I’ve been silent all week because I wasn’t sure what to say. I was drawn into my thoughts as episode after episode from the recesses of my mind surfaced. I accepted it as a way of life and learned to adjust in my discomfort because I wasn’t traveling/living in the country I was born in. As many before me embarked on a journey to navigate careers and lives in the ‘west’ and shared experiences where they had to adjust and embrace the ways of their new home, I too accepted, and continued to hustle.
While I can’t speak to what my darker skinned friends are going through, I can definitely dwell on how I, as a [POC] person of colour have encountered racism in primarily what South Asians call ‘western countries’. I hope that by sharing my experiences, it helps someone learn and accept that this still happens and is quite common among people of colour, and mostly among our darker skinned friends and colleagues.
West/Western countries - a term we, South Asians use to reference North America and Europe [everything that’s west of Asia and the Middle East].
- While travelling across Europe/North America, there were multiple times when hotel/restaurant staff waited to hear if I would speak in English or another language. They wouldn’t hide their surprise to hear me speak English, often asking me how/when I learned the language. My friends who have travelled for leisure and business around the world share similar experiences with me.
- At industry networking events in Toronto, there are a bunch of regulars who find it important only to connect with those that match their skin colour, rather than discuss and engage with people of varied skin colours. You would think that with such a huge immigrant population, it would be different here.
- There have been times when during meetings, my ideas and thoughts were not considered even though they were relevant to the cause being discussed. While I can’t prove it, having this thought cross my mind is pretty common. [Most POCs will agree to having such thoughts. There’s a reason actions speak louder than words.]
- I even got yelled at on the street once, and it took a while for me to understand what the stranger said. “Go back to where you came from!”
- And, as if this wasn’t enough, during my first month in Toronto/Mississauga a public transit driver publicly embarrassed me and almost made me get off the bus for not having change. The driver said, “you guys are always looking for a way out.” I pleaded that I was new to the country and offered to pay $10 for a $3.75 ride but that was apparently ‘showing off’. Luckily, a kind woman on the bus lent me change and I could repay her with the cash note I had.
A silver lining
There have been many such instances, some which I have forgotten and some that continue to live in my memory. Having said that, there have also been many other instances where I’ve found support and friendship; one such beautiful organization is @ywibto. I almost refer to YWIB as my stepping stone to the professional world in Toronto. I feel immense gratitude for this org and encourage women who are looking to network with an inclusive, creative, inspiring and an encouraging community to reach out to them and be a part of their tribe.
My current role at Elite Digital too, is proof that there are some companies who welcome diversity and focus on what people bring to the table rather than the colour of their skin.
In conclusion, I’d like to add that I am not name calling anyone or sharing my experiences here to start a blame game. I understand that a lot of comments/gestures/non verbal cues are innocent and due to ignorance. I want to help educate people about what we as POCs go through when such statements/gestures/assumptions are made. I know that while I have had these experiences, my darker friends have been through worse. My heart goes out to all of them and to all those helping spread the word and make change possible.