Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Newsflash: Canada is racist, too

“Go back to f*cking India…you camel-riding mother*cker.”

“Did you ever wear a turban? You should. I think your wife would like you better.”

"When did you come to Canada?"

"Are you a Hindu?"

Those were some of the choice words hurled at B.C. lawyer Ravi Duhra during a filmed confrontation over a parking ticket. Duhra began recording when he saw the racist man becoming irate with a parking enforcement officer who was issuing him a ticket.

Before we act all surprised, and start pretending that there's no possible way this could happen in Canada the great, let's get real honest about racism in the north.

The video made rounds on the internet, garnering lots of attention on social media, with local politicians, comedians and A-list celebrities like Seth Rogen reacting to the online buzz on the confrontation.

Duhra says he felt sadness and anger at the time of the confrontation and was initially “shocked”, unaware that the man seen in the video would become so aggressive. The man repetitively hurled insults at Duhra before yelling “white power, motherf*cker” and beating on his chest.

“He actually threatened me,” says the parking enforcement officer, who refused to be identified on camera out of fear.

The situation has been brought to the attention of the Abbotsford police, as well as their hate crime department, and officials say the man in the video is known to police.

“There are people like this out there,” Duhra says. “If you don’t see it, you tend to think it doesn’t happen.”

But it does.

Ask any person of colour and they’ll share anecdotes. Maybe they’ll tell you that they get pulled over more often than their white friends. Black women might share the memory of being asked if their hair is real. Maybe someone will recount a coworker making a “harmless” joke in the lunchroom about their food. Or maybe their story will be as horrific as Ravi Duhra’s.

This video is a prime example of how far Canada is from the country’s reputation of being the safe haven that it’s reputed to be.

Sure, Canada is a great place. It is one of the most multicultural hubs in the world, and there are pockets of the country designed to be second homes for people from all over the world. But there are terms and conditions that come with living here, and people of colour often have the fine print read out to them by people like this man seen in the video. There are parts of Canada—and specifically, parts of the population—that represent the gap between what Canada is in theory, and what this place is in reality for people of colour.

Ravi Duhra graduated with honours from the University of Northern British Columbia. He did a double major in accounting and finance before obtaining a joint law degree at the University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Windsor School of Law.

Since graduating, he’s practiced real estate law and managed several businesses. He is currently the managing real estate broker for My Move Realty, with operations throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the man in the video hurling racist insults is described only as being “known to police”.

Isn’t that interesting?

You’ve got two men, both born here in this great country, who obviously went two different paths in life. One of them endured years of rigorous schooling and excelled, becoming a prominent lawyer, establishing businesses within the country that aid our economy’s growth, while the other ended up double (and illegally) parked in two reserved spots, in his pathetic and ridiculously enlarged four-by-four.

Why is it that the people who concern themselves with the ethnicity, the religion and the Canadianness of people of colour are in fact, the most non-Canadian of us all?

Why is it that the people who demand that immigrants, and in this case, non-immigrants, go back to where they come from, don’t hail from here themselves?

Why is it that the very people who say that young, unarmed black men get shot by police because they “do not follow the law” cannot humbly accept a $110 parking ticket for an obvious violation without committing hate crimes in the process?

Why is it that those who claim that people of colour are “ruining this country” and “creating race wars” are the ones that scare their own people so much that they can’t even speak publicly over fear of retaliation?

If you ask me, Ravi Duhra is an exemplary Canadian, as well as an overall smart, accomplished and peaceful man. He refused to engage in a verbal or physical altercation with this man, despite being severely instigated. And perhaps the most Canadian thing of all that he did is simply start recording out of his concern for the parking enforcement officer, who was also white.

There is a very telling aspect of this video, and it is how the irate man keeps repeating, “I’m not threatening you,” and tells Duhra, “don’t be threatened.”

That’s the type of racism that exists in Canada. That’s the type of racism that we have here. The type of racism where the offenders get to decide whether or not the victims get to feel threatened. They have so much power that not only can they oppress us, but they can also dictate how, and whether at all, we are permitted to feel threatened.

