When I was in the sixth grade, I remember asking my mother what it was like for Muslims before 9/11. I was met with some pretty flowery language about how "Muslims could walk with their heads held high," and how "Canada used to be safe for us." Although I really appreciated the fantasy of living in a pre-9/11 world for a few moments, it was still hard to imagine.
Racism and general xenophobia in Canada have gone unchecked since its founding, as we're protected by a screen of kindness, tolerance and other stereotypes. We can't be racist; Canadians are so nice! We can't hate Muslims; our Prime Minister takes selfies with them! We're nothing like America; at least we don't have Donald Trump!
Amidst all of this naive ignorance, any acts of undeniable Islamophobia are either ignored or swept under the proverbial rug by being passed off as isolated incidents.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my local Tim Hortons. To the untrained and ignorant eye, I may have seemed a little suspicious. An ethnic-looking person in a parked car, scarf draped around my lumpy head, shuffling around for something suspicious (the other half of my sesame seed bagel.) In the madness of trying to locate my bagel, I didn't notice the devil in red flannel that was propelling his way toward me. Before I could look up, I heard a forceful tapping on my window.
For the upcoming events, I will refer to the aforementioned red-flanneled devil as "Robert," because he looked like a Robert, and that's what I've been calling him in my head. So, Robert twirls his finger, motioning for me to roll down my window, and I did. What followed was a jumbled cloud of "terrorist," "go back to your country" and "dirty Muzlum," and some other words that I would rather not repeat.
As sad as it may sound, I was used to this; fortunately, Robert was creative. After his face returned from flaming red to its normal colour, I watched as an idea flashed through his eyes. Then, Robert took off the top slice of his half-eaten BLT. He peeled the bacon off of it, licked it (for good measure) and hurled it through my window where it splat onto my cheek. After another word-cloud, that I don't really remember the contents of, Robert skipped away.
I'm willing to bet that any other person that is visibly different will have a similar string of stories.
Whenever I tell people this story, I'm met with one of two reactions. If the person is non-Muslim and white, or white passing, with no othering characteristics, their reaction is usually shock and horror. If the person is a visible minority in any sense, their reaction is usually sadness and drained acceptance.
My story is not a "one-off." In fact, since my passionate meeting with Robert, there have been countless other incidents. I'm willing to bet that any other person that is visibly different will have a similar string of stories.
So, why aren't they ever reported? Why didn't I call the police or ask for help or tell somebody? In my case, I was tired of the shock that I was usually met with whenever I tried to talk about what it's like to be Muslim in Canada, because that shock is usually shadowed with disbelief that our "tolerant society" could ever perpetuate something so violent. That disbelief is silencing. It worked on me and it has worked on millions of others.
Over the course of 2016, we've seen the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims decline, according to Statistics Canada, which sounds like great news. However, this has been attributed to fewer incidents being reported to police, also according to Statistics Canada.
So, what gives? If fewer crimes are being reported, but we know that Islamophobia is still a huge issue, why are the numbers showing otherwise? Either through internalizing our oppression or being afraid that no one will believe us, we are starting to speak up less and less.
And this silencing technique doesn't just work on the big things; it also works on microagressions. If someone won't believe some of the most horrific things that have happened to me, why would they believe the small ones? Why would they believe that every time someone "compliments" how articulate I am, that it's rooted in something deeper than ignorance?
More from HuffPost Canada:
Once we start to open our eyes to how deeply racism and Islamophobia have been woven into our culture, we must then ask who we are as Canadians? We cling so tightly to the notions of "multiculturalism," "acceptance" and "freedom of religion" that we've blocked out anything that doesn't follow that narrative. We are so self-righteous in the sense that "at least we aren't like those loud Americans!" But a whisper of hatred, veiled behind a smile, is still hate, and the problem can never be addressed if no one believes it exists.
And if you are somehow reading this Robert, may I suggest switching to turkey bacon? All of that fat and cholesterol is bound to catch up with you.