Racism in Canada

How to Understand Racism in Canada

Posted on Posted in communication, culture, the meaning of life

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 didn’t know I was an Indian.

Up until this point when anyone asked where I was from, I would answer I was a long-time Canadian. The typical follow-up question is “But where are you originally from?”  Most everyone here immigrated from somewhere. I heard that my family came from England but I really don’t know more than that. I am a proud 8th generation Canadian, that’s a  long time in a country with a short history.

As soon as I found out I was Indian, suddenly I was more than 8 generations. I was a part of the fabric of this country.

Bruce explained how he had gone through family history and found a Micmac ancestor. Bruce joined the local band and was exploring that part of his (and my) heritage.

I was intrigued. I applied and now I also own a status card. My identity suddenly felt different. It is hard to explain, but I felt rooted to this country in a new way.


I was also surprised to discover a new aspect of racism in Canada.

As a new Indian I suddenly heard comments I previously missed about Indians.  People talked about lazy Indians and I wanted to speak up. I sometimes did. My Indian blue eyes would flash in disgust and I would ask “Are you calling me lazy!?”

I would try to shame the racist a bit. Put him in his place. It felt personal.

People asked me all kinds of questions. The same kind of questions that I had wondered about Indians before I became one:

  • Do you get money from the government?
  • Do you get free education?

When I told people I was an Indian, people would tell me stories that they had heard from their brothers friend who knew an Indian guy who got a new truck from the government on his 18th birthday. I was excited. Where do I sign up for the new truck!? Like many other myths about native entitlement, that one is also (sadly) not true.


I began to Ignore Racism in Canada

It began when someone would say something questionable about Indians and I didn’t bother saying anything. I remained silent. I was not intimidated into silence or afraid of consequences. I just got tired of speaking up. I didn’t want to be that humourless guy with a cause that people don’t invite to parties.

When I was just another white guy, I never had to think about these things.

When I was just a white guy, I used to say that there was no true racism in Canada. I thought of racism in terms of Ku Klux Klan, American history X, and southern slavery. It was easy to feel superior to other nations with deeper racial issues and naïvely believe that we don’t have racism in Canada.

I remember minorities talking about Canadian racism but I wasn’t sure how that applied to me.


An Entitled Invisible Minority

It was a lot easier to think that there was no racism in Canada when I was never in the place to feel any of the affects of racism. As an invisible minority – no one would ever assume that my blonde hair and blue eyes are Native.

It was easy to hide.

I do not kid myself. I cannot really identify with people who have experienced racism in Canada but I am beginning to understand it in a new way. Let me be clear, I still hold all the power and trappings of white privilege, but I am starting to see how we let subtle racism continue. It is tiring to be the guy defending a whole culture.

I never had to do that when I was just another white guy.

Now when I hear other white guys like me say ‘racism is a thing of the past’ my question is simply this:

“How would you ever know?”


What do you think? What are the forms of racism in Canada?

Mark Crocker

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16 thoughts on “How to Understand Racism in Canada

  1. Just finished an FNMI (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) course for teachers at U of C. Interesting to be part of the process where people grapple with white privilege and racism. Our Canadian racism can be subtle. Like fish in water, we don’t recognize the racism in our society because it has always been there; it is part of the water. It is in our vocabulary, in our social systems, our education standards. We live in a system that was set up for white folks to succeed in, which in itself is not bad, except we were never only white folks here in Canada. That’s what makes it racism.

  2. Working on reserves In Northern Saskatchewan has been a huge eye opener and experience I am finding very educating. There are so many myths about the entitlement and it’s sad the rascism that happens… Just no need. People are people, period.

  3. Ha! I’m glad you told that story. It’s super interesting. Even more amazing to me (though maybe it shouldn’t be) is your description of how powerful in-group and out-group identity are in shaping our perceptions of ourselves, and others, and injustice. It’s a pretty arbitrary change, since genetically, culturally you are the same, you look the same and your cultural background hasn’t changed. But still, it’s a powerful change of perspective!

  4. thanks for the comments all! Brad, I agree that personally the most interesting part of this for me was the fact that absolutely nothing changed for me except a designation. Getting official status made me interested and aware in a way that I had not seen before. I began to see through new eyes and that arbitrary change influenced my behaviours and understanding of the world. fascinating for me when i pay attention to how i process it all

  5. I always knew there was something special about you! I could never put my finger on it. It has eluded me in the 32 years we’ve been friends. Finally, now I know. Great post!

