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visible minority

Calgary is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada, next to Vancouver and Toronto. Nearly thirty percent of the population is a visible minority and of that number seven percent of the population identify as black. This is much larger than Vancouver, where less than one percent of our population identify as black, even though over fifty percent of our population is a visible minority. (is it still a minority if it’s the majority?) 7676924

When I grew up in Calgary in the seventies and eighties we had a Chinatown and that was about it. When I moved to Red Deer the sea of white got whiter. We had two Vietnamese guys, one Chinese girl and a black guy in high school. The black guy was the star of the football team and hugely popular with the cheerleaders. That’s all I remember. My perception of being black meant you were born cool, could sing and dance, and packed American chocolate bars in your lunch.

Today in rehearsals one of our cast members said he was hoping to move to Vancouver but within one week of being there he was called a nigger twice by complete strangers. So he changed his mind.

Horrible.

I asked if both men were caucasian. Yes. Ah. Our visible asshole minority. I wonder what percentage they are? Too high.

After rehearsals I head home on the crowded LRT. I get claustrophobic so I found it hard to breathe. I had passed up two full trains already and just had to suck it up in order to get home. To distract myself, I look around me at all the different faces and ages and colours and sizes of humanity and find it quite moving. A guy jammed against the wrong end of the car jokes with his friend in a warm Jamaican accent something about praying Moses would turn him into a snake man so he could slither through all the people to the door in time for the Bridgeland stop.

Beside him smiles a tall pale teenager with a shaved head and an ear tunnel piercing. He is tastefully visible. He has terrific black and white striped shoes and one well placed elegant geometric tattoo on his hand. He isn’t shouting “Look at me, look at me” he is simply declaring, “I am”. I sneak a peak at his face. He looks so very young. His blonde ducky hair is growing in half an inch all soft. I want to touch it but figure that would not go over so well. He gives me a quick nervous smile as he catches me staring.Unknown

The LRT comes to a stop and the Jamaican man indeed slithers through us with a charming chant of “Bridgeland, Bridgeland!” and out the door he goes. Bridgeland sounds festival glorious the way the d and g roll around in his mouth. It makes me want to slither off with him and join the party. The LRT rolls away again.

I wonder if I should tell the pale young man that he has an excellent sense of style. I look down at his hand again and notice a long scar cut down his wrist. My heart leaps into my throat. “Oh God, please let that scar be from a freak kitchen accident, and not a sign of despair…” I cannot sneak a peak at him again, in fear he will recognize my concern and feel invaded. Instead I just pray. I pray as the Rapid Light Rail rumbles this car full of oddities to Marlborough. I pray for the rebel boy and the man who wants to be a snake. I pray for my cast mate who felt hated by a city. I pray for the woman wrapped in a headscarf sweating her eyebrows off.

The doors open and we spill out onto the platform and head up the frozen escalators. A big round moustached man with a trumpet plays some happy jazz. I pray he doesn’t rinse his valves over other people’s clean dishes. While he plays, three big black boys behind me immediately respond to the music and at the appropriate times they join in: hey hey! Yo hey hey!

Then again. Hey hey! Yo hey hey!

The trumpet player does not look terribly impressed with being accompanied but everyone trudging up the stairs kinda loves it.

Hey hey! Yo hey hey!

I grin and look behind me to find the pale boy with the ducky hair…but he’s long gone.

I should have told him he had great style.

The music plays on.

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