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Read Cecil Foster’s “They Call Me George” then answer the following questions.
All questions, comments, and responses should be thoughtful, respectful, and phrased in complete sentences. The idea is to focus on and engage with the substantive content of the book. Please include the page numbers when referring to specific passages or claims from the text. This is an excellent way to substantiate questions, comments, and responses. This is not the place for trivia or flimflam, nor is it the place for personal anecdotes unrelated or unconnected to the course content or for personal opinions that do not appear to be informed by our course readings and materials.
1. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier wanted to ban Black persons from entering Canada because, in his view, they were “unsuited” to the climate. According to Foster, why was an exception made for train porters?
2. How did Wilfrid Laurier’s attitudes toward Black people align with the pseudo-scientific views discussed by Gould in The Mismeasure of Man? Are these the same as the “laws of nature” associated with Robert Knox?
3. In “The Railways Are Always Hiring,” Foster notes that in the early 20th century, one hundred Black people (mainly men) were allowed to come to Canada each year to work as porters. He says the history of Black people in Canada would be much “starker” were it not for this exception. What does he mean by this?
5. Foster (2019: 275) states that he “never fully appreciated the many contributions of the sleeping car porters, nor understood their slow and hard-won transformation of Canada.” Why has the history and accomplishments of sleeping car porters gone unnoticed for so long? Shouldn’t this history be part of the Ontario curriculum?
6. Do you think many Canadians still have the mindset that if more than a certain number of immigrants are allowed into the country it will “disrupt” Canadian culture? Isn’t cultural disruption a good thing? Whose culture is it, anyway?
7. What parallels can be drawn between the Black train porters (Foster, 2019: 45) and today’s migrant farm workers? Is this a form of slavery for people of colour who are denied the rights of citizens?
8. Foster (2019: 8) says that Canada was intended to be a ‘White Man’s Country’, not a diverse or multicultural country. What can be done to ensure multiculturalism in Canada is not simply a “fluke of history”?
9. Foster (2019: 45) observes how the custom of tipping is tied to the history of Black labour, especially in the food service and housekeeping sectors. He notes that train passengers often felt like they were being shaken down or “robbed.” Why? Given its history, should tipping be abolished in favour of fair wages?
10. Given that the work of train porters was similar to that of Black women in the domestic services sector (Foster, 2019: 57-8), why were train porters almost always Black men? And why, according to Foster, was labour divided by race and gender anyway?
11. According to Foster, Black men and women fought for Canada in two World Wars, yet they were still treated as unwanted ‘alien’ immigrants that did not “belong” in this country. Why?
12. Was the attitude of the Canadian government much different from that of the US government concerning the “colour line” issue? According to Foster, did Canadian authorities believe that white ‘superiority’ would be undermined by an ‘influx’ of people of colour?
13. “We should also not forget that Canada wasn’t originally intended to be a multicultural society,” says Foster (2019: 13). According to Foster, this is a “fluke of history.” How exactly did Canada become and remain a “White Man’s Country” for so long?
14. Stan Grizzle “believed Canada should open its doors to immigrants from around the world; that it should be multiracial and mirror the rest of the world demographically… with all Canadians representing the entirety of the human race, living their social existence as authentically full citizens” (Foster, 2019, p. 154). Was Grizzle a cosmopolitan?
15. In describing the life of Black train porters, Foster says they were “politically invisible” (Foster, 2019: 21). What does he mean