Wednesday, April 15, 2009

call black people "canadians"

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:


  1. Macon D...

    I also think another reason they call us "Canadians" is because most black people are Democrats and to the average ( and uneducated-politically and otherwise) white person being a Democrat = being a socialist. Canadians are socialists, according to whites in America. They are killing 2 birds with one stone with this reference. Insulting our race and our politics.
    Ok Macon, you know as well as I do that if the average, uneducated (politically and otherwise) white person voted for their own self interest, they too would be Democrats or "Canadians".

  2. I have never heard of this! New thing to be on the lookout for. Thanks.

  3. Wow, I've never heard people say "Canadian" instead of "Black" and I'm about as white as you can get. But I could totally see it happening. It totally makes sense when you consider how white people perceive racism. To be a racist you have to say or do something that is racist. Saying something bad about black people is racist, so just replace the word "black" with "Canadian" and BOOM no longer racist.

  4. I have never heard this since I am Canadian and it wouldn't make any sense in Canada (not that it makes any sense in the US, either). Seems odd to me. Where/when/how did it start? Does anyone know?

  5. Macon, do you have a commenting policy? And if not, do you plan to have one any time soon?

    I know comments must be approved by the blog author. I cannot understand why Thordaddy's comments are continuously approved when they do not add to the discussion and are actively seeking to derail, discount, and silence others.

  6. Feel free to delete this comment for being totally OT, but in light of recent events regarding the deranking (and subsequent, related search issues) of books that contained gay characters or themes from, would you consider changing the link to your "Black Canadians" book so that it connected with (preferably) an independent online retailer, such as Powell's online, or indiebound, or (if you must go corporate) to one with less blatantly homophobic catagorization policies?

    I know that this blog deals only with racial issues, and I did want to comment initially on the topic of the post, but as someone involved with both gay rights and non-corporate books I simply couldn't get past the amazon thing.

    -sorry for being off topic.

  7. Thank you Roxie. I took a second look at that comment of his and deleted it--over the top, into helplessly racist territory.

    No, I don't have a discussion policy spelled out anywhere. At my discretion, I delete irrelevance, spam, and derailing comments; I've also stopped some tedious, thread-hijacking brawls. I suspect that Thordaddy means what he says and isn't trying to derail discussions, so I let much of what he writes through. And, I also don't let some of it through. I don't want us all just "preaching to the choir" from a more or less monolithic point of view here. He represents another point of view, and sometimes his comments generate useful discussion. But, yeah, that's pretty rare, so thanks for the reminder, and I'll be watching his submissions more closely.

  8. Good point, Anonymous. I changed the link; clicking on the image of the book now goes to a review of it.

  9. Wow. When I use the word "Canadians", I am actually referring to Canadians. I have never heard of using this to refer to Blacks. What will White folk think of next?

  10. That's so weird! I've always thought Canadian meant people from Canada!

  11. Comedian Russell Peters (who is Canadian, but his parents are Indian) had a similar euphemism that White folks used for us.

    Check it out:

  12. I find this pretty shocking as I am a black Canadian.

  13. I had no clue about "Canadians" or "Mondays" being euphemisms for black people. Kinda pisses me off, because I like to complain about both. Well, Canadians are pretty cool with the socialism, but it's the American way to gently mock or nerdy neighbors to the North.

    I wish people would stop hijacking viable words and making them into racial slurs. Or just - ya know - stop using racial slurs altogether. :\

  14. this doesn't make sense to me. and, it makes me really uncomfortable (as a Canadian) to have my national identity used as a racial slur.

    btw, Canada does not have a socialist economy. Technically, we have a mixed ecomonic system, but it is predominantly capitalist.

    and, apart from the fact that I'm on the internet commenting on a blog of someone I don't know, I don't consider myself a nerd (although, I guess there are worse things to be called).


  15. Anonymous (or anyone else Canadian), is tipping a common practice in Canada? I'm wondering if this explanation of how "Canadians" came to be a euphemism in America for "black people" is plausible. It's from the comment thread for a post on this topic at Ash Tree Lane:

    It's because in foreign countries generally waitstaff are paid the same as other workers and tipping is not an expected part of a server's compensation, so tipping is considered to be purely optional.

    Therefore, foreigners, most commonly Canadians, are known for not tipping. Many restaurants therefore allow waitstaff to automatically add the gratuity to the check if the customers are noticeably foreign (speaking a foreign language or with a foreign accent) in order to avoid a fuss. Canadians, of course, generally can't be detected by language or accent, and are therefore treacherous -- one does not find out they are unfamiliar with American tipping etiquette until the check has already been paid and it's too late.

    Complaining about "Canadians", therefore, was a common practice and eventually the term "Canadian" became a euphemism for any patron or group of patrons or "type" of patron who doesn't tip. From there came the common observation that black people disproportionately undertip and the association of the term "Canadian" as a euphemism for blacks, which eventually spread outside of the food service industry into the wider world (including the famous case of a judge talking about "Canadians on the jury").

