Beneath the Surface

Encountering Racism in the Grocery Store

By Chris Mah Poy

It’s been a long time since I was called by a racial slur. I have to tell you that it still hurts as much as it did when I was twelve. I am privileged enough to be mostly “white-passing” in my day to day interactions. But for some reason to this person, on this day my multi-ethnic background was evident. And they felt compelled to tell me who they felt was really responsible for this COVID-19 pandemic, that culture and ethnicity were somehow responsible for the spread of this terrible disease.

I have been reading and watching in horror as politicians question the loyalty of Canadians born overseas, and as Asian Canadians are assaulted waiting for the bus or going to the corner store. And I, like many of my fellow Calgarians, marched with furious justice in my heart against the systems of injustice in our society.

I am certainly not naïve to insidious and systemic injustice in our country that is more overt now than it usually is. I know that the roots of colonialism, racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are all a lot nearer to the surface than we might choose to believe. But moments of great turmoil and crisis really do expose that which lays just beneath the surface. It brings to light the pain and heartbreak of neglect and the silent struggle of our neighbours. And it compels us not just to compassion, but to action.

I certainly hope that we as a church and a society don’t waste this opportunity to call for justice when so many of the injustices in our communities have been exposed. From eldercare to social, and economic inequality, domestic violence, colonialism, and racism.

In my darker moments, a quote from political philosophers creeps into my subconscious: “The veneer of civilization is very thin.”

But a joyous hymn also fills my heart;
“My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.”

P.S. Ask me about Ha Ling Peak. And Google Bill 1.

Christopher Mah Poy is  Program Support and Administrative Associate, Chinook Winds Region.