So, to the white man in the video, who needs a lesson in both humanity and humility, the question isn’t “where did he come from?”

The question is where did you? 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Life after graduation: How I've settled into semi-adult life

On my vision board, I’ve got this picture of a birthday cake that says two numbers; 25 and 27.

According to the picture, 25 is when you’re at your happiest, and 27 is when you’re at your healthiest.

When I graduated university a few months ago, I didn’t know what to expect. How long would it take me to find a job? How much would I make at that job? Would I have to keep my current job to make ends meet? How much free time would I have? What would I do with that free time? How in the heck am I going to pay off these student loans? And most importantly, am I really going to be my happiest at 25?

This Thanksgiving, I did that really typical thing where you count all your blessings and think about all the things you’re grateful for. And much to my surprise, a lot of the worries and concerns that I had at the beginning of the year had disappeared without me even noticing their absence.

In January, tensions were high. I had to do a three-month unpaid internship while working full-time and taking a math course I found extremely difficult that was required in order to graduate. I had forked over some serious cash for a tutor who I would see whenever I had a second off work or school. I really wasn’t sure whether I’d make it to convocation in June.

There were several days I came home teary-eyed and defeated by 16-hour days. My parents, friends and even a few strangers heard all about it.

You get anxiety. Especially as a woman. Your biological clock is ticking. People are getting pregnant, engaged, married or all three everytime you blink. House prices are skyrocketing. All you want is a crystal ball that tells you you'll have it all in just a few years. But when that uncertainty looms in the air, it's hard to breathe sometimes.

Luckily, by the end of that internship, and certainly by the time I got that magical letter in the mail letting me know that finally, after six years, I’d satisfied the graduation sensei and was granted permission to graduate, things had worked themselves out.

First, I was able to land a job in my field just before graduation. It’s great pay, and I love the job I do. I take pride in it, I enjoy my coworkers, and I leave there everyday a tad bit more knowledgeable than I was when I arrived.

In terms of my student loan, living at home has allowed me to make significant dents in my payback amount, which was a whopping $22,000 just four months ago, and it currently sits at just under $10,000. According to my math, which like I said, isn't very good, that's $12,000 in repayment in just four months. Not bad.

Sure, it kills me to know that this money could be in the bank, but the cost of school was worth every penny. And strangely, I enjoy the challenge of trying to meet my deadline of full repayment by July 2017.

As I get closer and closer to the age of 25, I realize that maybe that’s the age Women’s Health magazine predicts us to be our happiest because while we are adults, we are still kids in a way.

My eye doctor gave me a “student discount” the other day despite me telling him I had finally graduated. Whenever I need something from my parents, I remind them that I’m in “repayment mode”, which prompts some sympathy and a hand with whatever task I’m facing.

But like I said, we’re also adults. I’ve set up RRSPs. My boyfriend and I have made a five-year plan that will hopefully result in home ownership, marriage, and some adorable, healthy kids.

I’ve heard people say that debt is just a part of life. I’ve heard people say that you can’t get everything you want. But I don’t want to be in debt. And I do want it all. To get that, I haven’t been able to completely part with those 16-hour days, and I’m limited to about one day off every two weeks. I’ve got a very boring social life, but people understand. If people truly love you and understand your goals and your mission, they understand.

One thing I’ve realized about life is that the things you want truly are yours for the taking. There’s obstacles. Tons. There’s competition. There’s lots and lots of “no’s”. But commitment, persistence and hard work can get you to the places that you want to be.

I wasn’t sure what to expect after graduation, and I’m not sure what to expect when I turn 25 in a few months, but I wouldn’t trade anything about my busy, tiresome, whirlwind days for anything that I could’ve imagined. And I truly believe that the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why I changed my mind about being a Beyonce-hater

The bigger a celebrity is, the less likely I am to like them.

So you can imagine how I feel about everyone from Drake to Nicki Minaj to Queen Bey.

When Lemonade dropped it was the topic of every discussion I had, overheard and avoided. I dreaded having to answer the question “Why don’t you like her?” because I knew people wouldn’t understand my indifference towards celebrities who I felt were overrated.

