The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd is another one of those kooky British TV shows on BBC4 (which, unlike Sirens, wasn’t unceremoniously canned), set in the fictional offices of Reynholm Industries in London. The show follows Moss (played by Richard Ayoade, middle), Roy (Chris O’Dowd, right), and Jen (Katherine Parkinson, background). Chris Morris plays Denholm Reynholm, the CEO, and Matt Berry plays Douglas Reynholm, Denholm’s son. I’ve heard the show described as a sort of “British Big Bang Theory” (BBBT if you will); I would add the caveat “except not shitty.”  Moss and Roy are two, 30+ men working dead-end jobs as IT professionals. Their love lives are bleak, and have few friends. They’re witty, of course, and they like the hip, indie music scene. They’re nerds at heart, and are social pariahs in the officeplace. Jen, a new hire, is their manager, despite not knowing anything about computers (not even knowing what I.T. stands for) Denholm and Douglas are ultimately in charge, the former being an incredibly competent and firm businessman who rarely jokes, and the latter being an incompetent one who never stops joking. This main cast is supplemented by Noel Fielding who plays the IT department’s token goth, Richmond (left), and is one of the funniest characters on the show.

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Richmond, Revisited

Vito Corleone, an early advocate of non-English signage in North America.

About a week or so ago, I wrote about Kerry Starchuk and her courageous campaign to end the assault on whiteness in Richmond. Luckily for me, I have intelligent, well-written and attractive friends willing to challenge my opinions, providing an excuse to follow up the previous article with this one.

Ziggystarduzt, of Tumblr fame, writes:

I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’ve said in the article, but tbh the whole signage thing bothers me to some degree, racist or not.

Like, I’m not about to get all up in arms about things and write letters to the Sun (and can I just say- let’s be honest.. if you’re going to write an editorial letter complaining about this particular subject matter, The readers of the Sun would indeed be the ideal right-wing audience to appeal to…) and I hate that it does sound racist- and it does- but it bugs me that Richmond has become so completely and exclusively accessible to the Asian community.

I completely appreciate the fact that it’s important to maintain your cultural connection, even moreso when you’ve moved to a new country with a new culture, and I can respect that. My issue is not at all with the Asian community maintaining their culture within Canada, it’s more with the level of exclusivity and alientation that it often accompanies.

What I mean is, when I go into a store or restaurant in Richmond, I should be able to receive service. I speak both of this country’s official languages fluently. it is, in fact, a requirement of citizenship, to be fluent in at least one of those languages. The reality is, you have chosen to move to a country that requires that fluency. By all means, hold on to your own culture and language… in fact, I think it’s really important that immigrants do so, as multiculturalism is an important and fantastic aspect of this country. However, by moving here, you are accepting the fact that it is your responsibility to learn our language and co-exist with Canadian citizens rather than simply recreating your own culture in a pocket.

In specific reference to controversy regarding signs and language… I’m French-Canadian. You know this… I speak fluent, flawless French. However the signage laws in Quebec drive me NUTS. I’m sure you’re aware, it’s legal in Quebec to have signage solely in French with no English translation- while in the rest of the country, the laws are very strictly bilingual. As far as I’m concerned, Canada has two official languages: French and English. BOTH should be printed on all public signs and products, in ALL areas of the country.

This is getting way too scattered and pointless…(I do not have your mad writing skillz with the staying on topic and formulating arguments in a concise and linear way :P) but tl;dr, don’t actively exclude people, kthx. This may be bordering on racist, but that is not my intent by any means. 🙂

To be terribly honest, I’m not sure whether the signs bother me or not. In North America, there’s a degree to which we really have embraced the Chinese culture as a big part of our “cultural tapestry,” as it were. And we should, because the Chinese population takes up one big-ass piece of the pie. Does this mean that our immigration laws should no longer apply? No, but here’s the thing: our immigration laws do apply to these communities and these communities are operating legally within them.

It is a requirement that the person applying for citizenship be fluent in either English or French. But this does not apply to the subsequent “Family Visas” which allow a newly-minted citizen to bring over a vast number of family members (Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, siblings, aunts and uncles) without these family members being required to apply for citizenship. And as residents, or legal Visa-holders, they are not required to learn English or French. Then, if these families move into communities that essentially operate like pockets of lil’China (or lil’ anything else), there isn’t much incentive to learn the two official languages if you can get by within your own cultural borough.

As for the signage, displaying Mandarin-only signs is legal (or, perhaps more accurately, not illegal) within the city of Richmond, for better or for worse. But as I said in the earlier article, “legal” and “moral” are often disparate concepts. What I took issue with, and this may not have been clear enough, was Kerry the Social Butterfly’s transparent attack on immigration being poorly disguised as an attack on signage. This is a woman who is being used as the figurehead for the Nazi-esque “Immigration Watch Canada,” which can be found on its own website and through Facebook.

