You know those surveys that ask you if you have ever been discriminated against because of your race?
Quite honestly, my answer to that question has always been “no”, I do not recall a time where comments or actions towards my physical appearance made me feel unwelcome, unsafe or uncomfortable. Until yesterday.
I sat next to an intoxicated individual on the bus ride home from downtown last night. This person was loudly singing O Canada, which I took to be a spontaneous outburst of nationalism.
Unfortunately, I understood their motives more clearly when I overhead them mutter under their breath: “You all don’t belong here.”
I glanced around and noticed that the back of the bus was predominantly young females of Asian descent, who were speaking in various languages. However, I chose to continue to ignore the intoxicated person next to me despite loud singing, comments on how you should be speaking English in Canada and Nazi salutes. I never felt more unsafe.
At Alma Street, the person turned to me and said, “You were born here, I can tell. Do you speak another language?”
Me: “No. I only speak English. But does that matter?”
Them: “Yes. So you’ll understand why it’s so annoying to have these girls talking away in their own language.”
And at that point I was completely fed up, no longer afraid for my personal security and seeking so desperately for an educational confrontation.
Me: “Why does this annoy you so much?”
Them: “We fought in the war for this country. We built this country. And they just come here and don’t even bother to speak English.”
Me: “You do know that people who didn’t speak English played a huge part in building this province, right?”
Them: “Yeah, but it was primarily Anglo-Saxon who were the pioneers of this country.”
Me: “The First Nations were the original people here, so their thoughts towards you could be the thoughts you have towards us.”
Them: “Well actually, the Europeans were here around the same time as the First Nations.”
Me: “You need to check your history books.”
Them: “I’m not looking to have a debate with someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.”
Me: “If you’re going to voice your opinions so loudly, you should expect someone to voice their opinions back.”
Them: “I’ve had a long day and I get on this bus and there are these girls yelling in some other language and it’s so fucking annoying, you know?”
Me: “No I don’t. What if they were speaking French? The French were here at the same time as the English.”
Them: “Well I don’t like them either. I guess I hate everyone.”
Me: “Fine, I can respect that.”
At that point, the bus reached my stop. We fist-bumped as a symbol of quasi-reconciliation and I wished for them to have a better evening.
I stepped off the bus and burst into tears. As a Canadian, I had never been attacked by another Canadian who genuinely questioned my belonging here.
The reason I am sharing this story is not to get sympathy or praise for confronting this racist behaviour. I am sharing this story because I want to remind people that racism is still prevalent here. It might not take form in as obvious of a way than I experienced, but it still finds its way into our lives in subtle forms that we may not even notice.
Everyone has something to contribute, but please remember it is important to acknowledge what gaps in knowledge you have or what privileges your point of view is coming from.
Have you ever been a victim of racism? Have you ever witnessed someone be a victim of racism? If so, what happened? Let us know by commenting below.
Written by Lawrence Lam, a student at the University of British Columbia. Connect with Lawrence on Twitter @losquared.
Feature Image: Multicultural hands via Shutterstock