I was caught up in an argument with a racist yesterday, who insisted he was not a racist because his comments of “I hate how Asian my neighbourhood has become” and “.. tearing down Vancouver for Chinese and Asian restaurants and bubble tea” are referring to *businesses*, not people. Then it trailed off into a cute little side argument in which he claimed the only reason I thought he was racist was because *I* was racist (against him), and that my calling him racist was abusive. Okay, then.
I wanted to see if my gut reaction of “oh look at the adorable little racist” was off the mark, so I asked Ed for his opinion. It led to a discussion in which he agreed that the asshat was in fact a racist asshat, but he understood how he could make the distinction of “I’m talking about businesses, not people” (even if he didn’t agree). I countered with the following logic:
The English language is one of the most nuanced languages on the planet. There are an almost infinite number of ways you can say something. I know that I have a better handle on language than some people do, but it is not difficult to rearrange your thought to present it in a way that doesn’t make you look like a piece of garbage. The instant you boil your argument down to a descriptor that is generally applied to a race or group of people, it becomes if not outright racist, at least highly questionable. It’s a far smaller leap of logic to go from “oh, you don’t like Asian businesses, which have a mainly Asian clientele, so you must not like Asians” than it is “oh, you don’t like Asian businesses, probably because houses were torn down to accommodate those businesses, so you feel like your city is disappearing”.
I personally have an ongoing issue with Vancouver because the instant I find a new favourite restaurant, it’s replaced with a sushi joint. That statement isn’t racist. However, if I were to says that I’m mad because my favourite places are replaced by Japanese stuff, it takes on an entirely different context – it’s suddenly not wasabi I have a problem with, but “Japanese stuff” – which is a much broader category than just raw fish and rice. I actually love all things Japanese, with the only exception of sushi. And damnit, I still miss that grilled scallop and pineapple dish.
It’s entirely possible that the asshat in question did not intend to sound as utterly reprehensible and racist as he did, but he then doubled down on the argument, pulled the “no, you’re racist for calling me out” card, used the “I have Asian friends” line, and accused me of trying to censor his right to an opinion .. all of which are the hallmarks of a racist upset about being called a racist. Oh, and posting a picture of a For Sale sign written in both English and Chinese, with “Welcome to Vancouver?” on it. And that thing about driving down Kingsway – which has been a predominately Asian corridor for as long as I can remember – and saying “that’s the new Vancouver”. Yep. Not racist at all. My bad!
Anyway, my point here is twofold:
- Don’t be a racist asshat
- If you’re about to make a statement that directly references a race or group of people and you truly don’t mean for it to sound racist, consult a friend smarter than you are to ask for some wording help. Maybe use thesaurus.com. Or, you know, your head.