As a person of colour in Vancouver, I have never really experienced much outright racism. I’ve experienced plenty of ignorance (“Are you Chinese/Japanese/Korean/(continues to guess everything but my actual ethnicity)?”; also had my 6th grade teacher ask me what the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese people are… ), some pretty minor cases of bros-who-like-to-antagonize-strangers or whatnot, and even the for-some-reason-we-think-it’s-ok-to-say-this-to-you type shit (“You’re taking Calculus and Physics? LOL how Asian of you”).
There is only one instance of real racism that comes to mind.
My friend Blake and I were waiting at Main x Hastings (Downtown Eastside of Vancouver) for the bus home two summers ago. A Native man, who’d been sitting there waiting for the bus before us, started muttering to himself. I overheard the word, “Immigrant.” I turned to him, and said, “Excuse me? Are you talking to me?”
At this point, it became clear that he was inebriated and very agitated by my presence. He began loudly yelling at me to go back where I came from, get off his land, etc. “I have lived here for thousands of years.”
I became incredibly upset, defensive and then aggressive. At first, I tried to say, “Hey man, we’re both minorities here,” - stuff like that. But it became very clear that he didn’t want to hear it and it ended with me telling him to fuck off and him screaming back at me some more, before walking off.
I was so upset. I began talking to Blake about it. I couldn’t help but wonder why my presence was more upsetting to this man than say, my (white, male) friend’s presence. I just couldn’t help but feel like, hey, him and I were on the “same side” of a shitty deal… how come he was pissed at me?
It was then that a young woman who’d been at the bus stop approached us, saying she had overheard/witnessed the incident and had some insight to share.
She explained that there was a lot of deep-rooted animosity between Native & Asian people because, in the 19th Century, as the two exploited minorities of Canada, they were essentially pitted against each other for work. Suddenly, I wasn’t angry or upset anymore, and I actually wished I had been able to react differently to the man, because it was clear that his hate came from a place of deep hurt - a man fed up with being overlooked by society because of his race.
I wouldn’t want to ever have someone yell at me and hate me for my race like that again, but I am so grateful for this particular experience. It has taught me a lot about just what exactly is complicated about social issues. It has taught me the difference between the gravity of the kind of racism/discrimination my incident was, and the kind that could instill life-long hate in someone, like the systemic disadvantages this man has clearly lived through.
This is what I like to think of as what’s right vs. what’s understandable.
I believe that the only way society will ever achieve equality is if everyone can move past this type of retributive, vengeful or hateful behaviour. If we continue to excuse our hate with past hurt, it will only perpetuate itself.
I also understand - have personally felt - the need to hate. I understand what it’s like to be so damaged by something, that you can never forgive. I can understand that some things never, ever go away. It isn’t conducive to great social change, but I can understand this kind of hate… this kind of refusal to forget.
and so, I will never deny someone’s right to be angry, to be vengeful, to even be hateful of something, or someone that has affected their lives in ways I cannot ever fathom. I can never deny someone the control that hate can give them. I will never know what kind of shit this person has gone through, and I can never be the one who decides what is reasonable behaviour for them.
I can only hope that I remember this, that I can remember to choose between what’s right and what’s understandable.