Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I'm reposting a reply to a valid comment made today about what could be construed as an absence of ethnicity on Seen Reading. It's not like I don't notice it myself. I was asked whether noting a person's race is useful in this context if the vast majority of descriptions are of Caucasian readers. I answered:

I've long questioned that and made a conscious decision not to address it. I do think it adds, race is a hugely significant locater. All I can offer is that I'm working with a specific demographic, mostly on transit, mostly en route to work in the core of downtown Toronto. The simple fact is there are more Caucasians reading in these places at these times. Because, believe you/me, I want this blog, this world, to be as diverse as humanly possible.
Soze you know!


shannon said...

I can see how it can be a sensitive issue. But didn't I hear that Caucasians are a minority in Toronto?

Personally, I love that you include it. If you didn't, I would probably just assume they're all white, only because I'm from Tasmania and there aren't many noticeably ethnic groups there, so you don't tend to think of people in those terms.

It's a bit like in that Southpark episode, with the white stick figures hanging a black stick figure on the town's flag, and the kids don't understand why everyone's upset cause they never noticed that people were different colours. I always loved that episode, I thought, how true - we're conditioned to see people according to colour as we grow up. It's the same with gender-specific toys (which I hate, personally). When kids are little, they don't care if it's a boys toy or a girl's toy, they either want to play with it or they don't.

Or it's like when, in books, the author talks about "Man" or "men" and "Mankind" - does anyone actually picture women when they read that word? I certainly don't! It means exactly what it says, and for a long time that was fine cause it was a men's world. I took umbridge at a professor at uni who wanted to justify the use of that one.

Whoops, got a bit off topic there!

What I want to say is, reading your blog reminds me just how diverse and colourful and eccentric the world is. I find it refreshing, and why shouldn't we celebrate our rich variety of skin tones? It's nothing to be ashamed about!

August said...

Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in North America, but it's also very much a city of neighbourhoods, and in the neighbourhoods Julie mentioned, the primary demographic is caucasian.

As for the masculine/feminine dichotomy, well... I'm not so much into the politicizing of language. In most cases it denies legitimate etymology, and the scholar in me simply can't condone that.

I do find myself reading rather more conspicuously now, though. Hoping to be seen. ;)

The Expat said...

I actually like the style.

"Caucasian man, wearing black knitted cap with a red Canadian flag, Sony headphones, brown cords, green plaid dress shirt and a black West Beach jacket."

It almost sounds like a police report. It sticks to the facts of the situation. It stands in stark relief to your fictional rendition of their imagined life that follows.

It's part of the charm of each piece.

Julie Wilson said...

I'm going to revisit how I describe this blog. Perhaps if I make a point of saying this is a transit blog in some respects that will offer partial insight into the kinds of sightings I'm having rather than what could appear as a willing participation on my part to only note certain people. Enh, still thinking about that.

Thanks all, so much, for all the tremendous feedback. This is all useful stuff, and I had spent a lot of time wondering if there was something I was supposed to be doing to increase the diversity. But I don't have all the facts. I can only deal with the cross-section I'm presented with.

Expat, I think you're on the mark. The plan was to note only the most obvious things, then look down, catch a glimpse of what the person was reading, then look back up again at their face and wonder. Most often the fictional bits I write are things that are going on inside my own head as a result of having met the person, ultimately engaged in the same text they were reading when we crossed paths, and furthering the desire to tell and read stories. (Hopefully, continued in the readership that visits here and starts to think about their own reactions to what they find.)

Anonymous said...

By choosing race, and lumping together people of many ethnicities, Toronto's diversity is pretty much ignored. It's hard to tell someone's ethnicity by looking at them. But by noting racial sterotypes of limiting relevance, that ethnicity is written out of the picture altogether.

Julie Wilson said...

All I can offer is that I agree entirely, have come to a similar conclusion, and plan to muddle along with the hope that I'll eventually find a better way to note it.