I grew up hard knocks. In a rough town swirling with cowboys, farmers and loud, brash oilmen. Calgary, Alberta is not a place for the wimpy, faint hearted types. Think of it as Texas, you know that state where three white men were once convicted of dragging a black man down the road with their car, cause hell – it was fun to torture another human being.

As a child the ‘C’ word was hurled at me during casual passings. As though it was a typical behavioral tick when greeting a stranger. Flipping your hair, exacting a smile, rubbing your earlobe till it turns red.

“Hey chink!” I’d turn my head like a beaten puppy, despising myself for responding at all. My jaw would finally unlock and my slack mouth awakened, spitting back defensive language, yet I felt numb and powerless as the perpetrator was gone within minutes down the street.

Sometimes I stood frozen. Unsure whether to run after them or let the hot, angry tears come. It didn’t happen everyday of my childhood, but it certainly happened. Those are sad memories to have of a childhood home.

I digress. Truthfully, Calgary was mostly a sedate city to grow up in. A land of sprawling suburban homes and manicured lawns. No black men were ever dragged behind cars. Which is why those hateful balls of hurt stunned me so much. When you think you’re biting into a piece of sweet chocolate, but taste battery acid instead.

In my childhood city, a small town mentality circulated among the farmers, cowboys and oilmen. In one breath you heard a friendly ‘hello’, chat to someone forever in small talk, but at times the slicing word ‘faggot’ might slip out. Racism and discrimination were expressed without awkwardness. Simmering under the inviting smiles and willingness to banter, an ignorance lingered. The urge to pat them on the head was strong, to reassure yourself and them, they just don’t know any better and may never grow out of it.