Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Racist attacks make me feel like a guest in the place I've long called home

'Think of a slur like a punch. Whether it stems from ignorance or intent, the target of the attack still bears the brunt,' writes Prajwala Dixit.

After suggesting we celebrate holidays from other cultures as well as Christmas, the trolls emerged

'Think of a slur like a punch,' writes Prajwala Dixit. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

Trolling is one of those annoying job hazards attached to my line of work. And that's fine. I know what I signed up for and, normally, I'd say troll away.

But this time it was a little different. This time it was about the skin I'm in.

A few months ago, I wrote about celebrating and recognizing cultural and religious holidays, in addition to Christmas and Easter.

My melanin-rich skin stirred the venom in some people, and they spat it at me on social media.

Think of a slur like a punch.- Prajwala Dixit

People tweeted comments like, "Oh, so you didn't grow up here Praj? Guess you shouldn't really be telling Canadians how it should be then, should ya?"

Another: "As she prefers to hyphenate her cultural background [using 'Indian-Canadian'] I have lost all respect for her. She is not a Canadian and her words are meaningless."

And even more: "Yeah we'll change it when Muslims stop celebrating Romadon in there countries."[sic]

Assumptions were made — solely based on the colour of my skin — of where I come from, what I should eat, which religion I follow and if my country of origin would permit such "an outrageous ask," as the commenters said.

"Why did you and thousands upon thousands of immigrants choose of your own free will to come here? Christmas is a Canadian tradition. If you don't like it, leave. It's that simple," wrote others.

"We are Newfoundlanders and we do Christmas! Accept it. You also are welcome to do the holidays your way (Ramadan for example) we respect yours, you respect ours!"

We're told to ignore it

Open acts of racism are unacceptable face-to-face but have been replaced by micro-aggressions that leave me confused about whether there was a racist intent or not.

Whether it's the lack of effort in pronouncing an ethnically different name, the thought that I don't celebrate Christmas because of the colour of my skin or the assumption that intelligence is bound by a language (like English), micro-aggressions are the real face of racism today, affecting people of colour.

Dixit sold hand-painted diyas, used in Diwali celebrations, to raise money for Newfoundland and Labrador public libraries in November. (CBC)

I know I'm not the first one to experience such explicit hate and, unfortunately, I know I won't be the last either.

As people of colour, we are often told to turn a blind eye — and I have — when a racial slur comes our way. "Oh, they're just ignorant," is what we tell ourselves to keep our sanity intact.

But think of a slur like a punch. Whether it stems from ignorance or intent, the target of the attack still bears the brunt.

My colour, country of origin become targets

Two weeks after my piece was published, Ainsley Hawthorn, a friend, wonderful human being and a white Canadian, wrote an article based on my piece.

That's when the bias and racism became more apparent.

"Not only was I not subjected to racism or assumptions about my religion after my piece was published, the criticism wasn't anywhere near as vicious as what you experienced, even though I thought your piece was more measured than mine," she wrote to me in a note.

"I was the one who was criticizing the way we celebrate Christmas and the way people act around the holidays, not you, and yet people went after you and not me. That alone says a lot about racism and how people/authors are treated differently based on assumptions about their racial and cultural identities."

The reality is that, as an immigrant, a woman, and one of colour, I have come to expect that when I put my opinion out there, my country of origin, colour and gender become magnets for unsavoury remarks — to put it politely.

Still seen as a guest in my home

What's been more difficult to wrap my mind around is the fact that, nearly a decade after I put roots down in Newfoundland, I am still perceived as a guest in the place I call home.

It leaves me with the feeling that no matter how much I love this country — that no matter how deep my social and economic ties run, that no matter that I married a man of this soil, that no matter that I carried and I am raising one of its own — it won't treat me like one of its own.

Dixit has lived in Newfoundland for 10 years and has a child in the province. Yet racist micro-aggressions telling her to go back to where she came from still make her feel like she's not welcome, she writes. (Prajwala Dixit )

It is in these moments that, with great effort, I remind myself that people like Ainsley Hawthorn exist. I have received love, respect, a voice and belonging here.

Canada's rugged beauty drew me in, and regardless of all the comments telling me to go back to where I came from, this is my home and, like everyone else, I'm here to stay, to contribute, to grow and to thrive.

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