Editor's column: No place for race baiting in Richmond

Well, nothing like saying it straight up.

At a recent event where lawyer Hong Guo officially announced her bid to run for mayor of Richmond, a video played that included the following Mandarin narration (translated):

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“For a long time, Chinese have been modest and obeying the law. However, the right to equality, happiness and democracy didn’t arrive as expected. Our voice is ignored; our rights are obliterated. We must take action now; actively take part in the politics; stand up bravely. Support the Chinese candidate, who will speak on your behalf, with your vote. Today, Richmond politics has finally heard a Chinese voice, Hong Guo….”

Rights obliterated? Equality, happiness and democracy didn’t arrive as expected? Really?

I don’t deny we are far from an egalitarian society, nor do I dispute the fact racism is alive and well in this city. But to say a group well represented in the business community and supported by numerous self-serving community organizations, living in one of the wealthiest municipalities in Canada is experiencing an obliteration of its rights is...well...questionable.

The video goes on to explain how Guo was ripped off by her employees in November 2016. And while that was bad enough, what really victimized her were the ways in which the bank and police dealt with the issue. It was that alleged institutional incompetency that she says showed her what a chaotic state our government is apparently in and motivated her to run for office.

So, how to unpack all this…

First off, Guo is running on a platform of change and stands by the claims that our institutions are in need of an overhaul. Fair enough, she wouldn’t be the first politician to run on that plank. But targeting Chinese voters and inciting a sense of ethnic injustice is more than a little problematic.

Guo denies responsibility for the video and said the language is “inappropriate.” She claims the video was made by her supporters but not her campaign team.

She didn’t know what would be in a video in which she appears and was made to play at her campaign launch?

But while she may distance herself from the video, she’s quite candid about targeting Chinese voters and hosting campaign events conducted in Chinese languages only.

To be fair, strengthening one’s base is common practice at this stage in the game, as is taking a hardline with supporters and softening it for general consumption.

Even so, there is a serious danger in exciting this kind of race-based politics. The narration goes on to say, “Only Chinese people can understand what Chinese people want.”

It’s true, we bring our unique lived experiences to politics, which means genuine democratic representation requires a plurality of identities — ethnic, gender, sexual, class or generational. But the tone of this video is simply us versus them.

Greater diversity on city council (Chinese and more) would be wonderful, but race baiting is a whole other thing. It’s offensive to all sides and only brings out our worst selves.

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