Finally!

I saw a most pleasant sight a few mornings ago: a little girl walking to school in a salwar. For those who don’t konw, a salwar (also sometimes called a punjabi dress) is a pant suit with harem-style pants and a long tunic with a sash called a dupata.

Me at my friend's wedding

Me at my friend’s wedding

In grade 6, when I moved to Toronto, I wore a salwar to school occasionally, much like the other girls would wear a dress, just for a change. And I was teased. Even when I stopped wearing them, into grade 7 and 8, I was called a “Paki”. I’d never experienced this in Burlington. What was that? I remember making conversation with my father one day and told him that someone had called me this name. He looked mortified. I know that he faced racism when he came to Canada, but perhaps not as overt as that and I think he hoped that it would skip me because I was born here, had a white mother and that times had changed. Apparently not. He said that I should go right to the principal the next day. So I did.

The principal was just as furious. He asked for the name of the offending student and explained the procedure. The student would be called down to the office, reprimanded and then I would be called down at which time he would have to apologize. He would also be warned that if he did it again, he would face a two day suspension which of course would be noted in his file. This is exactly how it played out and he never said it again. But others did. Seven of them. None ever did it twice. I didn’t publicize these events, but my close friends knew about it and they kept it quiet. Why would I want to speak up about this? This wasn’t something I was proud of. It was embarrassing. But it all came out one day when it was a guy in my own class. I came back from the principal’s office and there was a call to the teacher asking for him to report to the office. The rest of the class started putting two and two together.

I was berated for making a mountain out of a mole hill, excuses were given that it was just a name and he didn’t mean it. My favourite: “You’re not even Pakistani!”. In legal terms the term “mens rea” is used to describe “The intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused.”. Whether or not it was true was irrelevant. They all had intent to do harm. I am happy to say that I defended myself and my friends backed me up. I was not the one to do harm. They were. I hope they never did it again and that they have changed. But watching that little girl walk to school in a salwar with a smile on her face and a bounce in her step makes me think that the world has improved. At least I hope so.

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Racism – My Story

Shanta-with-braces

This is what I looked at in Grade 7. Taken the day I got my braces.

Thanks to Dan Levy for his post on racism the other day. I’m reminded of my story from 20 years ago and though I should tell it. It’s a shame that we have such stories, but how do we know unless we speak up and educate?

I am of mixed race; half East Indian and half British, resulting in an olive complexion making me look more Italian or Spanish.  We lived in a predominantly white neighbourhood, though it has changed quite a bit since then. I’d never experienced any sort of racism until this.

When I was in Grade 7, my locker was located across the hall from a class of Grade 8 students. One day, a boy from across the hall, for no apparent reason, decided to call me a “Paki”. I didn’t know what it meant. I’m not Pakistani (which is the proper term), so I didn’t think anything of it.

No idea why, but I told my father one day in conversation. He looked mortified and then gave me the best advice: go to the Principal’s office. So, I did.

Mr. MacGillivray was amazing. I told him everything and he was not going to tolerate it. He explained that he would call the boy to his office and explain that this behaviour would not be tolerated. If he did it again, he would be suspended for a minimum of 2 days.  Once this was explained, I would be called down to the office and he would have to apologize. It played out exactly as he described it within a couple of days and he never did it again…but others did.

Over the two years I was at this school, a total of eight boys all pulled the same stunt, but never twice. I did tell my close friends, but never announced it to the world that this was going on, but obviously word was getting around. I was able to keep it under wraps pretty well, until one of the last ones, a boy in my class. He was called down to the principal’s office and I was called shortly thereafter. The rest of the kids in my class put two and two together and realized that we were there for the same reason. I came under fire for the very things I suspected I would be attacked with:

  1. “It’s nothing!”
  2. “You’re not even Pakistani, so why do you care?”
  3. “Do you have to be such a tattle tale?”

The answers were simple:

  1. Yes, it is something.
  2. Yes, I do care.
  3. Yes, I do have to say something.

The fact that they never did it again, tells me that they are cowards and that’s what bullies are: COWARDS.

They all did to not because they believed in what they were saying, but figured I would keep quite about it and I have to believe that they really didn’t understand the full weight of what they were doing. I think they were young and just trying to look cool. If they truly believed in what they said, it wouldn’t have stopped at name calling…once.

In closing: Don’t keep quiet. Speak to someone you trust, whether at school or at work. Don’t let it fester and don’t let bullies get away with it. If you feel like you are being discriminated against, regardless of whether it is for the colour of your skin, sexual preference, religion, gender or any other possible reason. Don’t think it’s small, they are the ones with small minds.