How should we feel about everyday racism?
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 5, 2014
It enters our conversations, appears on television, and is even broadcast in the news. Whether we go there on purpose or if it was just a Freudian slip of the tongue, subtle racism, like a chronic sore muscle, requires us to shrug it off or address it with a tight squeeze.
In the war against everyday racism, I’m a conscientious objector. It’s a messy game, and I cannot see peace at the end of calling every person out for the asinine things they say or do. Do stereotypical references and cultural appropriation make me angry? Sure, sometimes it’s done out of pure spite and is meant to demean a whole racial group of people, but other times it’s done out of ignorance, stupidity, and insensitivity. When it comes down to it, we all say and do stupid things occasionally. Dumb thoughtless acts do not make you a racist, and we need to stop dropping the R-word so loosely. It solves nothing.
Seeing the Toronto Sun editorial cartoon of mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, dressed as Chairman Mao, riding the coattail of her late husband Jack Layton, made me want to vomit. How did the publication not foresee the poor taste of their illustration? Why at no point between pen to print did they acknowledge the hatefulness of their art? There is nothing subtle about it; however, it remains one man’s opinionated expression, for that is clearly how cartoonist Andy Donato sees Chow, female politicians, and perhaps all people of Asian descent. Chow called out Donato, and rightly so, but will it lead to a progressive outcome, or will more hate spread both ways? That has yet to be seen.
The Vancouver Sun recently had its own foray with subtle racism, naming Canucks prospect Jordan Subban as “the dark guy in the middle” in the caption for a photograph. We all cringed a bit when we read that, but a moment later, we chuckled at the publication’s stupidity. Was it a placeholder that snuck past proofreaders and ended up in print, or was it a snarky presentation of racism? Whatever it was, Subban took it with grace, claiming it was a “pretty honest mistake.”
From those two examples, we can clearly see the party that took the subtle racist gesture better or at least with a healthier attitude. We are all unique, we all have our home team, and we—especially as Canadians—have friends, co-workers, teammates, and even families of different races, which is why I believe it’s important to give the benefit of the doubt when it comes to subtle racism.
Although we live in a liberal country, where we all claim to accept each other, I’m pessimistic that we are all kind-hearted people. Realistically, we all have our preconceptions. The way to put an end to those preconceptions isn’t by striking anyone who dares voice their opinion, but by educating them. Canada is made up of a mosaic of cultures, and we tend to split up into our own groups and communities. Just look at the Lower Mainland and you can see the Chinese community, the East Indian community, and the Italian community all centralized at different geographical locations. We need to break this way of living, learn to coexist not in a mosaic but in a mixing pot. Harmony cannot be appreciated from the perimeter; we must delve into it wholeheartedly and embrace other people.
So when you see or overhear subtle racism, don’t approach it with anger, but rather with empathy. Acknowledge, educate, and move on.