Book Jacket Synopsis: “The Canada that visible minorities live in is different from the idealized Canada of Tim Hortons commercials, Hockey Night in Canada and countless other imaginings. It’s a Canada that takes credit for a level of open-mindedness that far exceeds its reality. It’s a Canada that distinguishes itself for a population of citizens who passively lay claim to welcoming difference while staying silent when those around them who are in fact different are disenfranchised, dehumanized, undervalued and left to feel that they do not belong in the country in which many of them were born. Canada’s next major challenge is not economic or political. It’s ethical. On the issue of racism, Canadians tend to compare themselves favorably to Americans and to rely on a concession that Canadian racism, if it exists at all, is more ‘subtle.’ Will newcomers and visible minorities ever be able to feel like they belong in Canada? Or will they have to accept their experience as visitors to Canada no matter how long they have lived here?”
Review: The unique cover of Visitor jumped out at me while browsing at my local public library, and I decided to give the book a try because the brief book jacket synopsis challenged some of my own, albeit limited, views of Canada. I found this book especially poignant because I am a true visitor to Canada, but will almost certainly encounter a very small fraction of the negative experiences that Anthony Stewart, a Canadian, faced during his life in Canada.
“For me, moving to the United States makes literal what I’ve always felt implicitly. I will not be an actual visitor in the nation in which I live; but for now that is preferable to being made to feel like a visitor in the nation that was supposed to be my home.”
This book was so interesting because everyone knows that Canada projects an image of “niceness,” one that has become even more pronounced since the election of Justin Trudeau and the corresponding drama of the American presidential election. What Stewart claims in Visitor, however, is that this image of “niceness” has forced a stalemate when it comes to issues of race in Canada. After all, if the whole world accepts that your country is welcoming and nice, what incentive is there for you to think otherwise?
“Instead of brutalizing and actively subjugating its people of color, as has been much of America’s history, Canada simply ignores and excludes its people of color, while simultaneously telling those same people – and the world at large – how tolerant and inclusive it is.”
Visitor felt very repetitive at times, which wasn’t too much of an issue since the book was short, but it did prevent me from giving the book four-star rating. Regardless, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand racism in the world today, and especially to Canadians, who may be able to benefit from reading Stewart’s perspective.
“The good news here is the Canadians are no worse than Americans. The bad news for many Canadians is to find out they are no better either and may in fact have more work to do, because of the story of a country without the problems of race so common everywhere else in the world.”