But it wasn’t until I asked myself why I really didn’t like her that I realized that actually, I really did.

It all started when I stumbled into work the other day just before seven in the morning, groggy-eyed and not nearly prepared for the day ahead. My vivacious coworker was blasting Beyonce from her phone. I had half an hour before the safe would beep, so I paced around the room trying to avoid the music.

Before I knew it, I was singing, humming and doing all the ad-libs to Halo.

“I thought you didn’t like her,” my coworker said to me.

“I don’t, but I used to have this song on my iPod.”

Then, songs from Lemonade started playing. And I listened. I really listened.

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow writer Talia Leacock wrote an amazing piece about celebrities who risk it all to be what she calls, and what I have also come to call “black black”. You know, unapologetically and fearlessly black. Like what Colin Kaepernick is doing with his anthem protest. And what Beyonce did with Lemonade. Here is an excerpt from her piece so that you know just what I’m referring to:

Remember when BeyoncĂ© put out Formation and white people realized Queen Bey was black? I mean they obviously knew she was black. Her pretty brown skin and the occasional slang term in her lyrics were dead giveaways. But after she sang, "I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils" and sat on top of a sinking New Orleans police car, they realized she was black black. The kind of black that doesn't bite their tongue and hide their accent and pretend they don't agree with Black Lives Matter. They realized she wasn't Stacey Dash black, or Raven Symone black. She was black-looking and black-minded and she was here for black people. Remember how pressed they were about that?

I was so turned off of Beyonce by the time Lemonade came out I never really gave it a chance. I watched it mindlessly, so pre-occupied thinking about the things on my to do list that I really missed the point that she was making in that very powerful and political release. A release that featured the mothers of slain black men who had been killed by cops. A release that had dealt with some of the most recurring issues head-on.

But when I heard it this time, with no choice but to listen to it, I realized that I had no right to dislike her. I also realized the damage that it does to pretend not to like her, especially as a black woman.

Questions fell from the sky like fat raindrops on my head.

Why are we so quick to celebrate women like Taylor Swift? Even after she lied outright on Kanye West?

Why are we not aware of the double-standard of her being able to couple up with whoever she wants in Hollywood, knowing that if it were a black woman she’d be slut-shamed?

Which brings me to my next point.

See that new movie coming out with Bridget Jones? The one about her not knowing who her baby daddy is? I wish I had a nickel for everytime someone said “Maury is for black people.”

Why are we so quick to idolize Lady Gaga for her outlandish and avant-garde style and music, when we have black women who do the same damn thing and receive little to no recognition?

Why are the Kardashians always trending when they bring little to no political or social awareness or contribution to anything, ever?

And why is there only one Beyonce? The obvious answer is because she’s Beyonce. But if you think about it, she’s one of the only black female powerhouses in Hollywood because Hollywood says there can only be one at a time. Meanwhile, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Ellie Goulding, Kelly Clarkson and all the rest of them can co-exist.

Certainly it’s not because there aren’t an abundance of talented black women. Ask Fantasia. Ask Jennifer Hudson. Ask Jazmine Sullivan. As a matter of fact, sit in on a church service, a black black church service on a Sunday and tell me you don’t have enough singers to make the whole of Hollywood black.

As I paced around the room, listening to the lyrics and the voice ooze out of this superstar, I realized what my real problem was.

Being a Beyonce fan meant I also had to stand by her political messages, her social messages. You can’t like someone’s music but not the message. Not when it’s that powerful. In denying her, I was denying my people and I was denying what needed to be said.

In all honesty, Beyonce put her fame on the line when she released Lemonade. She put her fame on the line when she decided to be black black.

And who am I to object to that?

Here is a woman who has never been involved in a scandal. She’s been with Jay-Z, another black powerhouse, for almost twenty years (and they even went to the Trayvon Martin rally together in 2013). She dedicated herself to her career, married the love of her life and even had time to have a daughter, who became the centre of a media witch-hunt at the age of two for the way her hair was styled.

I know I'm way late to the party. But this isn’t just about liking her music. This isn’t about judging the extent that her fans go to let her know she’s love and revered. This is about giving respect to one of the most-deserving women in Hollywood and arguably in the world.

