerve.

The Country of Africa

So why did I say that Africa is a country when I knew it was not true? It was all a joke of course. I know that Africa is an ancient city-state stretched along an enormous archipelago of 15 large and hundreds of smaller islands just off the western coast of India. For reference purposes, I have included a quick sketch of that fabled land (not to scale):

Africa is a country
A map of the Country of Africa

Why did I write the post? I had some noble reasons: I wanted to break stereotypes, stop the ‘poor African’ storyline, and to share a conversation with a wide audience, the same conversation I have shared with plenty of Africans  over the years.

I also wrote the article to have a little fun and I figured more people might read it.

There was a method to the madness, but if I am honest, it wasn’t until I saw the comments on Facebook or Twitter that I really understood what I had written. In the middle of the backlash one small niggling fact really stuck out for me. I learned a lot from it.



First of all, if you missed it, go read it and then come back here. I can wait.

In my post I tried to give plenty of cues that I was writing satire. I kept repeating that Africa is a country, and then wrote something else equally silly. Most caught the hints. If you were just skim-reading you may have missed what I was trying to say. Here are the clues I tried to leave:

  • I gave my article a sensational over-the-top title like the headlines that flood my Facebook stream.
  • I made sure that every single sentence I wrote was ridiculous or wrong, or both.
  • I made up absurd facts. Some were so crazy I thought that I had gone too far.
  • I used the most condescending language I could think of
  • I made up senseless quotes from imaginary people.
  • Each of my links in the post actually told the exact opposite story.
  • I kept the ruse going. I played an arrogant jerk or a clueless idiot in my Facebook responses when people reacted.
The Country of Africa
“up to your usual jackassery”

Africa is a Country: The reaction

I got a lot of confusing “WTF!?!” type responses. A number of people tried to correct my uninformed facts. But I must say that I was personally surprised by one little thing. Most people would only scold me about the error of my title. Again and again I was told:

“Africa is a continent, not a country!”

I was surprised that with all the dumb things I said about Africa, people were mostly concerned about my geography. They ignored the bigger picture. No one questioned my condescending tone about the needy people in Africa waiting for a brave hero from the west. People were fine with the thought that volunteers should go to Africa to hold babies and give away stuff. Or that an African’s favourite sport was war. No one challenged those statements.


I am not sure, but I have suspicions. Most people got the joke of course (many Africans loved it!). But for others I wonder if it has a lot to do with how we have grown up thinking about Africa, or maybe it is about reverse racism where we elevate people unrealistically. I don’t know. All I know is that I am sure glad I wrote the article. I loved the reactions! It has definitely given me some ideas for future posts!

Enough serious reflection. Back to the funny!

One of my favourite recent videos comes from a  group of students in Norway. SAIH has made some hilarious videos about this way of thinking. Do yourself a favour and please watch this genius clip! Maybe Africa is a country you can visit to save a child?

Other videos from SAIH are here on their Radi-Aid page. They are so brilliant that the only fault I can find is that I jealously wish I could have made them.

Know any other great videos like this? Share the link-love and post them in the comments below!

Mark Crocker 

My favourite 5 places on the planet.

I have travelled to over 45 nations and I am frequently asked “where is your favourite place? Where would I go back?

There are so many great options that I find it tough to pick just one. That is why my usual answer to the question is:

“The next place I go”

Cop out? Still true. I love the new places I get to travel. Recently I was travelling into Cambodia and Thailand, I have been to both countries before and was excited to return, although I must admit, I wished I was able to see a new place. Then the layover in Korea happened.

Photo Credit: jackieflynt via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jackieflynt via Compfight cc

I had just gotten off the red eye, and my next flight wasn’t for another 12 hours. I was not looking forward to spending it in an airport. As I walked through the terminal I spotted a sign in English.

Free city tour.

I checked in and soon found myself joined to a tour-group sponsored by the Korean government. A whirlwind day tour of a beautiful temple, the national palace, lunch and some free time in the shopping district followed. A day, I thought might be wasted in an airport, turned into a serendipitous opportunity to visit beautiful Seoul. I hope to go back for more someday!

I love the new places I get to travel, even for a day, but I also have a few fond memories of some other locations.

Here they are:

Kabala boys - (c) Mark Crocker
Kabala boys – (c) Mark Crocker

5. Sub-Saharan Africa. I know that Africa is not a country, and the continent is highly varied with a huge number of tribes and peoples, but I find it almost impossible to pick just one place. I have favourite memories of my visits to a local Zambian home. Playing floor hockey in Malawi. Visiting South Africa as apartheid was beginning to be dismantled. Meeting the statuesque Turkana people in northern Kenya. Gazing over the endless hills of Rwanda. And driving the mountain roads through the tea plantations in DR Congo. Each experience is unique, tremendously different from one another, and yet a common thread runs through. Once you are in the village, the language and staple food may change, but the beat of life follows the same African drum.

