The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of the CSEG or the CSEG Executive. Forewarning some may not agree with its content and its subject.
This column is a commentary on recent events involving racism.
Calling out racism is a crucial step to healing
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Quote by Martin Luther King Jr.
We turn on the news and we are inundated with issues that many of us are grappling to understand. We see protests, marches, rallies etc. demanding change but for some of us we are not sure what change they are demanding.
This is a highly polarized subject; many have their points of view on this, it can be very emotional on both sides and many have been quite vocal.
This narrative comes from my experiences with discrimination in having a biracial family after marrying a Filipino-American (FilAm) which has caused me to be introduced to many interesting experiences and moments.
Tried to present this in a manner where I am not preaching, bemoaning, or judging.
After I got married, the first time I noticed a problem was when my wife wanted us to go to a “white” church which we alternated with the Filipino church. She felt it was a good break for me from being immersed in the Filipino culture and as she said, “have white friends.”
At the church, there were two parking lots, the main one and an overflow.
Off-duty police directed the traffic in the main parking lot. We went into the main parking lot hoping to find a parking space and we followed all the arrows telling us which direction to go but there was no parking space since we were late.
We drove up to the exit to leave the main parking lot to go to the overflow when a police officer stopped me.
I was not at all nervous, I expected for him to say, “Good morning, the lot is full just go to the overflow,” and I would tell him that is where I am going anyways but that is not what happened.
The first thing he said to me was “Son, you were thinking of going the wrong way,” I instantly replied, “No sir, I followed all the arrows and I was leaving to go to the overflow.”
He smiled and said, “Don’t lie to me because I can arrest you for doing that.”
Taken back, I repeated that the lot was full, and I was going to the overflow.
He asked me for my Driver’s license, registration and insurance and I gave it to him.
He went to his motorcycle, radioed it in and then came back telling me there were no warrants for me, so I took everything back.
He then told me how he was going to let me go with a warning, but I need to watch myself or next time I may go to jail especially if I continue to be disrespectful to the police.
I decided not to go to the church that day feeling indignation with what happened.
Now we can argue about what happened and each one of us has their own perspective on these events. Some siding with the officer thinking he was just being proactive, or he was just doing his job; others feeling the indignation I felt.
Feeling extremely self-righteous about what had happened I called up my friend Frank who was part owner of a comedy club in Vegas and was like an older brother to me.
Frank being involved in comedy has a way of looking at things differently. He is like Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias when he talks to you. He always has a humorous way of explaining things.
We went for coffee and I started to go off wanting a sounding board and then Frank, who is quite a bit my senior, asked me if I knew his full name, I replied “Frank, of course,” and he said, “it is actually Sir Frank.”
He then got really serious with me and went on telling me the story of how his dad wanted someone to call him “Sir” in his life and so he named him “Sir Frank.” He then told me when he was growing up, he could never have a coffee with a white person because he had to sit in the “colour section;” when he had to use a bathroom it was the “coloured bathroom,” if there was one or else had to go outside; and he drank from a separate water fountain. He told me when a white person was on the sidewalk, he had to cross the street and go to the other sidewalk.
If he saw a white woman, he had to keep his eyes to the ground not looking up. To most whites, his name was just “Boy.”
He asked me if I ever heard the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” and I had to admit I never heard of it. He asked me to listen to it since I loved jazz and I tended to go to jazz clubs where they only serve Colt 45 beer.
The song itself is a protest song against lynching. A Jewish-American writer, teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol wrote it, under his pseudonym Lewis Allan (Wikipedia, 2020).
Strange Fruit (Meeropol, 1937)
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Frank told me that I felt indignation over one incident but all his life he has had to deal with it. He can not get away from it.
I felt very ashamed at that moment, and then Frank said, “realize what you do have, the love in your life from everyone around you and then realize these folks are bitter and negative and they will never change. Realize they are there and are a part of life. It does not make it right but little you can do and the best thing to do is ignore them. Whatever you do, do not stoop to their level, and realize you are better than they are in many ways. You would not be a good friend if that were not true.”