This is about a black woman who has truly risen to be an artistic voice, but also a social and political one on an international stage for black people. And there are a ton of people who will probably refuse to listen to her music now. Or they’ll say they liked her old stuff better. They’ll say they don’t understand. Maybe someone else will pop up and take over shortly.

But there can only be one Bey. And whoever musters up the courage to try and compete with the success she’s acquired will fall short. Shorter than Britney Spears’ performance after Beyonce’s at the VMAs.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Why Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are one big mess

This weekend, Lena Dunham issued a much-needed apology to NFL star Odell Beckham Jr.

The apology came after social media users expressed outrage at her comments during an interview with Amy Schumer for Lenny Letter, a weekly online feminist newsletter. During the interview, Dunham recalled the 2016 Met Gala, where she sat next to Beckham Jr.

In the interview with Schumer, she determined that the football player was “confused” and “determined that [she] was not the shape of a woman by his standards.” She went on to say that he appeared to have a conversation with himself about whether he wanted to have sex with her, and opted instead to scroll through Instagram “rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie.”

The issue that most people have taken with this is her projection of “white feminism” onto a black male body. People, including Dunham herself in her apology, are acknowledging her narcissistic assumptions, misogyny and over-sexualization of the football player.

But this is just one layer of this complex, multi-faceted issue that seems to plague our society over and over and over again.

Just a few days prior to this Lenny Letter interview, Amy Schumer was doing a show as part of her world tour in Stockholm, Sweden when she got heckled by a guy wearing an “I love pussies” t-shirt and yelling out “Show us your tits!”

Schumer didn’t hesitate to pause the show and publicly shame him for his remarks, to which the audience roared with applause until the heckler got kicked out.

So a few days later, when Lena Dunham made her very sexist, very narcissistic and very, dare I say, unfeminist remarks, the question—one of three that I intend to ask—becomes:

Why didn’t Amy Schumer do anything?

The simple answer is probably because they’re friends. Probably because it would’ve screwed up the interview. Probably because it would’ve resulted in a loss of money. Who really knows? The possibilities are endless. But in this case, “possibilities” is really just a substitute for the word “excuses”. 

Or maybe the real reason she didn't say anything is because neither her or Lena Dunham are real feminists. 

The interview with Schumer continued on and they got to talking about how much people ragged on her for not speaking out about comments made by a writer and comedian who had been on her show named Kurt Metzger. Metzger had made really inappropriate Facebook posts in the past; the one they were discussing particularly dealt with women who had been raped and assaulted. Their conversation expressed Schumer’s frustration at having to answer for things like this, and in her own words, “Why this week?”

Imagine that. You, a big time feminist and role model for women all around the world don’t want to answer for a man you hired who had awful things to say about women who have been raped and assaulted.

Needless to say, this is what happens when two white women who call themselves feminists with no real understanding of intersectionality sit down to talk about how feminist they are.

If Amy Schumer can interrupt a world tour to call out a heckler for saying “Show us your tits!” why on earth was she not able to pause an online newsletter interview with her friend and call attention to what those remarks really conveyed? It was her golden opportunity to change the conversation.

Dunham’s apology, posted to Instagram, followed a post of her Facetiming with Michael B. Jordan, who was also a topic in the interview. She stated that she “tried to grind [her] ass on him” and then left.

The picture was captioned, “MBJ & I are still chill after I danced on him, kids.”

Dunham’s response to this entire issue, except for maybe the apology, just maybe,
seems to be that of a person who is always right, and therefore has no idea what to do when they’re wrong. She’s had this air of arrogance, as if she needs everyone to just calm down, this isn’t a real issue. Referring to all the people that took issue with her remarks as “kids”, really? She’s one of those annoying people we all hate who feel like one apology outweighs the initial act, the initial hurt. Once the apology is made, everyone should just get over it.
Second question. How does one get over something that plagues them everyday? The idea that Michael B. Jordan is someone that you feel the need to “grind” your ass on rather than sit and talk to. The idea that Odell Beckham Jr. is just some guy who’s not interested in your vagina. That’s not us. That’s not our men. You had no right to speak for him. You had no right to speak for us.

