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November 20, 2019

The Hypocrisy of our Judgement against Don Cherry for his “You People,” Xenophobic Rant.

Don Cherry, 85, is Don Cherry.

He didn’t surprise me. The hockey icon was being himself. I heard his “You people” rant live and I was not offended. It was an offensive rant, but as a racialized young woman myself, I was not offended.

Strange? Shocking? I was surprised when my Facebook newsfeed was filled with people’s angry posts.

What did Cherry do to deserve a terrible end to his career as a broadcaster? Words! He only said words. Don’t be a snowflake, you’re too sensitive, what’s wrong with what I just said?— those are the direct or indirect responses that replace apologies when many of us feel offended. I’m disappointed by folks who would unleash their version of the “You people” rant whenever they have a conversation with a racialized person, but throw the xenophobia label at Cherry.

I’m aware that by the time my post gets published, you’ll have seen Cherry on your Facebook newsfeed over and over if you are in Canada. He has a podcast and this makes it perfect timing for my rant here.

If you’ve judged Cherry, I ask you to recall the times in which you used “you people” rhetoric when addressing people who don’t look like you. Our diverse, strong communities are not immune to divisiveness or the hidden faces of divisiveness. They’re hidden because I rarely see them being addressed. They’re hidden because they’re never followed by an apology. They’re hidden because the same person who would scrutinize Cherry might have their own version of a “you people” rant.

Individuals’ statements against Cherry are worthless and reflect hypocrisy if they happen to be the same people insisting on asking this question to everyone who doesn’t look like them: “Where are you really from?” Let’s take another look at Don Cherry’s rant that got him into real trouble:

“You people love, you that come here, whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada.”

Compare it to these funny (not so funny) real-life scenarios:

After a long day of workshops at a conference in Toronto, I decided to take a break. A participant, another racialized woman, asked me a few questions that led to a nice conversation. Another woman interrupted our conversation and asked: “You sound beautiful, what language are you speaking?” We had only one shared language: English.

For a moment, I was speechless. “What language? English!” I was astonished.

“Oh, no. You were speaking some other language,” she said. She immediately followed up, “Okay. But where are you from?”

Her untold rant was: You people, you came here from another country. You don’t speak English. Shortly after, she was back to the room talking about women’s rights and how to combat discrimination.

Another scenario:

I was excited about the gala dinner and eager to hit the dancing floor—an opportunity to get a good workout after a fancy three-course meal. A gentleman interrogated me about my “culture” and I spent the entire evening answering questions about “the Middle East.”

Dinner was served. I enjoyed it and it was dessert time. The man beside me asked, “What was your favourite dessert as a kid?”

I answered, “Ice cream.”

He was not convinced. “But you’re Middle Eastern, how come your favourite dessert was ice cream. What would your mother make?”

I responded, “You know being an Arab doesn’t mean that we don’t like ice cream. And my mother bakes chocolate cake.”

“No, what’s your dessert as a Middle Eastern,” he asked again. “My dad makes delicious milk pudding with cardamom and rose water,” I hoped this was a good answer. Thank you, dad, for saving me. All those years of making Mahalabiya pudding haven’t gone in vain. I can say that us people like Mahalabiya.

The man was keen on continuing the conversation with the interesting Arab whose father makes Mahalabiya: “What’s your favourite sport?”

“I like Yoga”—I was genuine with my answer.

Again, he was not convinced. “What sports do people like in the Middle East.” I was thinking: Being a Canadian-Arab doesn’t make me an ambassador on behalf of millions of people in the “Middle East” while Canada is my home.  

I’m not divisive and I’ll never be. However, I invite my friends to reflect on their words and actions. If we want to build strong communities, we need to truly celebrate our diversity and never let “you people” rants become an everyday custom.

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