Katherine Dynes and I valiantly venture forth to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to meet the most uproarious explosion of feathers, sequins, and Black Pride that Toronto has to offer. Thankfully, the dark grey clouds blow over—it looked pretty dicey mid-morning. I mean, really: “God” allowed the heavens to open up on virtually all of the Prides in Toronto this year. The Trans March escaped this fate, but the Dyke March and Pride Parade were hit harder than ever before: not only was it wet, it was also bloody freezing. Even my twenty-something tenant was tucked in and watching TV by sunset on Sunday, and some of us were tucked in by 5 p.m. Saturday! But no matter, Black and Brown Pride is thankfully spared.
Katherine and I are rip-roaring ready for the loud, rhythmic cornucopia of sounds and culture. By King Street, however, we’re both off the party trail and seriously wondering how our white makeup covering our white flesh is going to register in this context. Is it too much like whiteface? I’m vividly reminded of how much nothing has a fixed meaning, it’s all about context and juxtapositions. Holy shit! Sure, whiteface is the satirical reversal of the more common blackface performances in the nineteenth-century minstrel theatre and later in vaudeville, but still. The offensive stock characters such as Mammy, Pickaninny, Uncle Tom, Jezebel, and Buck have played a central role in the proliferation of racist images, attitudes, and perceptions worldwide. Is it too close for comfort? It’s not like it’s over either; it crossed over to Broadway, silent movies, racist cartoons, early television, and 1970s blaxploitation films heavy on graphic sex scenes, gratuitous nudity and violence, as well as stereotypes of pimps, whores, and black criminals. The racist and negative stereotypes are still a staple in television and film comedies, and Buck, now a hoodlum with an attitude, has an overwhelming presence in black music videos that glorify gangsterism. This is to mention but a few.
With the lakeshore in sight, we figure, “What the hell! What can we possibly be doing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Toronto that could be more interesting than to reveal our dormant or not-so-buried racist ignorance and perhaps confront it head-on in a crowd of more than a million people?” Neither of us comes up with a convincing answer, so we recapture our initial enthusiasm and blithely dive into the crowd. The sea of revellers embraces us at the Princes’ Gates, Toronto’s closest thing to the Arc de Triomphe. The “Winged Victory,” that beautiful figure above the central arch aptly floating amid seahorses and waves, is our witness. Though we are relegated to the sidelines behind the tall barricades, an unfortunate fixture of the Caribbean Carnival parade, we are absorbed by the energetic current of merrymaking couples on a sexy date, families celebrating the national colours of their ancestors, single men on the make, youths on a rampage, fashionistas gladly outdoing each other, alcoholics with another excuse to binge, other “white tourists,” and lots and lots of really, really joyous people.
It sure ain’t like the good ol’ days back in the twentieth century when we could mingle with the throngs of sweating and gyrating masqueraders at both Caribana and Pride, but still it’s amazing! All my worries melt when we are met by nothing less than the usual paparazzi fest, infectious laughter, whooping and hollering, and the unabashed curiosity we tend to ignite. The “Winged Victory” raises a hero’s crown (too bad it’s not still a lamp) in her right hand and her left grasps a single maple leaf, symbolic of the Canadian nation. Again, I am reminded of how far we have come. I celebrate the victory that is Canada, even if I am aware that it is far from being an entirely compassionate and just nation. Most Canadians still need to shed light on a plethora of issues, not the least of which is our sticky and stinky internalized racism.
Bringing light to the darkness aside, a hero’s crown is actually quite apropos. Katherine deserves one. We both pushed the bike all the way home after the central rear wheel conked out five minutes into our return journey. A most helpful librarian valiantly tries to solve our post-Caribana dilemma. Alas, it’s not a case of a deflated tire, the rear wheel has collapsed under the weight. We pushed the art-bike all the way home, dropped off the eyeball and pushed it to a bike shop on Harbord. A couple of days later, I happen to be climbing some stairs behind Katherine only to spot humungous blisters on her heels. “Yep, that was a long haul” she says with a smile.