Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prejudice within

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As racial incidents go, it was hardly the worst example. A client at Sears baits a clerk with a negative comment about his customer-service skill, so the clerk responds: "You just come off the boat?" The customer, a Filipino, complains and the employee is fired for racism.

Both men were uncivil and engaged in name-calling, but the clerk made the error of implying the customer's manners were substandard because of his background.

It's hard to be sure without more facts, but the clerk is probably not a full-blown racist, just a man who lost his temper and said the first thing that popped into his head, demonstrating that racial prejudice can be deeply embedded.

Canadians have come a long way in their rejection of racial stereotypes. It wasn't that long ago when identifying people along ethnic lines -- frogs, hunkies, Polacks -- was perfectly acceptable, even among the target groups.

The Sears case is a cautionary tale for everyone of any colour, religion or language to consider what they have said or thought when angry. A close examination might discover a lot of primitive ideas lurking in the dark areas of the brain, and not just about race. Gender, sexuality, disability and age are also subjects for inappropriate commentary.

The Sears employee learned a hard lesson, but it's one that everyone should heed.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2014 A8

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