  6. I a’m Micmac as well 5 gen, family came on second ship to Canada from France the first one no one lived…. just found out 7 yr ago ….grew up being a indian lover made it interesting at school…… I have just Metis status from miscue island band NB…..sorry to say, prejudices are a live and well in Canada just hidden…to much to go into…… here where I a’m there is 7 reserves I have preached on many…… becouse I look more white I feel it….nothing new for me, but at the same time I feel more at home on the res and love……dirty looks,racial remarks, they don’t deserve anything and so on….but we are braking new ground…..look in to if canada is a First Nations country or not, you will be surprised…..

  7. You are a pot stirrer … and therefore keep up the good work. This was very interesting and challenges me too to watch the subtle things we say and do.

  8. Submitted VIA Email and reposted with permission

    Mark shalom,

    Born in South Africa only with the wrong complexion – white or as they like to say European – I was brought up viciously racist, a white bigot with a colour prejudice. At 14 I was lucky to have a life changing moment in Israel when a Hebrew teacher recognising my sad affliction set up circumstance that over a period of several weeks had me cured forever of that terrible disease and I can look back amazed at myself as it is hard to comprehend having this sickness like almost every white S African still has today.
    The sense of white entitlement is hard to wipe out even in a society as benevolent as Canada and it is manifest in virtually every walk of life. Sad but true Canada was / is not clean of this affliction the degree is somewhat different to the USA however very often the true European colours fly in the face of accepting people for who they are and not judging them by or for the colour of their complexion.

    Not surprised to read your blog maybe times will heal this Canadian disease as society develops with the multinational flavour that Canada has.
    Twitter Avieuniquetours

  9. Interesting that people think that be racist is just against color of your skin or your origins (ethnicity). Canada is always using the logo of a multicultural nation. But there is lots of racism going on a daily basis here, specially when you are not a 100% english speaking person. You open your mouth (does not matter the color of your skin or if you are European, Latin, Brazilian, Asian and etc) and the question goes, where are you from? This is so uncomfortable. Sometimes people do not understand you just because of your accent, or they pretend they do not understand you. You became a citizen, live here for over 20 years and people will always make that uncomfortable question to you……..

    1. Hi 20 year veteran, I was curious to hear that the very question “where are you from” feels racist. Is that because the unspoken assumption is “not from around here …”?

  10. European sense of entitlement is a malignant disease n since a whole slew of European folk came this way from that backwater continent the disease has not given be away nor has it been cured it’s disguised by Canadian etiquette
    How often do we hear of Canadian history that starts between 4 to 600 years ago? The fact that indigenous people have been here for between 25 to 40 thousand years is a no brainer but neither is it part of any curriculum I am aware of
    N America’s history starts when Columbus discovered America only truth be told he didn’t discover America he landed on the continent that was for thousands of years inhabited by what the Europeans described as “savages”
    This phenomenon is not only relegated to N America it has tainted the cultures of every corner that we Europeans touched and is lingering contamination
    Coming to terms with this is the first small step to start a healing process that is very long and to so many- quite painful

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Avie! I would suggest that many Canadians are well aware of history pre-Columbus … in fact L’ans Aux Meadows and our Indigenous history played pretty heavily in our history books, and I took history many years ago!

      I am also hesitant to simply label Europeans as the bad-guys (IE backwater continent) in this story. Swinging the pendulum and trying to reverse the labels on the good-guys and the bad-guys doesn’t often work. In fact it just leads us to continue the same arguments as we did before.

      I think the key is (as you did) to recognize that there are historical issues at play, and to stand up when you see racism and call it. The most powerful ways I see this work is through non-violent resistance when the aggressor reveals his arrogance in the face of dignity and restraint

      my 2!

  11. To the author – Indians are the ones who live or originated in India. I dont know why americans call natives Indians. And still. This error in reference should be corrected imho.

    1. Hi Veek, I agree Indians are from India (I was just there BTW) and there has been a lot of work in trying to correct the error over the centuries

      BUT … mislabeling a people is not that uncommon a phenomenon. It happens all around the world whenever we have a new people come into another community.

      The Indigenous people of N America were mis-labled Indians (Red Indians) for a very long time. So long that they themselves sometimes referred to themselves that way. Others called them Natives – such as you did in your comment. Both are incorrect and labels from outsiders.

      Over time the people renounced the labels of “Indian” or “Native” and took on other descriptors such as Aboriginal, First Peoples, First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples.

      Changes continue to happen and more and more the original peoples of Canada identify themselves, like most people do, as the various nations that they come from. IE I am a Newfoundlander – and Qalipu.

      I definitely do not speak for Indigenous people, but that is my perspective!

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