Third question. Is Lena Dunham not a feminist for her remarks? Is Amy Schumer still a feminist for kicking out the heckler but refusing to stand up for an entire population of people plagued by issues so insensitively mocked by her good friend? The two are still feminists in the same way that cops are still cops after publicly revealing that their racial biases govern how they do their job.

We’ll never know why she said what she said. And we’ll never know why Schumer didn’t call her out. But for now, it’s probably safe to say it just wasn’t their week.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Five things you should know about paying back student loans

It hadn’t even been a week after my graduation before the National Student Loans Centre (NSLC) kindly let me know it was time to pay up.

The Monday after my graduation, a brown envelope arrived for me in the mail with red letters that said: IMPORTANT. As much as I hate to admit that for the next x amount of years, I’ll be forking out some serious cash, the NSLC is right; repaying your student loans, and any loan for that matter, is important. 

Not paying an outstanding loan can be detrimental. Besides paying unnecessary interest, being in debt stops you from achieving true financial freedom. No matter how much money you have saved, if what you owe is more than you have banked, you’re still in the red. Here are a few things to keep in mind when that dreaded time comes.

Interest still accrues during the six-month grace period

I was so relieved to be offered a six-month grace period where monthly payments were not necessary. The relief quickly turned sour when I realized that despite payments being suspended, interest was still accruing. Contact the NSLC to find out how much your interest during the grace period is, and consider staying on top of it by paying a lump sum.

The grace period actually begins when you complete full-time studies

Prior to graduating, I noticed my loan was already in “grace period” status. When I called the NSLC to ask why, they informed me that the grace period actually begins when you are no longer enrolled in full-time studies. 

During the last two semesters, I, like many students, had a conflict with my work and internship schedules and course availability, and therefore enrolled in part-time schooling.

Knowing that your grace period starts when your full-time studies are over is something to keep in mind when registering for courses. Depending on your situation, it might be better to enroll in that third course to delay repayment, or you might opt for getting a head start on the payments. Even if you can’t afford to make the full monthly payments, gathering enough to stay on top of the interest (about $1.90 a day for a $22,000 loan), can make a difference in your total repayment amount.

Don’t believe the hype; the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) just keeps you in debt for longer

A lot of graduates, while looking for full-time jobs in their field, take advantage of the NSLC’s RAP program. It calculates your monthly income and expenses and allows you to make much smaller payments. While the idea might sound like it provides relief, it ends up costing you more in the long run.

The longer you take to pay off your student loans, the longer you’re in debt, and more importantly, the more you’re spending on interest. It might sound great to make $60 monthly payments instead of $160 payments, but it’s costing you exponentially to maintain the debt, and repaying it is inevitable so you might as well get it done.

Go with floating, not fixed
Repayment gets a little tricky when words like “floating” and “fixed” come into play. But to make it simple, always go with whatever is going to cost you the least money. In this case, the floating interest rate is the way to go. If you’re ever unsure, call an NSLC representative to ask for clarification or speak to a financial advisor at your local bank branch that you trust to ask for a second opinion.

Make as many lump sum payments as possible
My plan was to pay off my loan as aggressively as possible, and considering I was living at home, I was able to do this. I took thousands of dollars out of my savings and paid down my loan. It left me with almost nothing to count on in the event of an emergency but that money would’ve sat there and collected dust (and maybe a few cents in interest monthly) anyway.

Within three months, I have paid off almost $11,000 of my student loan. By living at home, juggling two jobs, putting a majority of my income towards my loan and doubling the pre-authorized payment from the NSLC, I’m more than halfway to being debt-free.

And you can get there too. 

Student loans suck. But in reality, they help hundreds of thousands of students afford the opportunity to go on to post-secondary and multiply their earning potential throughout their lifetime. While student loans may seem like a burden, try to look at debt as something that builds character, discipline and financial responsibility.

Remember when you got your acceptance letter? Remember when your school let you know you would be graduating? 

Now imagine the feeling you’ll get when the NSLC sends you a letter letting you know your loans are paid in full.