Pius Adesanmi: An unimportant encounter with racism

by Pius Adesanmi

Montreal. Eshiemokhai Michael has the secret to stores offering 70% off and more percentage off the 70% off. If that Banana Republic or Tommy Hilfiger wear is on sale for 40 dollars in Ottawa, Mike will say, tueh, shirt wey I buy 8 dollars yesterday? I have learnt to stop shopping in Ottawa.

Exclusive bribery shopping for Tise and her mama in all travels so far means I haven’t even thought of a single shirt for myself thus far this summer. I go to see Mike urgently yesterday on a makoja mi olugbala emergency basis. We hit his regular designer bargain stores.

At the second store, we are so carried away by the cheape price tags on designer stuff that we fail to notice a number of things: 1) there are only white female customers in the store; 2) they are reconciling accounts so there is an armoured bullion van outside; 3) two Garda security people, one white male and one white female, are at the cash desk, supervising the cash loading.

That is precisely the time we elect to carry our two black male asses into the store. The white male security guard is so visibly disturbed by our presence he can’t hide it. His eyes are following us nervously everywhere. I make it a point to shop as close to him as possible without getting into his space. After all, I’ve seen white female customers go and come in that aisle and that doesn’t worry him a bit.

It becomes a game of nerves between us and him. I love playing games of nerves in racist situations. Please if you are south of the border in America, do not play a game of nerves with your own racists: they could be armed and you will become a statistic.

Eventually, we release the fellow from his torment by leaving the store. Thinking we are gone, he follows us outside to make sure that we are indeed gone. We shoot a backward glance just as he steps outside, looking furtively in our direction. Our eyes lock: we have caught him in flagrante delicto of racism.

I turn back and go to him. Mike is laughing his head off.

“I can’t believe you just did that”, I tell him.

“Did what?”

“Follow us to ensure that we are indeed as far away from your money as possible. We just caught your racist ass (yes, I said racist ass to him)”

He says nothing. He goes back to his colleague, a little snotty smirk on his face. I scream after him:

“You know, if you associate black people with robbery and crime just and only because of the colour of their skin, you shouldn’t be in this line of work.”

He looks back. I meet his gaze. My face is also wearing a snotty smirk. The fellow is evidently not used to Nigerians. He does not know that I will match and outmatch him in this mutual exchange of contempt.

He shoots one last contemptible smirk in my direction and turns his back. Not before I lob: “fucking racist” in his direction.

I drive back to Ottawa, my mind busy processing a comparison of racisms in the 20 years I’ve been in the orbit of the West. That, of course, is not my primary experience but it is huge chunk of reality.

Racism in white supremacist America is brazen, direct, in your face. Because it is so open and bold and armed, you know what you are dealing with and can map your strategies of engagement accordingly. Racism in France is the Siamese twin of the racism in America. It is also very bold, assertive, in the open and in your face. Luckily, it is not armed like its American twin brother.

The racism in Canada is the Siamese twin of the racism in Britain. It is benign, hidden, unobtrusive, sophisticated, civilized, and perpetually in disguise. It takes years for your radar to be sufficiently honed to detect it. You usually don’t know or realize what you are dealing with. The fellow who makes it so brazenly obvious in Montreal yesterday that two black males are a problem during cash time, follows us around and even follows us outside the store is an exception. The racism here is much smoother.

Wherever racism exists, whether open, armed and bold or hiding, smooth and sophisticated, I just want it to end because Emperor Haile Selassie says there will always be war if it does not end.

Sister Pinkie Mekgwe, does this address your query about racism last week?


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada

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