IWC describes itself as “an organization of Canadians who believe that immigration has to serve the interests of its own citizens. It cannot be turned into a social assistance program for other countries. It should never be a social engineering experiment that is conducted on Canadians without the consent of Canadians.” I bet you all of their meetings look like the first 20 minutes of Gran Torino. As you can see, Kerry is quite the social butterfly, indeed.

"I'm here for the Immigration Watch Canada Meeting. I hope there's spinach dip."

Then there’s Kerry herself. The original newspaper article made it sound like Starchuk was a regular feature in her local newspaper’s letters to the editor section, but I was only able to find this one, and it is a gem:

Editor:

Richmond, a place I’ve called home for my entire life. It has been a wonderful place to live. I used to love it.

Unfortunately, devastating changes have made me feel like a tourist in my own city.

There’s a song  that resonates with me, “You are a Tourist,” by Death Cab for Cutie.

In all my 53 years here I’ve always been able to read the signs but not anymore. There seems to be a growing trend to advertise in Simple Chinese. This is on a storefronts, bulletin boards and vehicles quite often in 100 per cent Simple Chinese. I find this to be discriminating and offending.

As a community, I know we have people from all over the world who have called Richmond their home. These people have respected the Canadian culture and the local people.

I contacted city hall and they told me they have many inquiries about this subject. We desperately need some house rules. It’s time our municipal, provincial, federal elected officials legislate protection for our official English language.

Kerry Starchuk

Richmond

I honestly have no follow-up to that. It is beautiful, crystalized in its own insanity and lack of self-awareness.

Even worse was her January 16th on-air interview with CKNW at about 7:45 AM in which Starchuk said she said her biggest concern was that things were changing in Richmond and she felt excluded. She stuttered, sputtered and stalled her way through about 2 minutes of softballs like (paraphrasing): “What if you were a private business owner and chose to put up a sign in Greek? Would that be objectionable?” Kerry said she didn’t know how to answer the question. Because, of course, we know the answer is that Starchuk doesn’t have a problem with non-French and English signs, she has a problem with Chinese signs. And explaining, in real time, why you’re a racist can be difficult.

But again, by attacking signage, you are attacking the absolute last stage of this debate and issue. If we were having a serious, mature and responsible discussion about immigration law – a discussion I fear is next to impossible with people like KtSB – then issues like signage wouldn’t need to be addressed at all, as they would be covered by regulations on the need to learn a language or the suspension of Family Visas.

I don’t think these signs are necessarily Mandarin-only because the proprietors wish to keep English-speaking people out. I think that they are Mandarin-only because the proprietors themselves are incapable of communicating effectively enough in English to serve an Anglophone customer. And frankly, when was the last time that you or I stepped foot in the Crystal Mall or International Village or any Mandarin-only or at least Mandarin-leaning establishment in the Lower Mainland in general or Richmond in particular? I can understand a frustration with feeling that, as a bilingual speaker of both of the country’s official languages, there would be parts of your own province not accessible to you, but that’s been the story of North America since its very inception. Commercial Drive may be a Mecca for douchey hipsters now, but it was once (and to some extent still is) the Italian borough of Vancouver. The United States, and particularly New York, has been famous for its neighborhoods subdivided by nationality and, to a lesser extent, language and culture.

A promotional image for The Godfather 4: Generations

Here’s the problem with any immigration debate in North America: with the exception of full-blood First Nations people, we’re all immigrants. But people don’t really like to think of themselves that way – especially if they’re white. In the United States there’s this fantastic narrative about throwing off the chains of religious oppression and building a beautiful chapel on the hill which will act as a beacon of holiness for the rest of the world. To a less zealous extent, North Americans take pride in the advancements in ocean travel, trapping, fishing and other reaping of North America’s natural resources for the gain of England, the Netherlands, France and Spain. I think there were some people already in North America, but from what I can tell, the transition went smoothly.

That's exactly how it happened.

Of course, this proud image of the colonizer only applied if your ancestors were English, French, Spanish or Dutch. If they were Scottish, Irish, Italian, Polish, German, East Indian, Chinese, Japanese or basically anything else not English, French, Spanish or Dutch, your ancestors were filthy scum come to infect our beautiful new nation with their cultural exclusivity, confounding customs, incomprehensible language and/or inability to assimilate.

The beautiful tradition of North American immigration is the same today as it was in the 19th century.

So I have a hard time taking this debate seriously when I feel like it’s being spearheaded by people like Starchuk who are completely ignorant of their own immigration history.

Sarah Arboleda contributed this article to The Daily Pletteau. Read about her here.


One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness

Chinese-only signs dominate the Richmond Night Market, an example of the cultural cesspool threatening to drown to Richmond’s noble white heritage.

January 14th’s Vancouver Sun raised an important question: When will it finally be okay to openly hate the Lower Mainland’s rapidly expanding Chinese population?