Valentine’s Day in a restaurant
After spending time in Las Vegas, we went back to Houston.
After my son was born, I wanted to take my family out to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I wanted to show to my family how much I loved my wife. There were just the four of us: myself, my infant son, daughter, and my wife. We sat down, looked at the menus and waited.
At first, I was not too sure why we were waiting when they were serving other tables and I offered excuses to my family such as they were busy. At first, you try to get the server’s attention then we finally got someone, and we quickly ordered our food and drink while my son began to fuss. About 20 minutes later we got our drinks and I promised my family the food was coming.
Forty minutes later, after intense discussions back and forth with my wife, my son crying and my daughter bored to tears, I waved down a server, asked for the bill and for them to cancel the order.
The server insisted that we should not pay, and I told the server “I will not give you the satisfaction,” threw a couple of dollars down and walked out. We went to Jack’s on Westheimer and Highway 6. We were hungry, in a way I wish they just told us they would not serve us.
The next day I called the restaurant, asked to speak to the General Manager expecting an apology but he just said that people like us are not welcomed. Other people in the restaurant felt it was not right we were there. This can be emasculating but I just told him we would never go back and hung up.
Now, for those who know me they will say this all happened in the States, it is different in Canada, but we have had our moments here too.
It is just not in the U.S.
We Canadians, see the images on the news, read about how someone called the police on someone of colour for just mowing the lawn, or selling lemonade, or birdwatching and we tend to believe that somehow we are above all this and think those things just happen in the U.S.
The sad truth is discrimination exists and it is here too.
A Filipino friend of mine, Rose, who works at a daycare, was at a Starbuck’s ordering with her friends when an older white woman walked up to her and told her “You are not from here, where are you from?”
Rose, who was brought up in the Philippines and was always respectful to people, politely replied, “Ma’am I live in Calgary.”
The old woman told her it was obvious she was not from Calgary and was not Canadian, and again demanded to know where Rose was from.
I do not think it crossed Rose’s mind that the woman was referring to her skin colour and Rose did not belong because she was not white.
The woman then began to question if Rose was even legal in Canada.
Rose not wanting any confrontation began to have tears swell her in eyes with anger and indignation.
Her friends shied away not too sure what to do and no one in the coffee shop stood up as this happened, they looked away because they did not want to be involved. By being quiet all of them were being complicit to what was happening.
I know it is hard seeing something like this to say anything because it is surreal and for most of us we do not want to be involved.
Rose went into the bathroom and called me telling me what was happening because we go to church together and she knew I lived nearby. Rose is the one who orders pizzas for everyone after the church service without being asked. She is very kind to everyone.
I went into the coffee shop breathing fire, but Rose said “Bri, let’s just go and don’t say anything to her,” and Rose held very tightly to my arm, so tight that afterwards, you could see her finger marks on my arm where she squeezed it and I teased her about her grip.
As we walked by the woman, we held our heads-up high expecting something to be said, or for the woman to challenge us but nothing happened, and the woman looked sheepishly away.
Speaking out against bad behaviours
Sometimes we need to watch what we say and how we say it. We may be saying things that are microaggressions or indirect, often unintentional expressions of racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism without realizing it. They are innocuous comments like “you are so articulated,” especially if the person is non-white. One of the common ones for us folks is “do you know Snapchat?” or with a young woman someone may say “you look like a student.” My Latinx best friend gets upset when people say, “so you are Mexican,” because they are from Peru and some assume all who speak Spanish are Mexicans.
One of my favourites is “you speak English so well.” I feel like they may pat the person they are saying it too on the head or rub them under their chin particularly when the person they are talking to has a Ph.D.
Some people do not know they are doing it. I think if you see it happen, pull the person to the side right after they have done it and point it out to them that what they had said was not appropriate.
