Just because you’re an arsehole doesn’t make you racist

6 12 2014

So we went to get a pile of groceries today. We went to Langley because we like the food selection available in Real Canadian Superstore (Loblaw). (To my knowledge there isn’t a Pretend Canadian Superstore, before you ask.) It’s been a while, and they’ve changed things up a bit. The pricing is a bit – how shall I put it? – sneaky!

There’s now often two prices on the shelf for an item, so you need your wits about you. It may have price A in a large font, then below it there is price B in a smaller font. Alongside this higher price B is one of two statements. (i) If you buy the item individually instead in sets of perhaps 3 or 6, then you pay the higher price per item. (ii) if you buy more than a maximum number of the item, perhaps 2 or 4, then you pay the higher price.

For some reason I was overcome with the urge to try tinned chilli. Not quite sure what came over me. There was a bewildering array of options, brands and prices. And you guessed it – they all had these weird two-tier prices. Should I buy a single tin? Was it worth taking a chance that I’d really like it and buy 6 tins to get the lower price? That tin is more expensive but only needs 2 others to trigger the lower price. Ah… my brain hurts!

It was whilst contemplating these decidedly first world problems that my mental calculations were disturbed by a most un-Canadian event. I missed the trigger. Perhaps someone rudly barging past a fellow shopper. Perhaps some impolite glance. Whatever the initial cause, I heard very loud and close behind me a woman saying “What did you say? I’m not from Surrey you fucking racist. Say it to my face!”

For those of you not resident in the Lower Mainland of BC, Surrey is the second largest city, sprawling out to the East of Vancouver. It has a cosmopolitan make-up, but undeniably has one of the regions larger concentrations of Punjabi Indians. This makes for an amazing selection of restaurants, and some bizarrely large houses. I myself live at the southern end of Surrey where it meets White Rock. Despite its diverse cultures and many successful businesses, it is not without its problem areas and drug crime (primarily Marijuana grow-ops). These things have led to such unfair stigmas as “Better safe than Surrey” and “Brown Town” to name a few. As an ex-pat from the UK, I have to say that it is still way safer than pretty much any European city I have visited. Racism is real, to be sure, but it’s nothing compared to the skin-head days I witnessed as a youth in the UK’s 70s.

So anyway, I turned to see a young woman of Indian extraction (with a very Canadian accent) wearing typical weekend “daggy” clothes – hoody jacket and black leggings. She was with a middle aged Indian lady whom I took to be her mother. Facing off with her was a white guy in his 30s wearing a lumberjack shirt and accompanied by a pretty Philippino lady of similar age – better dressed than the rest of us put together.

Obviously unable to “let it lie”, the guy took umbrage at being called a racist, and said so. This presumably was accompanied with gesticulations towards his Philippino companion. I say presumably, because my English genes kicked back in, and I had entered my little bubble containing myself and the pricing dilemma of tinned chilli. My back was therefore once more turned on the scene in the hopes that it would simply dissolve and go away. But no. What we had here was “young lady with massive chip on shoulder” vs. “hurt male ego in front of girlfriend”.

The guy said he had assumed she was from Surrey not because of her ethnic origin but because of her “ghetto clothes”. She seemed well-versed in Anglo-Saxon profanity, questioned his education, and generally showed a most unladylike handling of the situation. Her poor mother, whom I felt completely sorry for, was struggling to keep her in check, and to let things go.

Eventually I settled on 2 tins of Campbell’s steak chilli, though I’m not convinced I’d made the right choice. As the air cleared, I saw a group of around 5 youngish Indian guys wearing turbans and carefully watching the lumberjack shirt retreating to continue his shopping. This could have turned very ugly indeed, it seemed. A minute or two later, I encountered the guy talking to what appeared to be his father – similarly dressed in checked padded shirt. He seemed proud of his “argument with that lady”. His use of “lady” did not imply any inherent distaste for the woman.

I found the whole thing fascinating. Presumably the young lady had slighted the guy in some way – perhaps by barging past or something equally innocent. He had made some comment about her “going back to Surrey”. He’d intended this as a comment on her clothing. She’d jumped to the assumption it was a racist attack and verbally lashed out. The guy felt the need to defend himself against the accusation of being racist. Both seemed to agree that coming from Surrey was a bad thing.

I’m an immigrant. I live in Surrey. On reflection, perhaps they were both attacking me!

A great way to face down your assumptions

14 01 2013

We all make assumptions. It’s inevitable. There is simply too much happening in our little lives to fully know everything in detail. So we average, interpolate, assume. We take a few key points (perhaps fact, or perhaps themselves assumptions) and simple make the rest up. We have the illusion of a full picture, but really it’s full of massive holes that we gloss over by not looking too closely. It’s not a bad thing – it’s how we’re built. The upside is that we can move through an ever-changing, complex landscape without our brains exploding from sensory overload.

