Ryan Bridge: When racism is not actually racism

Opinion 12/02/2019
The 'racist' receipt in question.

By Ryan Bridge, Magic Drive host

OPINION: The woman who slammed an Auckland cafe as racist this week simply because a waiter described her as Asian on a meal receipt needs to take a good long look in the mirror.

I feel sorry for the café.

Publicly condemned as racist, accused of racial profiling, its reputation left in tatters; I don’t even want to name them as the damage will only be made worse.

The café's management says the customer sat at a random, numberless table and a waiter mistakenly used their outward appearance as an identifier on an otherwise busy day.

Identifying a group by race is not racism.

It was never meant to end up on the table’s bill for the customer to see.

But it did. And the customer, a self-described Asian New Zealander, was outraged. Appalled. It was racist, they said in the Stuff article.

Except it wasn’t. Identifying a group by race is not racism. Racism would be to imply there was something wrong with or inferior about Asians. Labelling somebody racist for describing an Asian as such is equivalent to labelling somebody sexist for describing a woman as such.

The cafe was also accused of racial profiling. It was not guilty on this count, either.

Racial profiling has a consequence. The consequence of police racial profiling is an increased arrest rate for certain ethnicities relative to their propensity to commit crimes.

Unless the café charges Asians more for a latte then this is not an example of racial profiling.

When I lived in China, I was often referred to as Laowai by locals. It means foreigner. White guy. No offence meant and no offence caused.

Ethnic labels are not, in and of themselves, racist.

If they were, could we not then consider the government racist for identifying and collating data on certain cohorts of society by race?

Racism should be condemned, but only when it actually occurs. Destroying a cafe’s reputation because of an innocent mistake is unfair.

The only crime this café is guilty of is failing to have table numbers, which makes life easier and avoids situations like this one from happening.

Ryan Bridge is host of Magic Drive, weekdays from 3-6pm.