The roots of racism run deep. They infect and inform every branch of Western society, from institutions down to individuals. In America, the ways black people can be punished simply for existing while being black is legion. In the UK—a still shockingly racist place somehow often painted as enlightened—horrific abuse is common, and racist values are built into the very fabric of the culture. British rapper and historian activist, Akala, said it best:
We see new stories of racism coming out of our countries almost every day, a never-ending stream of anecdotes and statistics, depressing indicators of just how much further there is to go, and of how many obstacles there are to overcome. The latest missive comes from Canada, another place oft-cited for being a bastion of progressiveness and inclusion—a carefully curated image easily revealed to be a lie purely by the country’s treatment of its First Nations population. Or, indeed, by everyday examples of micro-aggression such as the case of Emile Wickham. Emile and his group of friends, pictured above, decided to visit Hong Shing, a popular Chinese restaurant in Toronto, back in 2014. They were celebrating Wickham’s birthday and relaxing after a day at university. Upon ordering their meal, they were told that they would have to pay upfront. A policy that, apparently, applied to all customers. It wasn’t long before they found out that that wasn’t true, and that they—the only black group at the restaurant—were also the sole customers being dealt with this way.
Wickham told The Guardian:
I don’t think I could adequately describe leaving that restaurant … We were so dejected
Now, four years later, some consequences have arisen. As per the report linked above:
[T]he restaurant has been ordered to pay Wickham $10,000 in compensation after the Ontario human rights tribunal found that he and his friends suffered racial discrimination when they visited the restaurant in May 2014.
‘It’s been a long time coming,’ said Wickham. ‘Originally, all I wanted was an apology.’
A case such as this is often very difficult to win, with the bar for proving discrimination being set quite high. Nevertheless, the presiding adjudicator eventually concluded that the restaurant staff’s behaviour was indeed ‘motivated by a stereotype that Black persons are criminal, or deviant.’ They concluded that for Wickham, ‘at that moment it hurt to be Black’.
It is Wickham’s comments on the matter, after it all had been resolved, that prove to be the most illuminating of all:
A lot of people have been asking me if I’m happy about this. I’m just more relieved and grateful that we were believed. If it wasn’t for the judge believing our testimony was reliable, if it wasn’t for restaurant admitting this was a practice they indulge in, how would our facts about the case have been accepted by the public?
Wickham, originally from Trinidad, moved to Canada eleven years ago. He continued:
I didn’t know what it meant to be black until I came to Canada
Wickham has received huge amounts of messages from friends and strangers telling of similar experiences.
(Header photograph courtesy of Emile Wickham)