    1. I am a Canadian and we do tip. We generally tip the tax. Each Province has a different tax. In Nova Scotia we have a 15% tax rate, so if your bill is $100 the tax will be $15 and the tip will be $15 as well.

  16. I bet people who use this euphemism (aside from having serious issues/assumptions that they need to work through) don't live near the Canadian border.

    If "Canadians" is a racist euphemism for black people, then what do I call citizens of Canada without worrying that when I talk about my friend from BC while out and about that its not being taken the wrong way?

    Where I live people are way into flagellating themselves with white guilt as a way to avoid dealing with, or combating, racism...and using their status as penitents as a shield to deflect criticism for saying/doing things that are racist (or any kind of "ist" really, sexist, classist etc). There is also a lot of winkwink-nudgenudge referring to "the hip-hop community" and "people who like rap", when people want to say something that is probably racist, because they can argue that musical preferences are entirely based on taste, not race.

  17. Here is a Toronto Star article:

    The findings, released yesterday, found that while 78 per cent of us tip the standard 15 per cent or more in restaurants, we tend to be stingy with other service sector workers who count on generous tips to boost their incomes beyond minimum wage.

    Pizza and food delivery workers receive the worst tips with 40 per cent of Canadians tipping less than 15 per cent. Almost half of those tippers are 25- to 44-year-olds, the survey said.

    Canadians are also tight-fisted with taxi and limo drivers, with more than one-third leaving bad tips. Gratuities are particularly scant for workers in nail salons and spas, the survey found, noting 24 per cent of Canadians never leave a tip for these services.
    So we DO tip, but we could use some work.

  18. This is offensive to Canadians.

  19. I wonder what the tipping stats are for Americans...

    Regardless, the post MaconD quoted is way off base. Tipping is standard practice in Canada (and it is expected). Resaurant servers earn a lower wage than the minimum wage (at least they used to... been awhile). Nonetheless, the expected and accepted tip in a restaurant is 15%.

    This isn't about Canadians, though, really.


  20. What is really ironic to me is I am black and legally live in Canada!!!! I think racism is just so irrational that one will use any word to describe minority groups! Lately I heard that in Boston they call black ppl "Mondays!...because nobody like those days or black ppl!!!!" has anyone else heard of this reference???

  21. There is also to be noted this: Americans are the highest tippers in the world, often extravagantly. So in relationship sure, Canadians may on average tip less /than Americans/ - but American tips are far from the median.

    In addition - different cultures place different value on different services. I think tipping for a luxury item (manicure) is a bit different than tipping for a need (food service) as well - in and of itself lending to the extravagance of American tipping practices.

    That said - I make no claims or stakes as to why Americans are generally that way. That's a conversation for a whole different blog entry.

  22. im from TX, i work in a restaurant and i, along with my fellow servers, use the term "canadian" all the time in place of "black." about half of our staff is hispanic so its not only white people that say it.

  23. Wow this is both sad and amusing at the same time.

  24. you guys are all pretty ridiculous. The reason why blacks and Canadians are commonly associated in the service industry is because they are BOTH lousy tippers.

    Canadians typically provide a gratuity for services around 10%, if that.

    Similarly, blacks generally tip 5 dollars, regardless of the total bill (but 10 percent of 50 is 5, so you do the math).

    We wouldn't say about Canadians, "watch out for the Negroes at your table!" That would be racially uncouth.

  25. Wow. This was recently pointed out to me by an American friend of mine. I'm still reeling a little, so I apologise if I'm a little incoherent.

    Standard tip here is assumed to be 15% for food service (other luxury services vary). Some places will actually add the gratuity on to the bill. But I ask you this: if you're treating a table like trash (and gee whiz, calling them "Canadian" instead of the n-word and bad-mouthing them to the kitchen staff might just indicate that you aren't giving them the best of service), do you REALLY think you deserve a big tip?

    In any case, I'm very glad I've never come across this occurrence -_-

  26. I live in Wisconsin and know a lot of food service workers. They typically use this term when a group of 8 sit at a table for 4 hours drinking coffee on a Saturday night and leave no tip at all. It doesn't have to be a word for black people, more of an expression of cheapness that is meant to express frustration without being able to vent. Though they do add that it usually is a group of black people.

  27. me and my friends use this expression instead of saying blacks... i mean i never really thought about the reason why but i think its pretty cut and dry. instead of saying this is a really black neighborhood dont park your car here... there were blacks talking in the theater the whole time.. and the other examples given above.. which there is unfortunately a lot of truth behind.. it's easier to just say that.. the people around you will know what you are talking about without having to worry as much about others overhearing.. it also sounds less harsh.. I think saying Canadians is the least offensive way of talking about issues involving black people. Another similar one I have heard people use is mondays.. this one however is pretty cruel.

