Is “Canadian” the new n-word?

PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images When you hear the word “Canadian,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Someone who is hockey-crazed? Someone who says “eh” at the end of every sentence? Someone who is, dare I say it, nice?  How about someone who is black?   Now, naturally there are plenty of black Canadians. There ...

596851_canadian_05.jpg
596851_canadian_05.jpg

PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images

When you hear the word "Canadian," what's the first thing that comes to mind? Someone who is hockey-crazed? Someone who says "eh" at the end of every sentence? Someone who is, dare I say it, nice? 

How about someone who is black?  

PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images

When you hear the word “Canadian,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Someone who is hockey-crazed? Someone who says “eh” at the end of every sentence? Someone who is, dare I say it, nice? 

How about someone who is black?  

Now, naturally there are plenty of black Canadians. There are black Canadians who like hockey, say “eh”, and are nice. But this blog post isn’t really about black Canadians or white Canadians or any kind of Canadian at all. It’s about certain people in the United States who have appropriated the word “Canadian” as code for someone who is black.

Earlier this month, an e-mail that had been circulating since 2003, written by a Houston assistant district attorney Mike Trent, resurfaced. The e-mail was short, only about 100 words, and was sent to the entire office. It started out by praising a junior prosecutor for a job well done. Then the message continued:

He overcame a subversively good defense by Matt Hennessey that had some Canadians on the jury feeling sorry for the defendant and forced them to do the right thing.”

If you’re wondering why Canadians were on a Texas jury when only U.S. citizens are allowed to serve, well, there weren’t any. Other members of the D.A.’s office who got the memo were wondering the same thing themselves. They looked at an online database of racial slurs and found that “Canadian” was a term used to mask more openly racist terms. Trent claims that he was unaware of the meaning, overheard someone saying that there were Canadians on the jury, took that literally, and just repeated it in his e-mail. 

There is just so much wrong with this situation on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin. So, you be the judge.

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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