Posted on July 8, 2009
JOHN LENNON WANTED A REVOLUTION
I was still in diapers when my family moved from Port Hardy to the Comox Valley in 1982. The Valley has always been and will always be home and, as such, has also always been an immense source of pride. Today I feel shame.
It’s a community comprised primarily of three towns – Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland – and is a community born out of a vibrant history. Though, like any community with deep roots, the stories are often marred. When Cumberland was a booming mining town in the late 1800s, it was also home to North America’s second largest Chinatown as well as a substantial Japanese population. These immigrant workers were brought in simply to risk their lives doing the most hazardous of mining jobs that others would not do. Countless immigrants died in doing so.
Much of Cumberland’s Chinatown was destroyed in a fire in 1936 that originated in a chop suey house; the area was never rebuilt. And further, in 1942 amongst the shadows of World War II, the entire local Japanese population was ordered to be shipped to internment camps in the interior of British Columbia.
Neither population recovered from these decimating events. One could say that these were the first examples of blatant racism in the Valley’s history.
As I grew up, the Comox Valley’s population was predominantly comprised of Caucasian people of European descent. Being that the Island is still home to many First Nations reserves, there has also always been a sizable native population. In junior high I had one girlfriend who had immigrated with her family from South Korea, and went to high school with a brother and sister from Pakistan. The number of black families in the community could be counted on one hand.
While the diversity of the Comox Valley has certainly increased over the last decade, what has always been apparent to me, however, is that none of this ever seemed to matter. We all had our respective backgrounds, history and ancestry, but that was just a matter of fact – not a matter for tact. The idea of any form of racism in the Comox Valley seemed entirely outlandish to me.
There are still numerous men who drive their trucks around the Valley with Confederate flags emblazoned in the front license plate holders, but I always assumed they were paying tribute to The Dukes of Hazzard rather than knowing what it symbolizes. It would seem that I am incorrect. A recent event in the parking lot across from the Courtenay McDonald’s restaurant has changed what I thought I knew in an instant.
Last Friday a 38-year-old landscape artist by the name of Jay Phillips was accosted, cornered and both verbally and physically attacked by three young men between the ages of 19 and 25. In broad daylight, Phillips was bombarded with fists, kicks, racial slurs and threats of lynching. What his cowardly attackers did not expect, however, was that the man well-versed in mixed martial arts was prepared to fight back – and he did.
“If nobody says anything or does anything, they’re going to do this again,” Phillips stated in a local news interview. The attack, which was caught entirely on video and subsequently posted on YouTube, was the silver lining. “Otherwise it would have been three or five guys’ word against mine,” he said. “I don’t want this shit to ever happen ever again.”
The three men have been identified, arrested and charged with assault. The RCMP are currently investigating and further charges of a hate crime are pending.
I applaud Jay Phillips for standing up, for using his voice and for fighting back against such a disgusting display of ignorance and hate. The kind of behavior perpetrated against Mr. Phillips simply cannot – and will not – be tolerated. It is my hope that by his brave example, more people will be strong enough to resist backing down and instead fight for love and acceptance.
During my training to teach pre-school, we were told a story of a group of 15 pre-schoolers that were engaged in a sharing circle together. Each child was instructed to say something about the other children that makes each of them different or unique. One child was permanently bound to a wheelchair, and when it came to his turn, his classmates took turns praising his artistic skills, his fun laugh, his willingness to share and exclaiming that he always had the best snacks. Not one single child noted that his wheelchair made him different or unique.
Perhaps we can all take take our cues from the uncorrupted.