Recently I was perusing this blog's viewer-statistics, when I noticed that someone arrived here by asking Google this question:
Why do white people call black people Canadians?
Actually, that Googler arrived at a recent post that dealt with racialized restaurant encounters, where a commenter named I Punched a Werewolf in the Face wrote,
I had a friend who worked as a server at the Cheesecake Factory. They used to call black people "Canadians" in code. It's really disgusting. Now I'm worried every time I go out to eat what the server is thinking of me b/c I'm black.
In pursuit of an answer to the Googler's question about why white people use this odd coinage, I checked the Urban Dictionary, which has seventeen contributed definitions of the "urban" meaning of "Canadians."
Among them, those related to African Americans offer the following definitions:
What you call black people when they could hear you use a more offensive term.
"Don't park your car here. I don't like this neighborhood, it's full of Canadians."
A term that describes black people and use in order to get around politically correct language.
Sorry, I cannot hear you. There are a bunch of goddamn Canadians playing rap music.
Trent was trying to enjoy the movie but Canadians would not stop talking to the screen and using their cellphones.
And one definition related specifically to restaurants:
A code word that white waiters sometimes use to speak about rude black partrons.
Damn, I hate waiting on those Canadians. They run my butt off, send perfectly good food back, complain about the amount of the bill, then only tip 10 percent!
What we have here is an example of a phenomenon that I've noted before, that of "whispering the word 'black.'" In certain situations, some white people use "Canadians" to refer covertly to black people when they think they shouldn't use another word. That other word probably isn't "black people" or "African Americans," but instead, a "worse" word. A more overtly racist word.
So white people apparently use "Canadians" this way because they might be overheard by the black people they're referring to. However, I suspect that in some cases, they use it because they don't want to be seen or heard saying the "worse" words by not just by black people, but by anyone--maybe even themselves.
If white people sometimes resort to this euphemism instead of a more clearly racist term when no black people could actually overhear them, then they're demonstrating something about the common workings of white psychology. Sometimes, when white people have racist thoughts or feelings, and we know we would look bad openly expressing them, we still manage to find other ways to express them. These are ways that we think don't make us look bad, but also ways that nevertheless also allow us to communicate the racist thought or feeling.
In this case, an extra bonus is included in the exchange. When we say "Canadians" this way, accompanied by a knowing look or a sarcastic sneer, we're also expressing our frustration or contempt for "political correctness," that set of restrictions on "free speech" that's supposedly enforced by some amorphous gang of "PC police."
It seems to me that white Americans who use "Canadians" to refer to "black people" need to educate themselves. They need to realize, first of all, that there actually are people who commonly and openly refer to themselves as "black Canadians."
In fact, here's a perfect way for these PC-resistant white Americans to begin their re-education: