Saturday, May 9, 2009


The thing about racism is that sometimes it's funny. And that's the thing about growing up in the inner city like I did (yes, I officially did, like, civic designation. I'm not just saying that to be hardcore). Sure, the horror about living in the city is that tons of races get mashed together so gangs get formed based on ethnic camaraderie and then all of a sudden you can't wear purple to Metrotown unless you're Latino, and you're gonna look don't-belong in a Lee Storm Rider unless you're Italian Portuguese Greek White, and all of a sudden you're gonna get swarmed 'cause the Chinese and Vietnamese dudes don't fight one-on-one. Remember Asian Youth Gangs? Don't fuck with them. But the beauty about living in the city is that tons of races get mashed together and you become tolerant. You become so sensitive to the minutely detailed, subtly layered, colourfully nuanced, innumerable variations of racism that in fact, you become desensitised. Tough, colourful skin. You learn quickly the fine degrees between what's sincerely offensive and what's merely clowning. Growing up where I did, going to the schools I went, it was easy to not get offended. The thing wasn't about deep-seated hate -- it was about affectionate aggravation.

So Nick called me a chink and Sunny a pun. And Sunny called me a chink and I called him a pun. We didn't know what to call Nick besides Fuck Off. As retaliation we would give each other the beats. Not hardcore beats, just a medium-deft fist to the back and a noogie and "Don't call me chink, you pun!" Then we'd return to Nintendo. We were buddies. But that's the thing: among pals you can be racist 'cause there's an understanding that we're not really racists. It's the way we talk, and it's special. We also knew discretion, and not to call any random guy a chink 'cause you'd get swarmed. Remember Asian Youth Gangs? Selective, affectionate, non-racist racism. That's the thing when you grow up on a block where every household speaks a different language for reals. It was our vernacular.

It wasn't always fair. Nick knew full well that saying "chink" and "pun" in the wrong company would get him shanked, so when he called me and Sunny those flammable names, he'd digress with a point to his Benfica t-shirt and say, "It's okay. Go ahead and call me pork-and-cheese."

1 comment:

sg said...

I was just thinking about this the other day. Replace pun with spic and pork and cheese (was that just an east van thing?) with Kike, but it was the same. What does it say of me then or me now that it was what you said then but I can barely write these words now. Did I know more then or now?