This is a life-giving rhythm.

Newfoundland Dory - (c) Mark Crocker
Newfoundland Dory – (c) Mark Crocker

4. The table-lands near Trout River, Newfoundland. Rock and Water: my favourite scenery is always some combination of the two. Maybe it is in the genes of every Newfoundlander? The wash of water over rock is visually stunning. The table lands are a geological anomaly in the area where my fathers family grew up. When he was a kid, there wasn’t a road in or out, you got around by boat. My grandfather knew this place as he carried the mail by dogsled through the gulch. That same gulch eased now by the highway into some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Few travel there. It is easier and cheaper to go to Europe. But you will not find a friendlier people to visit.

This is home.

Roadside in Morocco - (c) Mark Crocker
Roadside in Morocco – (c) Mark Crocker

3. At a roadside stall. I love street food. I know it is deadly dangerous and all, but all the same, I love it. I remember BBQ oysters steamed with a healthy heap of garlic while sitting with friends in an alleyway in China, banana pancakes and mama noodle stirfry in Thailand, sitting on rusty benches in the market eating plates of shrimp and rice in Cambodia, deep fried mars bars in the winter chill of Scotland, grocery store bread and cheese while watching the pope at the Vatican, plate lunches of truly massive portions in Hawaii. Each meal, simple, local, cheap and most important deliciously memorable.

This is satisfaction.

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

2. Spain. Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral and the warrens of small cafés in Barcelona. Learning how to eat tapas and going back for another helping of boiled octopus. Desert landscape punctuated by ancient communities along the Camino de Santiago. Renting a car and finding our way to that small town where John and I got lost for hours but eventually wound up at a bullfight – still the most stunning and surreal thing I have seen in my life.

This is exuberance and joy.

Elbow Falls (c) Mark Crocker
Elbow Falls (c) Mark Crocker

1. Kananaskis, Alberta. Travel down highway 8 off of the trans-Canada just 25 minutes from Calgary and you enter into some if the most spectacular scenery in the world. High alpine lakes, stark mountains studded by ranks of lodge pole pine. The wind whistles through the canyons and you could hike for hours without seeing another person. Banff and Lake Louise are just down the road and they are amazing, but locals go to Kananaskis.

This is peace

So, next time you ask, I may have a new destination in mind, but what do you think of my five favourite places on the planet at the moment? More importantly, where should I go next?

What’s your favourite place?

Mark Crocker

I stood at the spot of the murders

This week marks the 20 year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. During the week of national mourning I have listened to many of the stories of incredible pain, survival and forgiveness from the victims and the perpetrators of the 100 days of horror. I was there, I saw the sites. I remember again.


I have been to to many genocide sites, My first international trip from the UK to the Ukraine where we stopped in Poland at Auschwitz  “Work Makes Free” written in bold lies across the gates. Inside the discarded glasses, children’s toys and the cloth made from the hair of the victims each told another chapter of the inhumanity.

I have kicked up the dust to find human bones in Cambodia. Years ago, When I took my wife to the killing fields for our honeymoon, I made a video about my thoughts. You can find it at this link 

I I have visited the Rwandan churches where the bloodstain from the bombs thrown through the windows (that picture above) still wait as witness. Here is the link to my tumbled and uncomfortable thoughts during that day.

I have talked to the Sierra Leone farmer who was asked if he wanted a long sleeve or a short sleeve shirt. Bewildered, he replied “long” which meant he kept his forearm as they hacked off his hand.

Never Again.  Again and Again.

 Mark Crocker

How to know if you are a traveller or tourist

I don’t hear anyone saying that they want to be known as a tourist. If anything, when I find out someone has just got home from a cruise, they sometimes feel the need to explain themselves. They explain that they got away from the group every chance they got to have a ‘real local’ experience. What is a real hard-core traveller supposed to do, with travel so easy and cheap, it seems like everyone is doing it.  Don’t fret! Here are the top five tell-tale signs to separate the hard-core traveller from the cruise-line tourist:

Traveller or Tourist







 photo by Ian T. McFarland

1.  Tourists go and buy travel gear at travel stores before they leave – Travellers go and buy the more expensive travel gear at travel stores before they leave.

