Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The China-man

There was a "china-man" who ran a corner store in our neighbourhood in the suburbs of Montreal back in the politically-incorrect 60’s. He was probably a very nice guy, but we would never have known – he didn’t say much to us, nor we to him. Each minded his own business with little thought of the other, though I suspect he gave us more thought than we gave him. All we knew is that he ran an honest shop and he didn’t speak English or French very well.

He probably (I’m guessing here) gave more thought to us than we to him because we had more control over his life than he had over ours. But we didn't give that much thought either. If he had folded his tent and disappeared on some muggy Montreal night, would we have noticed, or cared? I suspect we would have just shopped elsewhere, and wondered what would become of the vacant real-estate. On the other hand, we controlled his very existence by our patronage, and I think he must have understood and appreciated that, even if we did not return the favour.

That Chinese-Canadian did well with his little store. He eventually bought up the entire block, and a strip-mall now sits on the site, perhaps owned by the same family for all I know. He and his wife did their small part to develop a community and a country, yet we never knew their names.

Such is the nature of being a member of a minority. The rules of the game are simple; keep your head down, don’t say anything controversial, do your work, make your money and help the people who can help you. It’s a strategy that every minority learns very quickly and practices out of necessity.

In a turnabout that most people on this continent would find a little bewildering, perhaps even comical, it’s the "whites" (not all of whom are Caucasian, by the way) who are the minority in this part of Canada, and we’re learning to play the game by the same rules.

But now the playing field is a little bit skewed. Whether you’re black, white or most shades in-between, your chance of starting or making a success of a business in any small community in Canada's northern hinterland is pretty slim. First of all, you’d better hope that some local two-bit politician doesn’t have a brother-in-law or cousin in the same business, or that he's not "thinking" of starting one himself. You’d also better hope that the entire community doesn’t rise up with petitions and Letters to the Editor about how "white" people are taking over, running all the businesses and getting all the good jobs. It won't help that you'll not have access to free government loot but your competition probably will.

None of those things were issues for the china-man. He came to Canada and worked his ass off until he had enough money to buy his corner shop. Nobody complained about how the Chinese were "taking over" or getting all the good jobs. He didn't get any free government money, nor did his competition, and marrying a local white girl or taking on a 51-percent white partner would not have changed that. The town administration took his forty bucks for the business license, no questions asked, and he didn’t have to beg permission to invest his own money in the community.

He and his wife worked long hours, seven days a week for a few decades. They sent their kids to university, and eventually they retired with a comfy nest-egg and the satisfaction of knowing that they had contributed, in their small way, to the economic development of this country. I very much doubt that they ever called on the social welfare state to help them over the rough spots in their lives, and there must have been more than a few pot-holes along their road to success.

The sons and daughters of those immigrants are now doctors and accountants, and I’m sure they inherited their parents’ work ethic. They all have jobs, in no small part because in southern Canada there was and is no quota system when it comes to employing Canadians of any prefix-descriptor. And so they work hard, pay their taxes and, like their parents before them, continue to build a community and a country.

The provinces have chosen not to limit employment and business investment based on some mathematical formula relating race to percentage of population. Most Canadians would probably be aghast to learn that not every part of Canada is as progressive.

In southern Canada, if you want to open a business, go ahead! No, we don’t care how you want to risk your money – any legal business will do. What can we do to help? You have money? We have tax concessions. You’ll employ people, without racial discrimination? We’ve got a spot for you in our province. Just want a job? Are you qualified? Great! We have a place for you in our company. If you can get up in the morning, learn and work hard, we don't care if you're orange with blue stripes.

Feeling deprived because the china-man has a store, or a job, and you don’t? He’d probably tell you, in his nice oriental way, to quit your bitching, get off your butt and wean yourself off the government tit. He’d suggest you get some education and some work experience. Prove that you’re worthy (first), then we’ll talk.

And, by the way, once you’re on your feet he would expect you to stay there, as he did.

Can’t afford to send your kids to university? Tell it to the china-man. He’s probably too polite to say anything to your face, but he and his wife will likely shake their heads and roll their eyes at each other after you leave the room.

Like it or not, people should be expected to make their own way in this world, assuming they are fit and able. And everyone in a society, regardless of their race or ethnic background, should be playing by the same rules and have the same responsibilities. Money that comes from the multi-coloured Canadian tax-payer should be available to everyone equally, regardless of their place on the colour spectrum. If you want to use your own money, so much the better!

In places on this planet where colour and ethnicity does matter there can be no real progress, and we have any number of backward, tribal societies all over the world to prove that point. They are on the news every evening, and there's rarely anything positive in those stories.

Fairness and self-reliance are two of the foundation blocks on which any enlightened society is built. And we all know what happens to the house if the foundation is weak and crooked.