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Editor's column: Calling out racist rant is the easy part

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds said listening to each other more would be a good start at combatting racism
An incident in a Steveston coffee shop has highlighted the issue of racism

So here we are with yet another video of a “racist rant” in Richmond going viral. (See page 5) This one at one of my favourite coffee shops, no less.

This isn’t the first time we’ve embarrassed ourselves as a community with this kind of obnoxious behaviour, and I fear it won’t be the last.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think there won’t be these kinds of flashpoints when diverse groups come together, but of course that doesn’t mean we can accept it.

Each and every time something like this happens, we need to call it out and stand with victims. The problem is, that’s the easy part.

Where it can get tricky, and uncomfortable, is when we start digging down into what’s behind this kind of intolerance. It forces us to look at ourselves, at each other and at larger forces that come into play.

I don’t mean to make excuses or deny  personal responsibility, but we are also products of our histories, our politics and our economic systems. None of us operate in a vacuum.

To that point, we have received a fair amount of blow back for our front page feature last week. The letter on page 4 is just one example.

We were challenged for equating the shooting in Atlanta, Ga., with racism. To be fair, it was something we talked about within the newsroom, given that the shooter claimed he wanted to eliminate the temptations of sex workers. He said it wasn’t about race, according to police.

So were we wrong to link the two?

Well, we certainly weren’t alone and our coverage was of the reaction to the shooting, and that reaction was all about race.

But more importantly, the rationale for calling it an anti-Asian hate crime (which, by the way, the Atlanta police are not doing) has to do with context. We’ve just come off a year where we’ve seen a spike in aggression and violence toward Asians, not to mention an American president who used inciting terms like the “China virus” or “Kung flu.”

And then there’s that way-back history of signs in Vancouver parks that read “No dogs or Chinese.”

Granted we’ve come a long way, but there’s no denying racism is real. It’s embedded in our culture in complex and sometimes subtle ways.

Does that mean any act perpetrated against people who happen to be Asian is racist?

Obviously not, but that said, we do need to recognize patterns, hear from those with lived experience and understand that every act happens within a larger context.

Also about last week’s feature, we received letters, some from people of Asian descent, who note the problem isn’t race but issues such as birth tourism, money laundering and a crushing real estate market — at least in the Lower Mainland.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve used this space to stress the need to distinguish valid concerns about immigration, crime or financial regulations (or the lack of) from questions of race. It’s far too simplistic, not to mention just plain wrong, to blame these ills on any one ethnic group.

I recognize that as someone not part of a visible minority in Canada, I have a limited perspective.

I don’t have anyone walking past me saying, “You dropped your coronavirus” as one of my reporters did at the start of the pandemic.

So it’s my job to listen, both to those with lived experiences of racism as well as those who are feeling threatened by changes.

What none of us need to listen to, however, is the kind of ignorance and hate we’ve  been hearing in some of these vile rants.

That we can call out unequivocally. It’s what we do next that’s going to distinguish us as an inclusive society -- or not.