  28. @greenday
    I think saying Canadians is the least offensive way of talking about issues involving black people
    Pro Tip: It's not.

  29. "we'll do rock paper scissors to see who gets that table full of canadians.. cause we both know they're not tipping us".. sounds less harsh and offensive than that table full of blacks I would say?

  30. also where do you guys live that a 15% tip if considered ok? for us 15% is kinda like.. if nothings really great.. 20 is considered standard.

  31. @greenday.

    Let's try this again.
    YOU think it sounds "less harsh".
    I'M telling you it is NOT. It just makes you feel better, but the reality is it isn't any different.

  32. Only the lowest level of classless people would use such terminology. They resort to these cowardly methods to make themselves feel better. There's no need for them in our society except to remind Americans why many around the world dislike us.

  33. I've worked in restaurants for years and have heard and used the terminology for just as long. I'll admit that it is in large part a slimy way around saying what we think, but as waiters and waitresses, we know that there is a line between the classy and the classless and that people see us honest and hardworking people as relatively classless, so we don't want to render ourselves classless in our own eyes by using particular words that might begin with the letter 'N' or other politically incorrect terms. We are better than that. That being said, the funny thing about stereotypes is that somewhere in their creation, they are based in truth. I work in a restaurant that is heavily frequented by blacks. There are varying degrees of distain for these tables that come into the restaurant, mostly because here in the state of Florida, we make $4.23/hr and thus depend on tips achieve minimum wage and pay the bills. You don't have to work in the restaurant long to know that whites generally tip more than blacks, somewhere around 15-20% (with exceptions, of course) while blacks generally tip 4-10% (with some exceptions, of course). The job is not easy, and when tips run 10% or less, minimum wage is not met. I have heard the term 'Canadian' used by my white and black coworkers alike. It would only be fair to point out that the staff I work with does a pretty good job of remaining unbiased in judgment toward a black table until we have actually talked to them. It's when they start faithfully fulfilling the stereotypes that we start throwing euphemistic terms around.

  34. WTF? What if some actual canadians here you? And the point is totally defeated if they're black canadians. Have you ever met a ghetto black canadian? Think about it. I mean, im black and I like to tip 20%.

  35. I disagree with Mark's claim that every stereotype contains a grain of truth. It just sounds like justification for racist ignorance to me. For example, a deep-rooted, pervasive stereotype about black people is that we're less human than non-black people. Please feel free to hunt for your grain of "truth" (that we're indeed less human) in that. I'm not holding my breath. That said, are blacks really worse tippers than anybody else? Or is this just another thinly-veiled excuse to single us out and subject us to worse treatment? I tip the exact same percentage as my husband. I suspect there are *plenty* of crap non-black tippers out there but, once again, blacks are held out as an example of the "worst of the worst."

    Anytime a black person does something unacceptable, it's generalized to *all* black people but when a black person does something counter to stereotype (I've heard Oprah = 40% tipper), (s)he's the "exception." How much of tipping has to do with economic class? Also, I've seen white people run out of restaurants without paying the bill but, of course, they would be the "exception" because whites, as a rule, are awesome tippers (and, of course, superior in every other positive trait - especially compared to black people). Right? I mean, unless they're Canadian of course. [/snark]

  36. Actually, you're all wrong as to how it started. It started in Nashville TN about 5 years ago, and I believe I know the person who started it. It started by saying 'neighbor' because it sounds like the 'worse' word, but that was too obvious. And since Canada is our neighbor... there you have it. It did start in restaurants (I won't name the particular one).

  37. To TAB: Yes, typically African Americans are horrendous tippers and extremely difficult to wait on. I'm not saying every single black person is that way, I'm just saying statistically it's the case. My prior experience in the food service industry allows me to make that statement with 100% certainty.

  38. *grabs a tissue*

    I think I'm having a sudden sneeze fit due to bullshiting reasoning.

  39. The terms "Canadian" and "Neighbor" have both been in use since WELL before 2005. I heard both used as early as 1990.

  40. I am Canadian, and I can say that me and my friends and my family never tip below 15% here in America at least. It's pretty said that american's have found a new word to describe black people, that not only insults them but also us.

    Seriously, how is it funny to insult a different race or culture?? Were all trying to make it people.....yes some people act stupid, but it isn't fair to stereotype bunch of people regardless of who they are. Would it be fair to say all Scottish people are bunch of angry drunks? Of course not!

    Off topic all you american's out there who believe Canada is a socialist country.....All I have to say is in 5 years when majority of you all don't have healthcare, I bet Canada won't look so bad...YA KNOW since basic healthcare is free for us and all :D

    @Jane Doe yes majority people around the world strongly dislike American's.... and it's instances like this that make it just that much easier.


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