Racism in Saskatchewan: one student’s story
An international student speaks out
When I received an admission for my Master’s Degree at the University of Regina, I was thrilled. I have always appreciated the hands-on approach at universities, an approach much different from that of India, my home country. Being given the opportunity to experience this approach first-hand, I was on cloud nine. Still, somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a fear that prevailed. This fear was not one of being away from my family, or being on my own in a foreign land, for I was certain I could deal with this. Rather, it was the fear of being made to feel different over the colour of my skin, fear of being a victim of stereotypes—the same fear that the entire world is calling to address following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. I feared all this despite Canada having the reputation of a “friendly and polite” country.
For this reason, particularly during the initial years of my study, I preferred to stay in University housing to avoid unforeseen situations. I felt safe and welcome on campus among the faculty, staff, and classmates, but it wasn’t the same in the streets of Regina. Even so, one day I knew I’d have to spread my wings and go explore the world outside. I could not stay confined in a single place. It is once I left campus that I saw and got an idea of the racism happening around me. It could be as subtle as being called out to on the roads, “return to your country,” or car drivers speeding fast as I try to cross the street, bus drivers giving me looks of disgust as I make a dash for their bus.
Being new to the country, all the more so on a study permit, I thought “mum’s the word” to myself about this and kept silent, allowing the racist remarks to pass, not letting it get to me. That was, until I came across an article where racism was reported in a Regina Walmart. Coffee had been thrown in the faces of two people of colour. It did frequent rounds on social media, but did not create much of a stir. To make matters worse, the incident was even captured on video – yet the culprits walked away freely. Reading the article that day, my fears of racist violence intensified inside me, as did the fears many other people of colour. Every time I walked outdoors, I felt 1 in every 30 people judging me secretly. I tried to go out in groups more frequently, and when I was alone, I put in my earphones to avoid unsolicited remarks. I was twice as cautious of my surroundings. There were many articles I read about which areas of the city had the most racist incidents occur.
Despite all the care I took to keep myself safe, one night when a friend of mine and I were travelling on the bus, we were bullied for the colour of our skin, and my friend was spat on as two teenagers got off at their stop. At that time of night, there were only a few passengers on board, and they were mostly in their own thoughts, tired after the day’s work and not taking note. The bus driver was also of no help to us. He asked us to speak to the cops the following day, so we did, optimistic about an appropriate means of an action being taken. But the only thing we got was this advice: “Run away, hide, or defend yourself! If you hurt them physically more than they hurt you, you will be deported. If your life is in danger, ring 911 and they’ll be there within 2 minutes.” The cop’s message was clear to me, my friend, and my fellow international students – retaliation of any means when you’re being attacked is a big no-no.
We were left speechless. In the ‘2-minute arrival’ of 911 responders, so much could happen. Besides that, physical injuries are one thing, but what about the verbal insults that shatter our esteem? But then, it all comes down to our ‘temporary status’ as international students. All this for a nearly permanent blow to our confidence.
After this incident, I could no longer hold my feelings within me. I felt insecure about myself, but at the same time, I didn’t want to inform my parents so as to not worry them. So I opened up to my friends. Just as I would have expected, they themselves recounted several racist experiences they have encountered in Canada. These stem from stereotypes of a country’s history, and the harmful ideas about having a dark or ‘dusky’ complexion.
Speaking about these racist events and coming out in the open about them is only one part of the solution. Campaigns such as the University’s “You belong here, racism doesn’t” campaign and the recent anti-racist rallies in Regina aid in bringing awareness to everyone, and many people are happy that the action is being taken in this direction. If these efforts to expose racism continue, I’m certain that slowly but steadily we can prevent this harassment from happening anymore.
On a concluding note, I’d like to leave with some words of advice. Even when provoked to your worst by racism, don’t stay silent forever about what you experience. Speak about it, address it, and make people aware of the wrongdoings and the damage it does to the soul. The colour of your skin is something to be proud of, and your identity is something you earned and worked to keep. Remember, even if actions speak louder than words, when you speak out, the pen is mightier than the sword.