Viewpoint: Racism message missed

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BY BRIAN SMALLSHAW

In his Viewpoint article of Aug. 19, Hojo Takuyuki writes that he is “saddened” by Aina Yasué’s speech published as an opinion article (Aug. 12) on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the racism that continues to this day.

He was saddened not by the racism suffered by Yasué and other people of colour, but by her teachers who “taught her that the best way to improve society was by separating us into various tribes based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and political belief system.”

If Mr. Hojo is Japanese or of Japanese descent as his name suggests I’m heartened to hear that he has never suffered from racism, but in his criticism of Yasué’s “divisive message” he has missed its essential point: it is an argument against divisiveness. It is not divisiveness that she was taught by her teachers, it is divisiveness that she has experienced, first hand, here on this island.

She is not arguing that we be separated into “various tribes,” she is making an eloquent plea for a community in which we all belong.

I take particular issue with Mr. Hojo’s condescending attitude towards Yasué. In his reading of her speech, she’s a young person whose experiences count for little and she’s been misled by her teachers. Worse, in his mind her criticism of racist attitudes implies she’s ungrateful for the opportunity her parents were given to immigrate to Canada.

The thing is, Mr. Hojo, whether you became a Canadian last week or your great-great-grandparents were Canadian, we all have the same right to call out injustice in our country when we see it. It takes courage to speak out on an issue that many people want to pretend doesn’t exist. Denying that racism exists perpetuates it.

I appreciated that Yasué grounded her argument in the history of Canada and this island. Prior to World War Two, Salt Spring had a sizeable Japanese Canadian population. They suffered discrimination, but as always, racism is not a uniform thing; there were strident racists like our then MLA, Macgregor Macintosh, who gave speeches around the province calling for the deportation of Asian Canadians, but there were also allies, people of genuine goodwill. Yet, when the racists prevailed and Canadians of Japanese descent were having their land taken from them, nobody on this island challenged it. Speaking up helps to ensure such things never happen again.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Aina Yasué since she and her family moved to Salt Spring many years ago and appreciate the many contributions that they have made to our community. I do not know Hojo Takuyuki, but would welcome the opportunity to speak to him: Mr. Hojo, please get in touch. Communication is the best way to achieve the “unity, cooperation and trust” that we both seek.

The writer is the author of the forthcoming book, As If They Were the Enemy: The Dispossession of Japanese Canadians on Salt Spring Island.

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