Manitoba·Point of View

'That can't be my Winnipeg': Racism on the rise here, says woman born and raised in city

"I have spent the majority of my life in Winnipeg, but people still don't see me," says Reanna Khan, a third-generation Winnipegger. "The longer I live here, the more I am forced to realize we aren't an inclusive, diverse city where people get to enjoy equal opportunity,"

'I am forced to realize we are not a diverse, inclusive city,' says 3rd-generation Winnipegger Reanna Khan

Reanna Khan says recent — and repeated — experiences with racism have altered her perspective of the city she grew up in. (Submitted by Reanna Khan)

I was born and raised in Winnipeg.

In fact, I've lived here so long, the hospital where I was born doesn't even have a maternity ward anymore. I have spent the majority of my life in Winnipeg, but people still don't see me. 

When I started school, I was one of two people of colour among three classes. My classmates stayed with me right up until I graduated. Not one of them ever made me feel like I was an outsider.

I was lucky. I was never teased about the golden hues in my brown skin or the blackness of my hair.

I always assumed this was because my classmates had parents who taught them to see the value in a person, rather than to judge someone based on their skin colour. 

Reanna Khan performing at Caripeg, an annual Caribbean cultural festival, as a child. She says she never experienced racism while growing up in Winnipeg, but that's changed. (Submitted by Reanna Khan)

I spent most of my 20s outside of Winnipeg, and after a long seven years, I moved back with my husband. A short nine months later, we welcomed my son, the fourth generation of my family living in Winnipeg.

I must say it was a tough reintroduction to Canada.

For the first time in my life, I started to realize the rules were a bit different for me.

For the first time in my life, I began to understand what racism was. 

The city had changed, and it was hard to ignore it. 

'That is not my Winnipeg'

Despite my feelings, I was eager to take my husband to see the sites of Winnipeg. (OK, we all know that means I took him to The Forks.)

We sat down beside a family on the newly sanded beach area by the river. They watched us with a disgusted look, gathered their children, and got up and moved to the adjacent bench.

I brushed it off and told my husband, "Don't let it bother you. That is not my Winnipeg."

That is when I heard, 'You ***** terrorist! Get out of my city!'

Two weeks later, my girlfriends and I started to brunch again. It was fantastic to be in their company, and we had so much to catch up on.

My oldest friend had just bought a house in one of Winnipeg's most desirable neighbourhoods, and she gushed about how excited she was. I was so happy for her.

In the midst of her story, she made a comment that to this day, I do not fully understand. She said her neighbours loved the fact that a young, white couple had moved into the community.

I hid my hurt deep down inside and realized she didn't even notice that I wasn't white. She didn't know the impact her story had on me, and to be honest, neither did I. I wondered, "Why someone would even say that?"

That can't be my Winnipeg.

Reanna Khan, left, with her son and husband. After he was recently shot at by someone using a pellet gun, 'I can't bear to think about what has happened when I don't hear from him,' says Khan. (Submitted by Reanna Khan)

A few months later, on a chilly Sunday morning, I went down to the Exchange District, one of my favourite spots in the city, for an exciting workshop.

 As I left the studio at 2 p.m., I noticed a shadow lingering behind me.

The man started mumbling, and then I began to feel my heartbeat through my jacket, I began to feel nervous. I didn't want to turn around, so I started walking faster. That is when I heard, "YOU ******* TERRORIST! GET OUT OF MY CITY."

This is definitely not my Winnipeg. 

The city has built a great campaign on multiculturalism, but no one's buying into it.

Shortly after, my husband started sharing the obstacles he faced working as a tradesperson in and around our city.

He began to recount stories of people not serving him in restaurants and people talking down to him at work. The typical nonsense many people of colour endure daily.

My jaw dropped as he began to share two recurring episodes. Often working 12-14 hour days, homeowners would invite his crew in for hot coffee and a bite to eat. His crew.

Not him.

How could this possibly be my Winnipeg?

'I am Winnipeg'

The second story is even worse — it's the reason I call him five times a day.

It's the reason I can't bear to think about what has happened when I don't hear from him.

The incidents occurred in the pit of winter, when the world is so still, and farmers' fields are endless blankets of snow.

My husband describes the day as so quiet, it was almost deafening — until a sudden noise echoed through the air. A pellet had ricocheted off some metal.

Yes, someone was using my husband as target practice with a pellet gun.

How can this be MY FREAKING WINNIPEG? 

The stories get worse, but over time it has become our reality.

I am brown, short and curvy. I shop at all the same places you do. I drink the same coffee and drive on the same pothole-infested roads as you.

I couldn't believe it — when the foggy cloud I had in front of me my whole life was lifted, people of colour were invisible.

Every advertisement I saw, every Instagram page I frequented, was predominately white people.

Racism, or whatever -ism you want to call it, is alive and well in Manitoba.

It's a sad truth that the city has built a great marketing campaign off multiculturalism, but no one is buying into it.

The longer I live here, the more I am forced to realize we aren't an inclusive, diverse city where people get to enjoy equal opportunity, or even a level of respect among each other. 

Hello, my name is Reanna.

I am brown, short and curvy. I shop at all the same places you do. I drink the same coffee and drive on the same pothole-infested roads as you.

So forgive me if I want you to see me. Understand, I am not a woman scorned.

I simply want you to realise that I exist.

I am not a minority. I am Winnipeg. 

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Reanna Khan is the owner of an award-winning Caribbean travel blog, neverseecomesea.com. Her objective is to challenge the tourism industry to be more inclusive, diverse and representative of all travellers. She is also a proud mother and wife.

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