Racism is a crime against the innocent
I am a victim of racism.
I dance down the tunnel of Toronto’s MetroCentre to “One Last Time” by Ariana Grande. The cold forces many people down here during winter. The hallway leads people from the mall to St. Andrew Station. I’m heading home from work. My job at Rogers Centre ends around midnight on Fridays; the shift sucks.
I lick my cracked lips, frozen from the frigid winter air.
“One last time,” I sing to myself.
My voice echoes down the tunnel. It’s rare to bump into people. I smack the metal button to open the door and wait. The heavy door creaks open. I step onto the final stretch to St. Andrew Station.
A man stands at the bottom of the stairs. He has long hair, a dirty beard, a hunched back, and rough rags as clothes. He holds a long wooden stick, taller than him and sharpened at the top.
I power walk. I lower the volume three levels. Don’t stare at him. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t breathe too loudly. Just get past him. I jog down the stairs and speed past him but notice his hand move in my peripheral.
I take out an earbud and ask, “Did you say something?”
“Get out of here you Chinese. Get out of our country!” He yells and raises his spear.
I pop my earbud on and jog down the hall. I look back. He points the stick at me.
“Fuck you China man. I’ll kill you.”
I turn the corner into St. Andrew Station.
I want to give him the finger.
I want to say, “I’m Vietnamese.”
I want to go home.
This experience frightened me. I was born and raised in Canada by my immigrant parents. Throughout school, I never experienced racism. The worst I had were light but friendly jokes about squinted eyes and dogs for dinner. I, of course, joined in. But now that I think back to those incidents, while those comments may have felt harmless, they were fueled by racism—I just didn’t know it.
That walk to St. Andrew Station reinforced that racism exists but also showed me that crime can be influenced and conducted by these repulsive beliefs. The thoughts that spun through my mind when I encountered the homeless man, clutching a two-metre-long spear in his subway-hall home, were “please don’t be crazy.” I genuinely believed that if we were to converse, it would be nothing more than preaching about religion or begging for coins. I received hate and anger for just tiptoeing by. What did I do? I just wanted to go home and sleep.
That encounter happened in 2018, more than four years ago. Racially motivated crimes have occurred since, like the anti-Asian movement that occurred in America for example. In the past few years, there have been attacks around North America specifically targeting Asian ethnicities. Even in Canada, anti-Asian hate crimes are no stranger. From Vancouver to Toronto to the thousands of cities in between, anti-Asian crimes are episodic.
According to CTV News, in Canada alone, Asian hate crimes rose by 300 per cent in 2020. I didn’t know this statistic existed. I thought that Asian hate became more prevalent in 2021 when I learned of movements to stop Asian hate. Twitter’s trending page advertised the movement, and games I played, like Apex Legends, provided free cosmetics to support Asian communities. News articles about Asian targeted attacks flooded my phone. Racism hides in society until we become aware of and exposed to it.
I think the increase in targeted crime stems from misunderstandings. Human fear is gripped by the unknown, and misinformation only chains us to misguided beliefs. It doesn’t help that the same people making these racist remarks will lack exposure to diversity or specific ethnicities. People trapped in a bubble of these beliefs will gradually believe them to be true. Without an open mind, hate may just grow until it reaches a point of crime. It may be naïve to always believe in the good in people—to think that their racist remarks are mostly a product of solitude. But maybe, interacting with diverse groups can direct us away from racism by breaking down these barriers they face. It’s unfortunate that people are clouded by hate. But hopefully, people can stop squinting their eyes and view each other as equals.