Questions of the relative modernity and sophistication of Saskatoon are perennial discussion points among citizens of this city. However — as punctuated by recent headlines — the answers to these questions remain constantly in flux.
A video of an intoxicated woman hurling racial slurs and nationalist insults at a table of black patrons in a Saskatoon bar recently made the rounds on social media and local news. Similarly, on Sept. 12, the Star Phoenix reported that a gay man was beaten in an undisclosed bar in the Exhibition area by another man who suspected him of flirting.
To be fair, racism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice exist everywhere from New York City to Kamsack, Sask. To argue that the mere existence of hatred means Saskatoon is a backwards, uncivilized city would be lazy and snooty and I’m not going to do it.
However, Saskatoon has what could be called a small town mentality — culturally and socially. Consequently, what these accounts of hostility show is that openly prejudiced outbursts are a part of everyday life for local minorities, even in public spaces.
Likewise, early polls are also suggesting that incumbent mayor Don Atchison may maintain his position following the Oct. 26 civic election, despite a lengthy and well-publicized track record of intolerance, so it would appear most people aren’t too terribly outraged with the state of the city.
In spite of all of this, Saskatonians somehow also claim the title of the largest and most diverse city in the province.
In recent years, Saskatoon has been seeing an annual population growth of approximately three per cent. Citizens seem to be embracing the growth as we see a local business boom and diversified economy — notably in the Riversdale and downtown areas. However, when it comes to casual hostility and public displays of hate, the rising tide of growth and progress does not seem to be lifting all ships.
It’s safe to say many Saskatonians want to think of the city as being up-to-date, modern and urban — forever working towards the metropolitan ideal set by, say, Vancouver or Toronto. We lament that touring concert acts pass us over, salivate at the thought of buying Ikea furniture without having to leave the province and are quick to embrace local businesses when the option is afforded to us.
Now that the population is booming and our humble city is expanding, things seem to be changing for the better. We’re getting trendy restaurants and shops that cater to incredibly niche demographics, we see greater diversity and multiculturalism around town and we’re even making efforts to go green!
However, while the city is making great leaps in looking like a cosmopolitan city, we are not making enough progress from the past when it comes to prejudice and inclusiveness.
It’s one thing to take advantage of new bike lanes and eat at boutique restaurants, but it’s another to openly call out the folksy racism and casual hatred of those around us and make it clear that we won’t stand by and let it slide.
This is all to say, we can’t take pride in the growth and maturation of our city if we don’t take it upon ourselves to drive out the lingering, not-so-secret intolerance to which so many of us tend to look the other way. Ending those kinds of prejudiced views is a tall order, but the first step along the way is to shame it out of the public sphere.
Looking into the future, the goal of being a city that others look up to is within our grasp but to get there, we need to roll up our sleeves and actually give a shit.
Zach Tennent / Opinions Editor
Graphic: Gloria Sun