Discrimination hidden as jokes
Many of these behaviours that are discriminatory are made under the guise of jokes, they claim the victim does not have a sense of humour or is just overly sensitive and others may feel the victim is wrong by speaking about what happened since it is part of the culture, saying things like “move on.”
We need to call people out saying that it was not a joke, you intended to belittle, to hurt, degrade and if it is part of the culture than the culture needs to change so those behaviours are not acceptable.
If we really look at it, these people that do these types of behaviours, they are just bullies. They do it more out of fear or insecurity than anything else. They feel by putting that person down they are elevating themselves.
Being the hero
To stop it we need to learn to have a voice for those who cannot speak, to stand up by drafting an email about what you saw or even videotaping it with our phones. By not doing that we are being racist/discriminatory, we are accepting what is happening as being normal behaviour and being complicit.
Those that are marching, attending the rallies are asking for those who see someone being discriminated against to stand up and to speak up.
With the George Floyd case, four police officers were involved. If one of those police officers would have had the courage to say “stop it,” to go against his fellow police officers, then George Floyd would still be alive, and we would not have seen the riots, marches and rallies that happened afterwards.
During the protests here in Calgary police officers took a knee alongside protesters to show solidarity as well as our Prime Minister in Ottawa and by doing so they all embraced an anti-racism gesture.
As reported by Nick Givas (2020) of Fox News, one of the most poignant moments of all the protests was when Simone Bartee, 5 years old, began to cry and a Houston police officer noticed her crying and the police officer comforted Simone. Simone asked the police officer “'Are you gonna shoot us' and the police officer got down on one knee, wrapped his arm around her and responded “We're here to protect you, We're not here to hurt you at all. OK? You can protest, you can party -- you can do whatever you want. Just don't break nothing."
Having lived in Houston for many years, my second hometown, and being proud of living there, it was touching to see a member of HPD act that way.
Racism and prejudice are part of life, it is there we just need to speak out when we see it happening. By ignoring racism allows racist ideas and policies to flourish.
In this column, I did not answer anything about race because I can not feel how some minorities may feel but I can have empathy. Point was to illuminate the fact that racism and discrimination are present in many forms, and how we deal with it has influence.
What many minorities are asking for is for their white allies to speak out on behalf of unheard minorities and communities. It is that simple.
By changing just our self, how we manage things, we change the world.
It is the little personal things that change the world, not the grand gestures like marches or rallies but through being kind to others.
One of my favourite shows is ABC’s “What would you do?” and in it we see ordinary people act in extraordinary ways without any spotlight on them. My son stops it sometimes so I can cry a bit because it is so touching.
If you can, watch it to see how a small act of kindness can change so much.
Hate to be cliché by quoting a Michael Jackson song, but it does come to the person in the mirror.
Man in the mirror chorus (Ballard and Garrett, 1987)
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
Ballard, G., and Garrett, S., 1987, Man in the mirror. https://genius.com/Michael-jackson-man-in-the-mirror-lyrics.
Givas, N., 2020, Houston cop seen comforting 5-year-old girl at George Floyd protest who asked: 'Are you gonna shoot us?' Fox News, https://www.foxnews.com/us/houston-cop-5-year-old-girl-at-george-floyd-protest.
Listverse, 2008, 10 People Who Saved Jews During World War Two. Listverse, https://listverse.com/2008/11/06/10-people-who-saved-jews-during-world-war-two/#:~:text=Raoul%20Wallenberg%20was%20a%20Swedish%20humanitarian%20who%20worked,saving%20an%20estimated%20100%2C000%20people%20from%20the%20Nazis.
Meeropol, A., 1937, Strange Fruit. chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.uoregon.edu/dist/7/11428/files/2016/11/Strange-Fruit-29grfuk.pdf.
Wikipedia, 2020, Strange fruit. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_Fruit.