Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga
Last week, a racist Kijji ad seeking renters for a basement apartment in Mississauga briefly drew attention from the media because of the line: “If you are a “black guy, you should not inquire about the unit.”
Several lawyers when asked were of the opinion that this was a racist ad that violated the human rights code. Part of the reason the story died a natural death and sank like a stone has to do with the fact that the homeowner who put out the offensive ad was South Asian or brown. Now had that homeowner been White with a last name like Anderson, Bean or Stewart, it would have been a far different story. In fact you wouldn’t hear the end of it.
The story would’ve made international headlines, no doubt about it. The homeowner would’ve been skewered by all, politicians and definitely the mayor would’ve stepped in with harshly worded statements abhorring racism, we’d all be lectured about tolerance, respect and equality, above all our political leaders would take this opportunity or Godsend to extol the policy of multiculturalism. Our politicians, mostly the Caucasians would exploit that opportunity to score brownie points (pardon the pun) with ethnic minorities, notably South Asian who in a few short years will be the majority.
Back to our ‘story’, because this homeowner happened to be brown he could get away with it.
Most brown people don’t believe they can be called racists ever even if they harbor racist attitudes toward other ethnicities including white people. They believe their browness insulates them from any criticism on that front. In the minds of many South Asians, they have experienced racism usually only from whites. So lets say a brown person encounters a rude black salesperson, he or she will simply call it ‘terrible customer service and talk to the manager about it. But when a brown person encounters a rude White salesperson, the complaint is about being a victim of racism. Brown people can shrug off indifferent service at a Chinese supermarket and never put it down to racism.
Sounding like matrimonial ads
A few weeks ago, an Uber driver in Toronto was the focus of attention when he got into a verbal and slightly physical exchange with a female passenger of Pakistani origin. The Uber driver is alleged to have told her that “Muslim Pakistani women should keep quiet.” This made the woman and the journalists covering the story conclude that this was blatant racism. The only problem was that the driver happened to be a Pakistani immigrant as well. Not a single presumably White journalist questioned her narrative and blindly reported her statements without challenging it. Now had the Uber driver been White, he’d not only be blacklisted but would in all probability have to leave town for his or her own safety.
Any human rights lawyer would tell you very quietly ofcourse, that even brown and black people can be racist. It isn’t only White people who are born with the so-called racism gene so to speak. Look at the way African students in India are treated, many of them swear they get treated with dignity in Europe while in India they are subjected to racist slurs, hostility and even violence. The experience of Indians from the North-East who live in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai are similarly well documented.
South Asians have very strong views when it comes to certain races and cultures and color. Our matrimonial ads speak of our preferences for particular castes and fair-skin. Increasingly our advertisements for rental units for example are beginning to sound like matrimonial ads.
A community of landlords
In recent years South Asians have emerged as one of the biggest investors in the real estate boom especially in the Peel Region. It is fairly common for South Asian families to rent out their basements or second properties. Naturally then, they treat such rental ads the same way if they would a matrimonial ad. Unfortunately it goes against code, fortunately their transgressions are overlooked by politicians, lawyers and other activists. We brown immigrants after all are treated like guests to a party, how can we find fault with them? It is easier to blame the host for being a bad host!
I have seen rental ads placed by a Muslim saying he only wanted Muslim renters. Another one placed by a Hindu vegetarian was looking for a strict Hindu vegetarian renter for his basement apartment. I spoke to a lawyer who said such ads went against the human rights code but somehow no one seems particularly offended by such ads placed by brown people.
Many South Asian landlords who rent out their basements have no qualms in saying they are justified to specify the ethnicity and profile of the renter they would like living in their basement. It is a security concern which means that these landlords could end up preferring a new South Asian immigrant over a Caucasian couple or blacks or Hispanics. But such preference won’t be construed as being racist and so politicians, lawyers, activists and community leaders won’t step in.
But increasingly, many South Asian landlords place ads that discriminate even South Asians who happen to worship another God or eat the ‘wrong’ food. A vegetarian landlord feels he is well within his rights to ban any meat-eaters from renting his basement apartment. After all, he wouldn’t want his space defiled by the smell of non-vegetarian cooking.
Caucasians could never get away with it
I am quite sure that if a W.A.S.P (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) landlord placed an ad for a renter and specified that they should be White only, South Asians and everyone in society would be outraged. He’d find himself tied up in legal tangles for years.
Racism is defined as a system where a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others. But what happens if the soon-to-be-dominant race (South Asian) in Peel Region for example indulges in blatant profiling and discriminates against other races including Whites? Will they be taken to task? Will municipal councilors, mayors and other politicians start preaching to them about pluralism and anti-racist legislation? Will they be excoriated for their views, shamed and made to feel guilty? Will they be accused of misusing their brown privilege?
Pradip Rodrigues is currently the editor of Can-India, a weekly newspaper and website catering to the South Asian diaspora in the GTA. He immigrated to Canada in 2000 and currently lives with his wife and young son in Mississauga. Prior to coming to Canada, he was the Assistant Editor at Bombay Times, then the city section of the Times of India.
This comment has been re-published with permission from Can-India.