I would like to believe that I am a fairly friendly, decent individual, who most people will find easy to talk to. I tend to be one of those guys that will smile when spoken or smiled to, and some have said that I am quite extroverted and gregarious. I see nothing wrong with a smile or courteous nod. So, it is not surprising to me nowadays when someone will smile or nod at me when walking down the street. However, yesterday as I returned home from the Barber shop, a man stopped in his tracks staring at me blankly . I looked at him and kindly nodded, at which point he said "Hong Kong?". I walked by at which point he said it again. I turned around and this is how the conversation went;
Me: "Excuse me?"
Guy (In an exagerrated slow voice): "Hooooooonnnngggg Kooooooooonnnngg?"
Me (slightly dumbfounded): "Ummm, what?"
Guy: "Arrrree yooou froooommmm Hoooooooonnngg Kooooonnnng?"
Me: "No. I am not from Hong Kong. And why are you speaking like that?"
Guy: "Oh, your not from Hong Kong? You look like it?"
Me: "Oh really? And what does a Hong Kong person look like?"
Guy: "Just like you!"
Me: "I see. Well, first off that was an extremely rude comment to make. You don't just walk up to someone and say 'Hong Kong'. It was rude and presumptuous."
Guy: (now offended): "How was that rude? I have been to Hong Kong many times and that is what you people look like!"
Me: "Listen dude. I don't know where you think you can talk to a person like that, but you shouldn't assume that I am from a particular place based on my skin. Why do you assume I am not Canadian?"
Guy: "Well, I will be sure never to speak to you again! You should know, that I have been to Hong Kong many times and you are exactly how they look!"
Me: "I am only telling you that you were rude and that you ought to learn a few things about assumptions. Goodbye and good luck!"
I left somewhat upset, but content that I had said what needed to be said. Whether he chose to learn from it or not, was now in his court.
I have dealt with plenty of ignorant and racist comments throughout my life, yet each time I am confronted with them (no matter how humourous they may be), I am still slightly shocked. I have always made a conscious effort to educate and learn from the experience, but even that can get tiresome. I do not want to be an educator to those who do not wish to learn. My experience as a Race and Ethnicity (discrimination) counsellor and as a peer counsellor for gays and lesbians has provided me a unique insight about many peoples' experiences, and what it is like for them based on their ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. As hard as it is to believe, I am not perfect and clearly realise that I can be as hypocritical and prejudicial in my own thoughts. However, I believe that there is a marked difference between those who are ignorant, who do not have a formed opinion and those who are ignorant and do have a formed opinion. The latter can be racist and hateful, the prior is not. Let me try to explain.
In our current age, the idea of multi-culturalism is almost a day-to-day word that apparently defines our society as "including people who have many different customs and beliefs". Note, that this does not mean acceptance, nor does it mean tolerance. That kind of understanding and knowledge are things we actively learn or seek, based on our need to understand the world around us. An individual who is willing to learn and who does not form an opinion about things, is likely to learn from their experiences. They are the types of people who will re-evaluate and think about their opinions and the nature in which they structure their beliefs. I have had many a conversation where someone will make comments such as "Chinese people are bad drivers" or ask if "All Chinese people are Buddhists and Communists?" I do not necessarily think they are racist, but do believe that they are accountable for the words that they have said. If what they say offends me, then it is my right to say so. I am of the belief that education does not equal intelligence, and intelligence doesn't necessarily foster tolerance or acceptance. Additionally, the idea of multiculturalism does not equal tolerance.
I discussed the incident with a friend of mine almost right after it had happened. He was very sympathetic, but duly pointed out that I too in this blog have appeared somewhat 'intolerant' - having imitated accents or made irreverent comments about the homeless. I of course, have never been reverent about much, but those who know me understand that this blog site is a mixture of humour, sarcasm and a willingness to share my experience as an Asian-gay-Canadian male, and what it is like for me on a daily basis to live in the skin that I am in. It is my experience and voice that leads me to my own discoveries about who I am and what I share with other people. It is not the voice of others and is not representative of anyone else but me. Unlike the man on the street, if someone were to point something out to me that offended them, I could enter a discussion about it. I do not believe in rigidity and stubborness. Only a fool would believe that they have the only answer - and is a sign of extreme vanity. Knowledge is something that you gain by challenging it. I leave with you all a few Confucious quotes from the Analects that may help explain my philosophy.
A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The small man is biased and can see a question only from one side. - Confucius, Analects, c.400 b.c.
Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance. - Confucius, Analects, c. 400 b.c.
Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men. - Confucius, Analects, c.400 b.c
If one learns but does not think, one will be bewildered. If one thinks but does not learn from others, one will be imperiled. - Confucius, Analects, c.400 b.c.