Zeinab Merai, Sada al-Mashrek
“A victim was there, in the middle of downtown Montreal, being humiliated for his English while there were thirty or forty people in the café. How come they kept sitting?!
The victim was clearly not a white man; it should have immediately triggered some sort of solidarity…”
A concerned Quebecker says he wants to “disseminate amongst Muslim and Arab diaspora an incident of racial abuse and anti-immigrant bigotry in the vicinity of Concordia University in downtown Montréal, in order to make the Muslims and Arab communities aware.”
Speaking to “Sada al-Mashrek”, the Pakistani Canadian Muslim has chosen to remain anonymous. That’s why the term “Conscientious Citizen” will be used in the article to refer to him.
The Montreal incident
“I had an unpleasant experience on September 23rd at Montreal’s Concordia University campus, which has got a very large Arab student body, including Lebanese.
I was at a Starbucks, and I witnessed racial abuse and humiliation of a new immigrant at the hands of a Starbucks barista in front of everyone in the store. I knew I would blame myself later if I didn’t do something… I was thinking to myself, ‘Just get out of your comfort zone and stand up!’ So I ended up standing up and creating a little bit of a scene there.”
A parallel US incident
The Pakistani Canadian Muslim, whose Twitter page shows a lot of dedication for humanitarian and social causes says he wants “to get the story out because Starbucks is in everyone’s life. Even if you go to Mecca, as soon as you get out of al-Masjid al-Harām [the Great Mosque of Mecca], there’s a Starbucks… As much as they are present everywhere in the world, they’ve also been in hot water because of their racial issues and prejudice.”
Indeed, on 16 April 2018, two black men waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks were treated unfairly. Writer and activist Melissa De Pino, who shared a video that went viral and triggered wide outrage recounted that “the police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white people are wondering ‘why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing’.”
The very next day, Starbucks announced it would close more than 8,000 of its stores in the US in the afternoon of May 29th “to conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination” at the company-owned stores. The company also said that the training was going to “be provided to nearly 175,000 partners (employees) across the country, and will become part of the onboarding process for new partners.” (https://twitter.com/missydepino/status/984539713016094721?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E984539713016094721%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.inquirer.com%2Fphilly%2Fnews%2Fstarbucks-philadelphia-arrests-black-men-video-viral-protests-background-20180416.html and https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/starbucks-philadelphia-arrests-black-men-video-viral-protests-background-20180416.html
“A huge deal”
“This was a huge deal. Imagine the money Starbucks makes in one day,” says Conscientious Citizen. Concerning the “expense of the company’s day of anti-bias training”, “BNN Bloomberg” reported that it was “estimated by Bloomberg to cost around US$16.7 million in lost sales. But maintaining the status quo would have also been costly.” The Canadian business-news network as well mentioned that “according to “Apex Marketing Group”, which measures the value of media exposure, the company suffered nearly US$16 million in negative press reports.” (https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/racist-incident-brought-starbucks-16-million-in-negative-press-1.1085051)
Notably, the American multinational coffee company has fallen into several other controversies, including issues with its own baristas.
“I needed to step in”
“If I hadn’t stood up to support that person, he would have got insulted even more, and he wasn’t even able to understand what was happening to him,” Conscientious Citizen recalls, estimating the victim was in his fifties.
“I knew they could have called the police on me, lied or made up an issue, but it was just not possible to keep sitting and say that ‘Oh, at least my reputation is intact’ and keep myself safe… So there we were: two people surrounded by an all-white employee base and quite a few white customers. Obviously there were 30-40 people in the café at that time.”
Conscientious Citizen says a lot of the customers were Arab; the area is populated by many Lebanese and other Arab communities.
“What I noticed is that they all knew that I was having a heated exchange, but none of them bothered to support me and the victim; they all either looked the other way or were laughing, as if we had been putting a show there.
I want to give them the benefit of the doubt; I am not saying they were all cowards… This barista there was trying to humiliate the immigrant by insulting his English… How come no one knew how to support a person who was taking a stand?!” Conscientious Citizen says the customers “didn’t have the courage or knowledge to intervene. The other non-white people should have immediately stood up and supported the victim.”
“They should know how to show support without creating a situation where the police is coming in,” advises he, saying they should do it “peacefully but forcefully and logically, making sure that they have made their presence known and that they know how to follow up and where to complain…”
“Risk control measures should be augmented”
“Muslim and Arab communities are growing in numbers. The more they grow, the more they start getting embroiled or involved in issues they have been skirting so far. Muslim women have been
stripped off the elections at the last minute because they had said something about a conflict.
As the community grows and starts to explore unchartered quarters or areas, its members also expose themselves to risks that one does not take while sitting at home,” says the Quebecker.
“As the risks increase, risk control measures should also be augmented… Other community members should beef up their skills on how to protect them from those risks. They should know what number to call, what e-mail address to contact or how to complain properly using North American protocols. They don’t need to yell and shout; they have a recourse. Otherwise, it’s everybody for themselves,” warns the concerned Greater Montreal resident.
“You should know how to be an ally of the victim. You see something happening, say something… There are scientific procedures to follow when you complain; you wouldn’t want to complain to the buddies of that employee… They all could probably be best friends outside of the workplace. Complaining to his on-duty shift supervisor would be a waste of time, too. You should learn how to contact the oversight bodies of the agencies regulating restaurants, cafes and other customer experiences in Canada,” advises he.
“Take evidence and photos, record videos, note down the time, keep the receipt and contact information of other witnesses so that they can be contacted if this complaint becomes a police matter, a lawsuit or anything than a customer-service incident. So all of these things come with education, which Muslim and Arab communities lack...”
Conscientious Citizen emphasises that “we need to be taught how to logically stand up for ourselves and for others who don’t have the knowledge base or the strength to stand up for themselves…”
Perhaps an education day should be held in Canada this time, but ultimately, a whole lot needs to be done to change the supremacist mentality that has forever lain within all societies, including those boasting of democratic values.
“Not my first experience”
“This wasn’t my first experience. The Muslims or Arabs that I see usually in these situations are the first ones looking in the other way and trying to get out of it, and I think that really needs to change,” Conscientious Citizen tells “Sada al-Mashrek”.
“Just sitting and watching was selfish. If 2 or 3 people had stood up the other day, it could have sent a very strong message to that employee or his colleagues: ‘We need to stop because this is going to create a situation for us.’ Maybe next time they plan to insult or denigrate a human being they might think there is going to be a reaction from other people in the café. They were sure nobody would stand up, and that’s why it happened.”
It’s the same old story: A lot of apologetic Canadian Muslims and Arabs are afraid to step in where needed lest they be labelled as “un-Canadian” in their imaginary world of "virtuous Canadianism", which requires that you say nothing in a wrong situation like this. Does that make one a “better” Canadian? I wonder.