Full disclosure: My wife is neither black nor American. The current Mrs. Richardson is the daughter of Indian immigrants and was born and raised just outside of Vancouver in British Columbia. It’s a beautiful place, really. The Fraser Valley is the type of landscape that evenly swaps out steep hills and crested peaks for wide-open fields of farmland interlocked by towering suspension bridges spanning tributaries that feed the awaiting Pacific Ocean.
My wife was raised in the type of place where the beauty of the landscape is rivaled only by the genuine sense of welcome and comfort that you receive from the people who live here. It’s diverse and warm, with a spirit that takes the best parts of where they’ve come from and allows them to share it purely with the communities into which they’ve been adopted. There’s a fish-and-chips shop next to a curry restaurant, next to a pizza place, in the shopping center, and it all just kinda makes sense.
But yo, there are, like, no black people here.
Now, I know there are some black folks here; I’ve met them. But I’m pretty sure you could hold the local NAACP meeting in a booth at the local Tim Hortons and still have room for three more people. It’s just a weird feeling to know that, in the midst of all this geographical beauty and cultural diversity, I’m probably the only black person in my immediate vicinity. Like, if I started playing the Electric Slide song right now, it’d take a full 45 minutes to an hour before I’d have anyone else on the dance floor with me.
In some ways, it’s concerning. In other ways, it’s liberating. Either way you slice it, it’s thought-provoking. So here are just a few of my random-ass observations from my time on Canada’s west coast.
There’s way scarier shit to worry about here than black people.
A few years ago, I was helping my father-in-law take out the trash, which he methodically separated and hid in his garage. Now, me being hood-sensitive, I thought, “Oh, I see. You don’t wanna put this out on the curb so that folks know what you just copped and then try to break in yo’ house. I do that, too.”
You gotta hide the trash from bears. Bears, bruh. Like, Ursus horribilis and shit that sniffs your garbage, figures out if you got food in your crib. and might just bust through the sliding glass doors to help itself to some Hamburger Helper. Nothing prioritizes your personal pathologies toward race like remembering that even the hardest thug on your block isn’t a fucking bear.
And if you don’t believe me about the bears, there’s actually a Canadian-government public service announcement warning locals about taking selfies with bears (#BearSelfies) that you can occupy your time with. It’s really a problem.
I could run a profitable quasi-smuggling ring with black hair-care products.
The glaring lack of Sportin’ Waves and olive oil moisturizers up here is truly problematic. Man, I’m convinced that the racial tinderbox that’s ready to ignite here is firmly planted on the dry-ass scalps of all the black folks whose only choices in hair maintenance are the remnants of a jar of Blue Magic someone brought up from St. Louis in 1984 and the bottle of Care Free Curl that’s been sitting on the shelf at the London Drug since the turn of the millennia.
I’m seriously considering setting up an operation that links up all the Sally Beauty Supply shops on the South and West sides of Chicago with “nap-trap” houses here to pump raw Murray’s and Dark and Lovely across the border.
My daughter is in private school; I need the money.
Asian people here think I’m a celebrity.
Through a strange confluence of a weak Canadian dollar and a high concentration of first-generation Asian immigrants in an area here called Richmond, once a year, I’m Kanye West.
See, the U.S. dollar usually trades at something like CA$1.28, which means that everything you buy here is about 25-30 percent off. Or, simply stated, the whole country is on sale. Now, a guy like me (see: cheap) uses that as an excuse to buy his clothes only from Canada. I literally save my money all year for my trip to the outlet malls here and load up. This is where the Asian people come into the story.
The outlet mall where I do my best shopping is in Richmond, and so when the folks out there see a black man in the Polo store popping all the tags, they assume I’m someone famous. Like, two years ago, a couple of people took my picture. It happens way more often than I’m comfortable with.
But if I were 6 feet 4 and had the time, I’d set up shop in the food court of the Richmond Centre Mall and sign people’s sneakers just to see how long I could get away with it.
The Canadian accent is probably a result of Canadian beer.
There’s no reason to end a declarative sentence with an errant, “Eh?” unless you’re harboring a lingering buzz and you’re just trying to make sure you don’t sound like a rambling drunk when speaking aloud. I could posit a hypothesis that introducing Canadian-strength beer to black neighborhoods in America could precipitously increase or decrease crime. I’m just not that sure because it’s just that strong.
The cops aren’t looking for me.
Between rampaging bears, forest fires, the local Triad organizations and random drunks behind the wheel, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have their hands full with actual problems. So much so that they aren’t necessarily inclined to profile or otherwise fuck with me if they don’t have to. It’s the strangest feeling, man. I’m at a light; a cop car pulls up behind me; I tense up, getting ready for some static; and they just go on their merry way. It’s shocking.
In fact, a couple of summers ago, the news actually led with a story about the RCMP tracking down a black man so they could thank him for saving a woman from a kidnapping.
To come from a place where I’m constantly living with clenched cheeks waiting for the next bad police encounter, to be somewhere that’s relatively short on the bullshit, is hard to accept. But it’s real, and the po-po here might just pull you over to buy you a Whopper. Go figure.
That leads to the question I’m continually confronted with: “Why don’t you just move here?” As if somehow succumbing to this place of fantastic denial would heal me in some kind of way or make up for the racism that endured all of my life (and that I don’t doubt exists here as well). Like pulling up stakes and crossing a border make my previous life a thing that never happened.
I could live here. I should live here. But I can’t live here because I’m not giving up on America. I’m not giving up on my country, and I’m not letting the folks who don’t want to see my kind succeed and thrive have anything that looks like a win. I’m sticking around out of spite.
Quitting America out of fear or anxiety just ain’t part of my ministry. Giving up or going away just an’t some shit I’m built to do.
I want my family to be safe and happy, in America.
I want my kids to be raised with opportunities I never had, in America.
I want black people to fulfill their potential unencumbered by systemic racism or personal biases, in America.
Canada is a beautiful place, and I love taking vacations here, but just as with any vacation, eventually you have to go home and you have to go back to work, and man, there’s so much work to be done.
So I’m gonna take these next few days and enjoy my Negro-novelty life, but I’m coming home, and we’re gonna keep up the fight that needs to be fought and do the work that needs to be done.
Plus, I don’t like hockey that much anyway.