A friendly reminder that bus bigots, Twitter trolls and other racists suck

Opinion | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

It’s not news to anybody that electing a bigoted bully as President of the United States emboldens white supremacists around the globe.

It is, however, a bit more upsetting when the rise of racism involves you directly.

Two racially-tinted incidents marked my summer. First, after ex-Conservative Maxime Bernier adopted a Trump-like stance and announced his concerns over Canada getting too brown (or “radical multiculturalism” as he calls it), I had the brilliant idea of getting into a Twitter argument with a supporter of his.

I shared my story to demolish the idea newcomers don’t integrate. “I immigrated 15 years ago, married a First Nations gal and I love what Canada stands for,” I wrote. “I’ve friends from all cultures and wouldn’t think to judge them on their background. I don’t think it’s up to you or Bernier to decide if I (or any other immigrant) have assimilated enough.”

While the tweet was well received (280 likes), the comments were less than friendly: my good looks took a hit, others suggested I go back to whatever my country was, and a few accused me of rubbing multiculturalism in their faces. I’d rather not reproduce what was said about my Cree wife (the least insulting reply was “more perks for you from taxpayers”). It was a sobering and traumatizing reminder that sharing personal details on Twitter is always a terrible idea.

Shortly after that I had a closer encounter with bigotry. I’m not a fan of talking on phones while using public transportation, but when an old friend from Chile reached out, I couldn’t refuse the call. As I was talking in Spanish, a well-dressed, 60ish-year-old woman started giving me dirty looks. My volume was as low as possible, so that couldn’t be it. After a couple of minutes, she shouted “WILL YOU SHUT UP!” I asked her: “Do you have a problem with me talking in Spanish?’ I don’t think she was expecting to be confronted, so she stayed silent — but with genuine hate in her eyes.

While I was more surprised than offended, I was rattled. My friend, whom I hadn’t spoken with in years, got a terrible impression of Vancouver’s transit system. Nobody on the bus lifted a finger to help or even support me, certainly not the driver. I wasn’t going to interrupt my conversation to film her, but in hindsight, maybe I should have.

There’s no moral to this story, except that maybe that taking the high road (being polite) is perilously close to giving offenders a free pass. If recent events have taught us something, it’s that racists and bigots thrive in the shadows and only fear public shame.

These are not days for subtlety. When in doubt, point that finger.

Jorge has written about film for this publication for 15 years and we love him and his good looks. Non-racists may follow him on Twitter: @jicastillo.