Blogathon 2009 – That Racist Troll Incident

Blogathon 2009 Vancouver for Vancouver Public Space NetworkThis blog post is part of Blogathon 2009, in which I am blogging for 24 hours straight in order to raise money for the Vancouver Public Space Network, an entirely volunteer-run organization who do advocacy and education on the public realm in my home of Vancouver, British Columbia. Please consider supporting by sponsoring me with a pledge, leaving a comment or contacting me to contribute a guest post.

My previous post was a review of Where Strangers Become Neighbours. I’d like to engage with the content of some of that reading through describing and working through a recent experience I had, which qualifies, heads and shoulders above any other comparable experience, as the clearest instance of racism I’ve experienced living here in Canada for 20 years.

But let me qualify that further: it’s the clearest instance I’ve encountered, to speak nothing of my mother, who came here 20 years ago as a working-class immigrant raising two children mostly on her own. That says a lot about the shift in attitudes between the people my mother would have considered her peers, and the people that I have been calling my peers.

But first, the story.

One night, I received some email notifications of comments on some of my YouTube videos that I had put up around 6 to 8 weeks prior. Then, as now, most of my YouTube videos have to do with transit. What I saw turned my stomach.

“Welcome to TRANSTINK! A fucking useless system praised by a fucking asian! Welcome to HONGCOUVER!”

“ALL CHINAMEN LOOK THE SAME!”

Typical, fucking chinks speaking about this fucking skytrain. But then, chinks are so fucking stupid. Welcome to HONGCOUVER!”

Once again the fucking idiots in the lower mainland think skytrain is such a great system. But it is the fucking shits. It is always breaking down, the cars are too small for the amount of people in the lower mainland and with the amount of chinks riding it, it is the oriental express. A fucking useless system.”

Worse still, it was not just my videos that were on the receiving end of this hate. Several other videos posted by the Buzzer Blog‘s account, maintained by Jhenifer Pabillano at TransLink, also received these comments. Since I had to wade around the YouTube site for about 90 minutes to find out where to report his comments, I ended up deleting them without keeping a record; aufumy obtained a record of them through a mutual contact who saw my first tweets about dealing with a racist troll, and has republished them in a blog post for posterity, which I appreciate, as otherwise I’d be left with no clue what was said that upset and scared me so much.

The comments themselves are seemingly easy to explain away: some guy felt the need to vent about the state of transit, and for some odd reason decided that the problems with transit were somehow the fault of Asians. We can go forward in two ways with this analysis: we can decide that this guy is an isolated case, and that the community is generally tolerant and does not share the sentiments of this particular person. Or we can overreact, and say that this is indicative of deeply-seated racist attitudes that still persist through the populace, here in BC as well as perhaps elsewhere, and take it as a call for ever-vigilence. These two choices, funny enough, were also the ones available in the wake of the beating of a black man in Courtenay, British Columbia, which was famously recorded by an outsider and uploaded to YouTube.

Those of you who’ve known me at length (or ever had the tedium of having to mark a paper written by me) know that the third way is always most appealing to me. I don’t think this person’s behaviour was a complete anomaly – he’s just the first one to say it in a highly public place in a long time, and “to my face” in a sense through the mediation of YouTube comments. He didn’t even take the words he was uttering seriously to get a fake YouTube account: he used one in which he had posted videos identifying where he lived and with his own face. There’s also the non-zero possibility he’s being framed, though it would seem a funny way to do it. But I also don’t think we can deal with it in a ham-handed way, demanding purity of thought, recompense and reprogramming of the populace; I feel this just completely shuts down the fact that some people may have legitimate experiences supporting their opinions and beliefs, and those same people have abstracted it into prejudices as a knee-jerk reaction, or simply intellectual laziness.

Most of the responses I see to attitudes of racism seem utterly inadequate, but I cannot cast any stones because I’ve seen enough of it on the other end to know that for some, practicing racism used to and still might serve some kind of functional purpose. It is a zombie cultural artifact, unable to die because we won’t let it, and much of what we do helps encourage it to go underground.

This is a Blogathon post, so it has to end eventually. I find hope in concepts like xenophilia (described and encapsulated in this story that appeared on Worldchanging) – that as closed-mindedly as some seek to confirm their own view of their world, there are others actively seeking to be exposed to as full a range of human experience as possible.

The space between our ears is not public space. But how do we have the conversation about how to deal with the anger and frustration in ways that don’t hurt women, minorities, children, and anyone else who often bears the brunt for this sort of thing?

4 Comments

  1. Tina

    Growing up in the Southern US, I had to deal with racist people all the time. My step father is Native American, his brother is black, my mom, siblings and I are all white. When we went out as a group, we had a lot of slurs thrown at us. I’m sorry you had to have that awful experience.

    Posted July 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Hey Karen, this trackback just popped up at the Buzzer so I’ve just caught this. I’m so sorry to hear about this experience!

    I’ve also checked over the Buzzer’s account today and I haven’t seen the comments you’re referring to… did the user get banned as you deleted them too?

    Hope you’re doing ok!

    Jhenifer

    Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  3. Jhenifer,

    The user did not get banned. I sent the URLs of the comments he posted on my site to YouTube through my Violation of User Agreement reports, and mentioned that he had posted similar comments to your account. Perhaps the YouTube staff removed them as their way of dealing with the problem. (The comments came online while you were on the road in Chicago, so I assumed you would not catch onto them until you were back in front of your feed reader.)

    The comment I quoted above, “All Chinamen look the same,” was actually a response to another viewer’s comment asking if I was you. I unfortunately don’t have a record of the comments he posted in response to the Buzzer blog’s videos.

    I’m also kind of not sure what to think about the fact that his account is still there and seems to have borne no outward ill-effects as a result of his behaviour. His comments remain as toxic as ever, but he may be keeping his racist or hateful comments to himself if he was threatened with account deletion. (Let me know if you want to take a look at the account; I refuse on principle to link to this person.)

    As I said in the post, I’m not about sweeping the fact that this person exists under the carpet for my benefit…something tell me he’s either getting self-gratification from what he’s doing, or he has a silent but supportive audience.

    Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink
  4. Hmmm… actually I was still checking RSS etc in Chicago and I never got wind of those comments. Even when I was uploading video to YouTube, I didn’t actually see them in the new comments section of my YouTube account. Perhaps you caught it before I even got to see them!

    Nope, I totally I agree with not linking to him in your post… it’s not worth sending over any links/encouragement to the person in question. I’m hemming and hawing over whether I want to know what the account actually is though. For the sake of not overthinking this too much, I think I might pass for now…

    Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

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