2. Tourists learn a few phrases of the local language before they go. Travellers explain that they could not possibly learn a few more phrases since they travel to so many other places in a year. The tourist is grateful when a traveller helps out, not with a few words in the local language, but with an iPhone app.

3. When walking down the street in a new country, tourists make eye contact with other tourists when they see one another. Travellers will pretend not to see each other.

4.  Tourists say, “Where are you going on your next vacation!”  Travellers respond with a world-weary sigh and suggest “When you travel as much as I do you don’t always know where the road may lead …”  Travellors know that eager desire to see new places is not cool – Yoda-like pronouncements are cool.

5. Travellers call themselves something funky like “expats” or “temporary nomads” – tourists call themselves ‘travellers’

What do you think? Are you a traveller or a tourist? Is the word ‘Traveller’ just a newer hipper word instead of ‘Tourist’?

Got any more to add to the list?

Mark Crocker

I did not make myself an orphan

Rwanda is green and clean, a marked difference from  yesterday’s Kenyan diesel and red dust.  Here you are either walking up or down, as the nation is made up of a collection of hills, tall, but not quite mountainous.

Rwandan Hills

When you say Rwanda, most peoples first thoughts are of the genocide. I remember listening to the stories of General Dallaire’s and his memories of those horrific 100 days.  I suppose this is why my first stop today was the genocide museum. (more…)

What it feels like to be your victim

This is a poem i often use as I assist volunteers to prepare for work and life overseas. Consider the words. They are incredibly important:

Great White Mother

You, great white mother,
take beggar-African-Indian children;
You who feel so much for yourself and your world
will reach out to touch them and save them!?

You, great white mother,
and your mate, the great white father,
working ceaselessly in your own ways
to save and to touch us all;

He bombs us
in Lebanon and Libya,
massacres us
in Central America and Abyssinia,
starves and mutilates us
wherever he finds us,

while you pour out your sick, guilt-ridden love
over our tired and broken bodies
the spirit in us chokes — and suffocates — and is

What your mate, the great white father,
could not accomplish
with all his bombs and armies and churches,
you, great white mother,
will have accomplished
with your charity and goodness-filled heart.

He would break our spirit
and disempower us with his might;
You would break our spirit
and disempower us with your love.

So you, great white mother,
who give birth to dead children,
massacring their humanity in your womb
and in their childhood
by silent compliance with the great white father,
will love and touch us?

You, who cannot respond
to your poor-jobless-starving-homeless-battered-heatless
white sisters–will love and touch us?

Do you not see
that we are still burning from your touch?
That my sisters are being butchered and sterilized
while you are having fantasies
about birthing like women do in Africa?

That our children are poisoned by the drugs and pollution
your mate dumps onto us,
while you sit dreaming of poisoning their humanity
with your lily-white love?

Your New-Age missionaries
to replace
the great white fathers’ old church missionaries,
all attempting
to dehumanize us,
deny us our rage,
our hatred,
our strength,
our right to liberate our humanity?

And you, great white mother,
do all this in the name of love.
Yet, we both know that your existence depends on us!

You cannot play
the saviour,
benefactor, civilizer,
pure-white, charitable, loving, forgiving,
noble, highly-evolved, good mother
unless you make us become
poor-starving-sick-beggar-African-Indian children.

Well, great white mother,
you just try to touch me or my children …
You just try to love us into your salvation!
From your nice white position,
high up there,
above the rest of us;
You just try–and I will smash you!

Sunera Thobani
Editor/Publisher of Aku, magazine for forum on East Indian views in Asian immigrant community, Vancouver. The Brown Bagger Vancouver Cooperative Radio, May 10,1991

Would you like to be the victim in someone else’s story?

Mark Crocker

Keeping things in Perspective

I just spent the last 7 hours tearing my hair out trying to get ifilm to burn a dvd copy of my HIV/AIDS process theatre project for Sierra Leone (leaving next Thursday…)

I finally finished and was glancing through some archival material i have and once again came across this poem …

An Easy Essay
by Peter Maurin

The world would be better off
if people tried
to become better,
And people would
become better
if they stopped trying
to be better off.

For when everyone tries
to become better off
nobody is better off.
But when everyone tries
to become better
everyone is better off.

Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried
to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried
to be the poorest

And everybody would be
what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants
the other fellow to be.

SOURCE: http://www.progress.org/archive/maurin01.htm

It was a timely reminder. Now back to putting this dvd together to help curb the 7% of Sierra Leonians with the HIV/AIDS virus. I just needed perspective

What inspires you?

Mark Crocker