Are Canadians Racist?, Version 2

So I'm crossing the Canadian border just north of Blaine, Washington, in my silvery and lovely Civic. Nearly every time I cross over, I get hassled.

This time, they couldn't get over that I had a bottle of Jet Alert (200 mg caplets of the lovely caffeine) in the car, that I had a few Snickers and bottles of water in a plastic bag on the passenger seat, and that I was going to Canada to try to finish some writing projects.

Mostly, I'm sure that they couldn't get over the fact that I was a minority, but we'll get back to that shortly.

The caffeine's easy: I told the guy who came in after the first part of my car's inspection that I don't sleep a whole lot because I've got tons of stuff going on, and, besides, I told him, the bottle was nearly full. I probably shouldn't have laughed incredulously as we had this part of the conversation, but it was a pretty stupid conversation to be having. I almost told him about a New York Times article from a few months back that spoke to the nearly magical power of caffeine, but I didn't think that it would help. I was also sure that I would sound, as I am wont to do when talking to utter idiots, condescending and bemused in a way that could only make it worse for me.

Then we entered the Snickers-related part of the conversation. I had started with perhaps eight bars to sustain me during both the north-bound and the south-bound portions of my trip, and I had consumed two. That's right, mathematicians, I was being questioned about roughly sixish Snickers bars. I again couldn't help laughing as I asked him how many bars he and his fellow security guards had found, and that was when he reminded me that being accepted into Canada was a privilege. He went on to explain that it was the combination of Snickerses(?) and caffeine that was of concern, and that he wasn't retarded for asking his little questions. If you say so, retard. I then explained that I only really eat once a day, in the evening, but this seemed to bring him no comfort.

And we closed our conversation talking about my writing process. He just couldn't get it. Going to Whistler Village to write seems like a perfectly good reason to drive eighteen hours over one-and-a-half days to me, but perhaps only a fellow writer or some other type of artist would understand or agree.

Then, unsatisfied, he went back to my car to help in the continuing search for who knows what. I was there for about a total of forty minutes. I'm quite convinced that an American poet has never had such a difficult time crossing into Canada or has inspired so much confusion and/or fear in a bunch of presumably highly skilled customs agents.

Eventually, another agent (the one who had handled my initial questioning as I stood next to my car and who then told me to go wait inside) came back and told me that they were all done and that my keys and passport were on the center console of my ride. I took this moment to ask him if he thought minorities were hassled more often than were other ethnic groups that tried to cross into Canada. He took immediate offense and told me that my question was pissing [him] off. I told him about how often I was asked to pull into one of the car inspection slots and then asked many questions about the purpose of my trip while my property was carefully gone over, and then I asked if he thought that that high frequency was unusual.

He said no. Shocking, clearly. As I went outside, the caffeine/Snickers/writerly method/not retarded guy was coming inside. I asked him, as a fellow minority, if he didn't feel that dark-skinned people were treated differently at the border. Any person would have to say that, yes, of course, a dark-skinned member of a minority group will be treated at least a little differently at least a very small part of the time. To decisively say that this isn't the case is to be irredeemably stupid or willfully blind. He then helpfully explained how Canada is the most multicultural country in the world.

Okay, I tried.

(Hey, I'm going to count this post as having gotten writing done.)


(Editor's Note, 22 June 2009: It's quite rightly been pointed out to me that I've been less-than-generous in this post. That’s certainly true about the title, where I used inflammatory language in a way that was unkind and unnecessary.

The title’s unfair. It impugns by implication, but what’s implied is so obviously so. It’s like asking if air contains oxygen.

Canadians, as a group, are clearly racist. Calm down. So are Americans and Mexicans and don’t even get me started on those goddamned Norwegians. It’s easy to say that, as a group, most nationalities and ethnicities are at least a little bit racist (easy to say because it’s true), and I should have started with or at least mentioned that point. I was condemning them for something for which we should all be condemned.

I’ve only ever really had problems with Canadians when I’m at the border and they seem to be convinced that I’m completely sketchy or when I’m in a Richmond, British Columbia, parking lot and I’m going to have to fight a guy over a parking space that he’s trying to steal from me by coming in from the other side, though that particular guy wouldn’t step out of his car, after acting like he was hardcore and ready to go, when I invited him to get out of his ride so that we could definitively settle who was going to get the parking space.

I also should have mentioned at some point that I love Canada. For a Chicano from California who has to drive almost seventeen hours to get there, I do seem to find a way to get to Vancouver every few years. I could live there, no problem, though, really, they need to do something about their money. Nobody needs to end up at the end of the day with a pocket full of loonies and toonies.)