When I was in grade six one of my best friends was an exchange student from Taiwan. At that age, myself, and the majority of my young and impressionable classmates didn’t see the fact that she was from a different country as something that set her apart in a negative way or made her different from us, but something that was enticing and made us want to know everything about her.
We were inseparable for the entire school year, kept in touch for about another year after that, and then somehow faded out of contact, but I remember thinking that there really wasn’t much that set us apart other than where she was from. And since we had a whole lot of other things in common that didn’t matter anyways.
I wasn’t the only one in my class that thought this way. Being a different ethnicity never got in her way of making friends and being accepted or seen as one of us. The differences we had were not only unimportant but rather almost went unnoticed.
Fast forward a little over a decade, and the university classroom is a very different setting for international students — or students of any racial minority — to enter. It’s not that racism is rampant and anyone that’s “different” is outcast, but the young and naïve childlike mindset that is “if you’re nice to me I’ll play with you” is no longer prevalent, but instead the differences between us are.
You’d like think that racism would be one of those things that you don’t really hear about all that much anymore and that we, as a society, should be at a point where it’s just something that doesn’t happen all that often. Occasionally you’d be reminded of it, remember people used to actually think that way, and then feel happy that you no longer live in a society where this is still a prevalent issue and these mindsets are still things that exist and people face them on a regular basis.
But that’s not the case. Racism still obviously exists globally, and is still strong in North America, but in our comfortable bubble in the Fraser Valley where people are just more polite in general, it’s not something that we imagine happening here.
The recent distribution of KKK pamphlets and flyers last week showed that racism is still an issue, even in Abbotsford — and that wasn’t the first time this has happened. Last summer Chilliwack was hit with the same problem when KKK flyers were left of lawns, and Mission was hit with the same problem in October.
These events always gain strong media attention, which is great, they need to be acknowledged, but that also makes it easy to look at what’s happening and think “I’m not as bad as that,” justifying our own prejudices because they don’t seem as bad as others.
Maybe they’re not; distributing hate literature is something most of us just wouldn’t do, because it’s seen as very obvious racism and bigotry, and are an extreme that most of us would never identify with. But racism is deeper than that — it’s not the actions that we carry out, the things we do, but the beliefs we hold.
I have yet to meet a student that acknowledges themselves to hold racist views, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem on campus or still a common mindset that people hold.
Rather than blatant hate speech or literature distributed on campus, it can be as simple as choosing not to acknowledge what an international classmate has to say because trying to understand them is too much of an effort, or viewing classmates’ different ethnicities as a dividing factor between us and them — it’s the mindset that someone’s race makes them in anyway inferior to us or not worth our time.
While it’s important to acknowledge events of blatant racism, it’s just as important to remember that they aren’t what define racism.
What defines racism is the way people talk and think about each other.