To be fair, the question was couched and carefully sugar-coated as a debate on whether there should be a restriction on the number of “Chinese”-only signs in Richmond, but let’s face it: white British Columbians love being able to complain about the Chinese whenever they can smoke-screen it behind a debate on common decency or civic responsibility.

We all long for those dreamy, care-free days when “those damn UBC condo owners” were blocking the progress of a hospice because of their culture’s phobias and superstitions regarding the dead and dying taking up residence in their backyard. But we weren’t attacking them because of their race or culture, we were attacking them for being bad, selfish, nasty, rude and insensitive human beings who just so happened to be Chinese.

But when the Sun’s Douglas Todd brought us the story of a Richmond woman who was getting the “bureaucratic brush-off in her efforts to restrict the predominance of Chinese-language signs in her hometown,” I knew that the glory days of uninhibited Chinese-bashing might just have returned to us again.

First, allow me to pick apart that opening sentence: a “Richmond woman,” who we can only assume is not of Asian descent is getting the “bureaucratic brush-off” for trying to restrict Chinese-language signs in her hometown. Unlike those immigrants who aren’t really “from here.”

The Richmond woman in question is Kerry Starchuk, whose linkedin profile states that she works as a Personal Home Manager at Kerry, the Social Butterfly which does not appear to be a business, but rather a personal statement about her winning personality. If it is a business, however, you can bet your ass its sign is in English — as God intended. But not French, that would be a little gay.

Kerry, the Social Butterfly.

Todd argues that there are many reasons to support Starchuk’s campaign, which has since been “stonewalled” despite her many letters to the editor and “buttonholing” of politicians. Todd argues that Starchuk is not alone in her feeling that the many Chinese-only restaurant and retail signs around the city need to be reduced, or at least offer an English translation, but fails to mention anyone that has taken up under Starchuk’s banner (other than himself, of course). He goes on in the article to outline how British Columbians need a common language to flourish, taking his talking points from studies released in the Fall by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney:

1) Learning English may be good for immigrants’ health.

2) Everything that encourages new-comers to learn English, including having to understand signs, contributes to their financial well-being.

3) An emphasis on English-language signs will help reduce the segregating effects caused by the rise of Canadian ethnic enclaves, which have expanded from just six in 1976 to more than 260.

Then there’s this doozy: “Although these dominant foreign-language signs are permitted under provincial legislation, presumably in the name of freedom of expression, they constitute a misguided approach to multiculturalism.”

Kerry Starchuk and Douglass Todd think Canada’s mosaic could use fewer Asian tiles.

I’m the first person to say that “legal” and “moral” aren’t exactly synonyms, but come on. First, it is currently legal. They are not breaking any laws. But second – and this is probably the most important element of all – if a store does not have any English signage, what are the chances that its owners speak a great deal of English? What are the chances that the menus are in English or that anyone will be able to assist you? In short: for many of these retail or restaurant locations, wouldn’t English signage effectively amount to false advertising?

Then there’s the second issue, which is that no one thinks that calling an Italian restaurant “Luigi’s Ristorante” is terribly exclusionary and a misguided approach to multiculturalism. It’s expected because even someone with no exposure to Italian can probably figure out that Luigi’s Ristorante isn’t a sporting goods store. But that’s because English and Italian and French and Spanish and a whole pile of other languages share the same basic alphabet. Chinese – or, more accurately Mandarin and/or Cantonese – do not.

Another example of a culture trying to destroy Canada’s values by refusing to offer an English translation.

You can absolutely make the argument that if someone is going to immigrate to a new country they ought to learn the language first. And it’s a fine argument, but the trouble is that current Canadian immigration laws might require one person in a family to learn English, but then once that family member becomes a citizen, they are able to bring over their mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents without the same language requirements being applied to them. If you have a problem with the predominance of Chinese-only signs (but really Chinese-only people, let’s be real), then your issue should be with immigration, not a provincial law on signage.

Ultimately, signs are a reflection of the behavior and attitudes of a society, not its cause. A town with a population of great drivers doesn’t need to have a thousand traffic lights, stop signs and crossing guards. And a city – or a province, or a country – with a firm immigration policy on English or French language requirements for its residents and citizens wouldn’t need to restrict its number of Chinese-only signs.

I’m not saying that Todd and Starchuk are wrong, but I am saying that they’ve aimed their fight at the very tail end of the actual issue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece previously referred to Douglas Todd and Kerry Starchuk as “racists.” Todd, although he did not directly request we remove the reference to him as a racist, tacitly threatened legal action were we to not remove it. While as editor I take a different stance, Arboleda has requested this line be removed.

So The Pletteau is no longer directly alleging that Douglas Todd is a racist, although About does refer to Todd as an “anti-atheist bigot,” so take it with a grain of salt. We have been wrong before.

 

Sarah Arboleda contributed this article to The Daily Pletteau. Read about her here.