I don't focus much on my cultural background. Having grown up in Canada at a time when most “non-white” families were looking to integrate rather than hang on too tightly to cultural roots, I consider myself more Canadian than anything else. We do partake in the big Chinese celebrations such as Chinese New Year, and honouring our ancestors every year, but even my own mother forgets sometimes that although I don’t speak a lot of Cantonese, I do happen to understand most of it.
My Dad never had a Chinese accent; if there was anything regional in his voice, it was more reminiscent of Quebecois accented English, as he grew up in Quebec. My mom’s accent is a combination of everywhere she’s been since she was a kid, so very hard to pinpoint, but you know she’s Asian.
Even when we were first dating, my husband didn’t know what my background was. I think it was on our third or fourth date when he asked “What ARE you anyway?” (Of course it didn’t come out the way it’s written, it was quite a bit funnier).
This isn’t to say that I don’t consider myself Chinese and that I haven’t experienced my own share of racism as a kid. Besides being bullied for being a skinny thing with high marks and bad teeth and acne, I’m sure some of it was racially motivated. "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at ..." I could count the number of Asian kids in my public school with my two hands, and that included my younger sister. But I had hoped that this would have changed in today's Canada, where "Smith" is no longer the predominant name in the phone book.
So it sickens me to read of the recent goings-on in a community not far from where I live.
Long story not so short: a white kid utters a racial slur and punches a Korean kid in the mouth; the Korean kid, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, hits back in self-defence and busts the instigator's nose. The Korean boy, a top student, gets arrested and suspended, and sent a letter from the Principal, threatened with expulsion not only from the school but the ENTIRE SCHOOL DISTRICT. I think the other boy was suspended as well, but I’m not sure. The Vice Principal wonders why the Korean kid was so sensitive to being called “Chinese” (oops, what about the “f*cking” part??). The instigator's cousin, it is learned later, also hurled racial slurs at the Korean boy the day after the fight.
The student body rallies in protest over the suspension of the Korean boy, 400 kids demonstrating against the school administration, wanting to send the message that racism and intolerance is not cool. The mother of the Korean boy meets with the Vice Principal and suggests anti-racism be part of the school curriculum. The VP thinks it unnecessary as the topic is covered in “geography class”. The police have reopened the case as a possible hate crime, after the school demonstration. To be continued.
Are you enraged? Certainly at the racist kid and his family who are so stunningly caught in the backwoods with their attitudes. Not at the kids in the school, who totally get it. But what is with the “adults” in this situation? The school administration, who launched this expulsion nonsense and who I’m sure would have loved to have swept this under the table, were it not for the student protesters who are actually living the principles that are supposedly withheld in their school. I know there is "zero tolerance" for violence and rightly so in our schools, but to have one party punished so severely when the bully who started it skulks off silently the other way without any penalty (well, other than the damaged septum)? To be further investigated only after all the damage has been done to the initial injured party? What about zero tolerance for racial discrimination? Talk about being totally black and white and illogical in a situation that screamed shades of grey.
I've been hopeful that my kids are growing up in a world where race ceases to be such an issue. But perhaps I've just turned a blind eye. I just have to look at the recent election in the US to realize that - duh - while on the surface there seems to have been great strides made, it will never, ever go away. My kids are in a very multicultural school and if anything, being of mixed race, are an example of the future generations, symbolic of the meeting of cultures. To them, if someone's white, brown, black, yellow, green, red... it doesn't matter. It's stories like these that illlustrate the often hostile environment that they are growing up in, that concerns me.
What do you think the chances are that this was far from an isolated incident for this boy? This doesn't happen overnight. There's a limit to how many times you can walk away. Much talk and commentary about this story has voiced that the race card is being tossed in again as convenient, to make it an even bigger issue than it really is. However, that is indeed what started it, and the issue of racial discrimination IS a huge one.
I suppose I should be a good Mom and say that retaliation in this form is never the way to go. But honestly, in looking back at my childhood, if I had the extra minutes in my already jammed extracurricular schedule, it may not have been a bad thing for Mom to have included martial arts in the mix. There were several kids I knew growing up who deserved a good lesson or two.
Being the nice, quiet, studious Asian who will just keep taking it and not do a thing is a stereotype that has long run its course.
Good on ya, kid.
(Edited to add: as my blog pal Cid has indicated, apparently the expulsion letter was sent in ERROR. I don't know if that makes the situation any better, or even worse...)