P.K. Subban is a player in the National Hockey League and is of African-American descent. When he scored the winning goal against the Boston Bruins on May 1, allowing his team to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, people threw garbage at him and called him the n-word on Twitter. When asked by journalist Chris Johnston to comment on these events his response was: “I don’t know. It doesn’t even matter.” My gut reaction to this is, but P.K., it does matter.
This reminds me of a scene in the Mira Nair film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which chronicles the pursuit and eventual disenfranchisement with the American dream for a South Asian man. The book is brilliant but unfortunately its merits didn’t quite translate very well on screen. Really, you couldn’t put one more light in the Islamabad scenes which are predominantly set in the restaurant? I can barely see their faces and it’s veering dangerously close to the problematic “Heart of Darkness” imagery. The saving grace is Riz Ahmed and his charisma, talent and bone-structure. As an Oxford-educated British actor and musician, Ahmed is definitely contributing to his craft in very interesting ways. To return to the film, I want to discuss its most poignant scene because it relates to what life is like for all of us at the margins. The protagonist named Changez is interviewing for a very competitive position with a prestigious bank. The interviewer (Kiefer Sutherland) will eventually become his mentor and biggest supporter but in this instance he mainly discusses where Changez is “from” and how the scholarships must have really helped him attend Princeton. God forbid that a racialized man would come from a family of means and social standing. Finally he questions him on why he just didn’t attend school in Pakistan, I mean that’s where he belongs right? To this Changez replies, “Because in America you can win. And I will win whether you give me the job or not.” That’s it, with that moment right there I feel like he summed up how we, the marginalized, are conditioned to think. It’s like we constantly say, “What, you’re not going to let me earn it in one step? That’s fine, whether it takes 5 or 25 steps I will get there.” We learn to get the job done.
So perhaps P.K. Subban is right and it doesn’t matter. I don’t know his story but I can imagine what it was like to try to breakthrough in a sport made up of predominantly middle-class White boys whose parents can afford the lessons and equipment. I’m not suggesting that the Subban family could not, I just bet that the locker rooms weren’t always the easiest places to be. What P.K. Subban is saying is that he will not be defined by people’s ignorance or the labels they are forcing on him. His identity won’t be reduced to the colour of his skin. He won’t be put in his place. There’s poetic justice in it right? In rising above?