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For this white truck driver, supporting George Floyd protests came naturally

Randy James Ulch says anguish over systemic racism rings true in his native Canada and its trucking industry.

Canadian trucker Randy James Ulch supports the anti-racist protests in response to George Floyd's killing. (Photo: Randy James Ulch)

By his own account, Canadian truck driver Randy James Ulch seems an unlikely supporter for the anti-racist protests following George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer: “I’m a bald white guy with a goatee — a little bit heavyset — and I drive a big truck.” Ulch told FreightWaves. “I kind of fit a certain stereotype.”

The stereotype of a white supremacist, according to Ulch. 

But Ulch is an unapologetic anti-racist. The 42-year-old has posted regularly to Facebook about the demonstrations, police brutality, racism and white privilege. While Ulch doesn’t condone violent actions by protesters, he stops short of condemning them.

“I’m not blaming anyone for rioting or looting, or all that shit. It’s like that Martin Luther King Jr. quote, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard,’” Ulch said. “This is what people resort to when they’ve tried everything else. I’m not going to blame them for doing something that if I were in the same situation, I’d probably be on the front line.”

Ulch is a Canadian who spends about 60% of his life in the United States as a cross-border driver for Mill Creek Motor Freight in Ontario. For Ulch, the protests and the larger fight over systemic racism ring true across the border even if many Canadians don’t acknowledge it. 

“Even in casual conversation with people, it’s like, ‘The U.S., they’re so racist. We’re not racist like that up here.’” Ulch said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, yeah we are.’”

Driver calls out ‘casual racism’ in trucking

Canadians’ perception of racism is far different from how minorities in the country perceive it, according to a 2019 report by the Environics Institute for Survey Research and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. It found that 71% of Canadians had a favorable view of race relations, while a large majority of black and indigenous Canadians reported their group faces unfair treatment.

That extends to the trucking industry. Ulch pointed to discriminatory attitudes and actions against the fast-growing South Asian trucking community near Toronto. 

“There’s a level of casual racism that blows my mind,” Ulch said.

Most of the racism appears online. Some members of a Toronto-area trucker group on Facebook, 905 Semis, frequently target South Asian truckers in posts about accidents and reckless driving. “Wrongway Singh at it again,” one user commented on a post, referencing a common Sikh last name. Others use far more derogatory and sometimes sexually explicit language.  

The racism toward South Asian drivers comes as they become an increasingly large part of the trucking industry. They accounted for more than 50% of Toronto-area truck drivers, according to a 2018 analysis of census data by Newcom Media.

“Part of it is fear of the unknown for white truckers,” Ulch said. “It also threatens their identity. With the old guys, there is this whole culture and mystique surrounding trucking that dates back to the 1970s.”

Attitudes on race developed early on

Ulch’s attitudes about race developed early in life. As a child growing up in southwestern Ontario, he sometimes visited an indigenous reserve, where an aunt and uncle through marriage lived.

He found it troubling in high school when he saw indigenous students treated very differently, 

“If they’d even look at a teacher the wrong way, they’d get like expelled, “Ulch said. “I remember thinking as a teenager, ‘Well, how the f*** is that fair?”

Ulch doesn’t directly engage much with racist comments he sees online from truckers.  

But he hopes his own Facebook posts serve as a “signal boost” for anti-racist messages that otherwise might fall on deaf ears. 

While Ulch supports the protests in the U.S. — and those popping up in Canada — he is keeping his tractor-trailer away from them. He’d rather not take the chance of being caught up in clashes between police and protesters. 

“I’m just going to try not to be a dick to anyone while I’m down here,” he said. “You know, get my job done and get my butt back across the border as quickly as possible.”
Click for more FreightWaves articles by Nate Tabak.

Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected]