SA election: racist slur or cross-cultural gaffe?

By Mick Sweetman
Managing Editor

Yuchen Sun, candidate for director of Finance and Operations, said a comment calling her a "chinki" that was posted by her Unified 4 Change slate-mate, Avanish Agarwal was "a misunderstanding between different cultures and friends."

Yuchen Sun, candidate for director of Finance and Operations, said a comment calling her a “chinki” posted on Facebook by her Unified 4 Change slate-mate Avanish Agarwal was “a misunderstanding between different cultures and friends.” Photo: Facebook

The trouble started with a light-hearted photo on the campaign trail of Yuchen Sun, who is running for the director of Finance and Operations, by her running mate on the Unified 4 Change slate Avanish Agarwal who is a candidate for Hospitality and Culinary Arts Rep.

On the night of Monday, March 11, Agarwal posted the photo of Sun chomping down on a drumstick of jerk chicken and captioned it “Chicken and Chinki”

“I told him ‘chink’ is kind of racist and then he changed it to ‘chicken and Yuchen’. I told him it’s kind of racist and he apologized,” said Sun.  “He said, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you, because in India we call all the Chinese chinks because they have small eyes.’ and I didn’t have any comment on that. He didn’t mean to hurt me and maybe that’s the way in their culture, but not in mine.”

Agarwal said, “That was an honest mistake, I really didn’t know it was racist.  I immediately changed it when she told me it was kind of racist and apologized to her and said ‘I’m really sorry, I didn’t know this, because in Hindi it means small eyes’”.

Wikipedia’s entry on the word says “‘chinky’ has its origins in the Indian reference to Chinese people. … In the North Indian languages, China is referred to as Cheen and her people with the suffix ke-log, therefore becoming cheen-ke-log literally translated people of/from China. Chronologically the word was popularly shortened to cheen-ke and meant anything of/from China (usually but not limited to people).”

However, according to a 2012 article in India Today, calling someone a “chinki” in India today could result in a jail sentence of up to five years under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Protection of Atrocities) Act.

Evan Murray, the election’s chief returning officer (CRO) said, “It’s the first that I’ve heard of this. All candidates know they have to treat each other and their fellow candidates and fellow students according to the George Brown policy on harassment and discrimination. We expect the best of our candidates because even though they’re not elected they’re still the public face of the Student Association.”

According to Murray, the use of racial slurs would violate the George Brown discrimination and harassment policy as well as the elections code of conduct. It could even end up being a major infraction, which can result in the disqualification of a candidate though the CRO has the power of discretion and can take the specifics each case into account.

“At this point I think I’ll just have to speak to the candidates and remind them to have the best conduct in their relations with the student public,“ said Murray. “Is the goal to apply infractions, or is it to warn people that their conduct isn’t appropriate?“

Sun did not file a complaint about Agarwal’s comment.

Speaking about Argarwal, Sun said, “I believe him that he didn’t know about ‘chink’ being racist because the minute I told him he changed it. It’s just a misunderstanding between different cultures and friends. I’m Chinese; sometimes I don’t get Canadian jokes or expressions,  I misuse them sometimes. It happens. It’s no big deal”.

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SA election: racist slur or cross-cultural gaffe?