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27 Mar 2017

The Truth About Being Black In Alberta

The world looks at Canada as a culturally neutral country. But the so called "melting pot of the North" is really... just Toronto. Western Canada is nowhere near the pot.

As a native Torontonian, I moved to Edmonton about three years ago. Most of my friends left Ontario when Alberta's economy was strong and every year that went by they encouraged me to come for the endless opportunities. They warned me about the racism here, but I thought they were exaggerating. I thought that if Ontario welcomes diversity, Western Canada can't be that different.

When I landed at Edmonton International Airport, it felt like I moved to Texas. There were retail stores that sold cowboy hats, hunting gear and some white people looked at me as if I were a ghost. It was only the beginning of the culture shock.

It was my first week in the city, and a long list of job interviews was lined up. I went to a print shop to print a resume, and there were a lot of customers with only one cashier. My computer timed out, and I went to the front desk to add money on my card while other customers were waiting for assistance. As I waited, a white man smirked and asked me "What happened? Did you run out of money?" I was stunned and noticed an Asian man had an embarrassed look on his face as if he felt bad about what happened because of the stereotypical racist comment. I replied, "Don't you see me waiting to refill my card?" His face turned red, and he kept quiet.

One time, I was returning from Barbados to the Edmonton Airport, and a customs officer asked me the usual questions about my trip, but the last one was unnecessary. My passport is Canadian, and it states I was born in this country. She had the nerve to ask me with a menacing smirk on her face "Did you take a detour to Africa on your way back from Barbados?" I was HEATED! Please don't get me wrong; I love my African people, but it was obvious that she was exercising her authority to make a racist comment.

I am naturally a confident person, and a pep in my step is a part of my personality. There are times when I run errands in downtown Edmonton, and some white people will look at me like "Who does she think she is?" REALLY! Are all black people supposed to look down at their shoes and say "Yes Sir" like it is the 1920s?

I live in a predominantly white community. And despite living there for two years, there are still neighbours that look at me as if I am going to rob them. Like my very skin colour is a threat.

While I can share a novel of other stories, I'll leave you with this one. I left work one day and headed to the mall to pick up some thank you cards. I was wearing a fancy white blazer, black dress pants, and a feminine white blouse. I walked into a gift store, and when I tried to get the attention of a few of the sales reps, they ignored me. However, every white person that walked in was welcomed with a smile and "How can I help you today?" My first thought was they are older caucasian women, and maybe their minds are still trapped in the 1950s. I pretended like nothing happened and went home, called the store's corporate office and demanded to speak to the head executive that runs all the Edmonton retail stores.

He called me back, and I told him about my experience, reminding him that demographics show that the city is becoming more diverse. If his staff does not like black people, they need to get a non-customer facing job because the growing diversity is something that no one can stop. He was appalled, and the next time I walked into that same retail store, I was treated like a princess by the sales reps.

According to a recent Edmonton Sun article, "Twenty-five years from now, the face of Alberta will include many more immigrants, and almost all of them will be calling Edmonton and Calgary home according to long-term projections from Statistics Canada." Also, immigrants will make up 45 per cent of the Canadian population by 2036.

Many of you might be thinking I should move back to Ontario but here is why I won't. I was born and raised in this country. In addition to the reality of slavery and all the contributions my ancestors made to build this country from the ground up, I can live anywhere I please despite other people's ignorance.

What do you think about race relations out West? Do you think it is getting better or worse? Sound off in the comments.

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Tamia Smith

Tamia Smith is a freelance writer with  a degree in Journalism and Mass communications, with 10 years experience.

Her goal is to educate and inform readers to look inside themselves or their outside world to help create change.

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