We can assume that most faces have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and therefore just remember the things that make a particular face different. A scar, eye colour, a beard. It’s why we often mistake people from other ethnic groups – the baseline “normal” face is our own, so there are just too many differences when we look upon an unfamiliar group of others. Frequent contact allows us to adjust that norm and become more discerning with this new data. Otherwise, we’re left with a vague “Asian male” or “European female” kind of description.

So I assumed that CBC talk radio was boring. No real data. Just an assumption. My great friend Bunbury often espoused its greatness, but I preferred to listen to recorded music on my car journeys. I assumed CBC would be lots of Toronto stuff and of little relevance to me. Of late though, I finally gave it a try, and am a new convert. I have a new data point to replace the web of assumption.

Tonight I heard of the CBC’s Human Library project. Co-sponsored with Surrey library.

Imagine, if you will, being able to go to the local library and expand your mind. (You already do? Great!) Have your assumptions reassessed. But – instead of borrowing a book, what if you could borrow a social stereotype? What if you could “borrow” a Female Firefighter, and have a conversation? You’d be able to validate or quash your assumptions. Have your perspective potentially altered. Isn’t that how we learn? But instead of reading it in a book, you could get to the nub of your own personal questions by talking to an individual representing that stereotype. An amputee perhaps? A transsexual? A Muslim scholar?

I think it’s a marvelous project. Learn more here: CBC B.C. | Events.

Are friends electric?

12 08 2012

I’ve lived in North America – White Rock, BC to be more specific (well “South Surrey” to those who are familiar with the joke) – for around 11 years now.

To this day I am in awe of the overhead crochet that seems necessary to supply electrical power to this far flung corner of ex-Empire. Prior to emigrating from the UK, I lived for 15+ years in a town called Milton Keynes – which has its own cadre of jokes – with pretty much all its power, phones, TV and the like neatly buried in the ground. No idea where MK birds sit to have a chat and plot bombing runs on the passing populace, but there it is.

BC power is strung from very temporary looking wooden poles, and seems to require frequent use of oil-filled dustbins for some purpose or other. Their majesty though is enthralling, and when the sky is looking particularly moody… or perhaps azure blue… I find the criss-cross lines photo-worthy. Here’s a crop of images from – you guessed it! – Victoria.

Will the real Ryan Gosling please step forward?

28 04 2012

I just found out Ryan Gosling is Canadian. Well fancy that!

Taking a stroll around our local ponds as they are slowly being rehabilitated after their dredging, we came across a family of geese. I happened to have my Box Brownie with me, so thought I’d share a few snaps of the youngsters as they bickered and mucked about under the watchful eyes of mum and dad. If you’re prone to uttering “aw cute!” though, you are banished to the corner…

Spring: The grace, the power and the detritus

28 04 2012

A few readers may recall come pictures I posted when our two local ponds were being drained. That was back in February. Progress is being made, and one of the ponds has been refilled. Aparently the mud dredged out had an unexpectedly high zinc level, so the council had to find a different waste dump that was certified to accept the mud. Mud that had hitherto been totally fine for the local ducks, but was now unfit to have within the city boundaries of Surrey, BC.

As the park is slowly being returned to normal, I took my trusty camera obscura for a walk and captured a few snaps of the different aspects of the Spring day. The glorious blooms from the magnolias, the pathetic little piles of bikes and shopping trolleys that had been salvaged from the ponds, the heavy equipment lying idle for the weekend, awaiting Monday’s renewed action. There’s much to be seen if you choose to look.

If you go down to the woods today…

5 02 2012

I got bored today. It happens.

If I’m not careful, I get dangerous when I get bored. Best to have a creative outlet at such times, as Bunbury is oft reminding me. Mine tends to be photography (or blogging, or learning left-handed calligraphy, or …). I’m not very good, but I can afford fancy enough tools that the results are tolerable anyway. So today I set myself the challenge of photographing moss. As mentioned previously (in reference to wretched raccoons), there is much woodland in the vicinity. It’s been a clear sunny day, so off I went, Box Brownie in hand. The Lower Mainland is basically a temperate rainforest from end to end. As well as lots of trees we have lots of rain, hence “rainforest”. Rainforests have lots of interesting thing in addition to the trees themselves, and as well as the moss, I captures a few shots of lichen, fungus and what-not.

The results are below for you to like or dislike or find quite irrelevant as you deem fit. Click on an image to have it enlarged and to more easily scroll through.

Thanks for stopping by!