It’s casual racism day

OMG it's bright out!

If anyone is wanting an objective lesson in how to trash a reputation as a progressive advocate for change then they’d do well to head over to Beyond Robson where Sean Orr is putting on a class. Since starting BR has morphed from a site where people who were cooler than you talked about bands that you weren’t cool enough to have heard of to a strong voice in support of the homeless in Vancouver and the Downtown East Side Community as a whole. It’s always so easy to just ignore the problem, but having Sean Orr bang on about it nearly every day makes that harder to do and that’s a good thing.

Of course the quick and easy way to completely trash that reputation is with casual racism. While bemoaning the death of indie publication Tooth and Dagger, Sean started on a rant about all that was wrong and un-cool about Vancouver. Chief among what makes Vancouver an un-cool place to live was ESL students. Take that in for a moment, the second thing listed in a anti-Vancouver rant is people who do not speak English. Not our idiot mayor, who didn’t even make the list, but people for whom English is a second language.

It seems like a throw away line, the sort of thing that someone might say to their friends at a party and get a few laughs and then try out in front of people who aren’t drinking and get met with blank stares. It’s the sort of thing that’s typically followed by an apology, or a clarification, a “You know what I really meant was…” Maybe he had been watching the Spike Lee penned rant delivered by Edward Norton in 25th Hour [imdb] where Norton attacks pretty much every racial group in New York City. There are however things you can get away with saying when you’re Spike Lee that you don’t get to say when you’re not.

The problem was Sean did not follow it up with an apology, or a clarification. When asked in the comments, “You can’t be cool if you’re an ESL student?” he replied, “I don’t know, I don’t think so.” I suppose if he’s trying to find a reason that an indie paper went out of business one could make a strong argument that people who are just learning English probably were not reading it since they don’t read English for the most part. Of course the fact that nobody who does actually read English read it is probably the greater reason for its going under.

Ah but can Sean dig himself deeper? Why yes he can. Seemingly shocked that people were still disagreeing with him that claiming that non-native English speakers were one of the reasons that Vancouver was un-cool he went on to say, “But for the sake of argument, please tell me how ESL students are in any way cool? I’m not talking about immigrants, I’m talking about the kids that come here, learn English, then leave, thereby further contributing to the transient nature of the city.”

Ah, yes the Mel Gibson defense, I only meant that I hate some people based on their national background. Remember Mel Gibson doesn’t hate all Jews, just the ones that control Hollywood, started all of the wars in history and killed Jesus.

The problem is that in the original post Sean was talking about all ESL students, a large percentage of which are residents. Those that are residents are trying to learn English so that they can get good jobs, can better integrate into our society and do some of the things that Sean later accuses them of never doing because “they don’t form underground art scenes and obscure noise bands and put Vancouver on the map as a producer of a internatially (sic) recognizable cultural identity”.

Having known people who have worked in ESL in Vancouver, and around the world, I have to say that Sean’s view of the issue seems to be based on walking past the Asian students who stand outside of the schools downtown during their lunch break. However to suggest that ESL students are just Asian, is completely wrong. To suggest that they’re just students who fly in for a year to learn English and fly back to their castles in… whatever Asian country everyone owns castles and lives like a king while being un-cool, is completely wrong. Significant percentages of the ESL students in Vancouver are from the middle east, or are from India, Pakistan or any of the other multitude of nationalities whose presences in our city makes this a better place to live.

But what’s even wrong about ESL students who are just here for a few years to study at UBC or SFU? They pay much higher tuition than Canadian students, several times higher, and that extra revenue helps to pay to keep the (still too high) tuition fees of Canadian students lower. For the most part they do keep to themselves at university, but then again when I lived in France I latched onto the English speakers I found for security. And when one of my friends made an effort to get to know the ESL students at our school, we got taken into their ring of friends and discovered great people who were cool.

Remember though at the end of the day it’s all about that traffic, or as Sean sums up in the comments, “Besides, the more you click the more I make.”

The thing is that I don’t think that Sean Orr’s a racist. I haven’t met him in real life, but I just don’t believe that he is. I think he said something comes across as racist, but for whatever reason won’t just apologize and recant that statement. Again not knowing him in real life I’m no judge, but he’s always struck me as a fairly decent person and I’m surprised; not that he said it in the first place, hell I say stupid stuff all the time that I instantly regret, but that he’s sticking to his guns.

Six pre-made witty retorts to for tomorrow’s Morning Brew

6) Jeffery Simpson proves that English must be his second language.
5) I get called a racist, doesn’t anyone understand irony?
Who knew Jeffery Simpson could read?
3) Jeffery Simpson isn’t cool. He’s fat and listens to U2, fuck him.
2) Meet my ESL friend Yang Mao.
What’s a Metroblogging Vancouver?

29 Comments so far

  1. Wang Patrol (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    Great post Jeff. I’m glad somebody else has finally called out Sean good and proper. I really don’t have much against the guy, other than the fact that he defines the word crybaby. His “besides, the more you click, the more I make” really reveals a lot. I mean, if he’s trying to pay the rent on clickthrough money, maybe that explains why he always talks about being poor. To be honest, maybe his gripes aren’t with capitalism or Vancouver at all. He should probably be taking out his rage on the folk at Freshdaily (owners of BR).

    I believe in credit where credit is due though, he does seem to be holding Beyond Robson down completely by himself… No wonder they’re always hiring. He’s the only one stupid enough to work there.

    I listen to U2 as well, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Shit, I even listen to Rick Astley.

  2. SEAN ORR IS A DOUCHE (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

    BR has become such a pile of shit and Sean Orr is a douche.

  3. Sam (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

    Although to call the kettle black, Jeffrey’s little empire here uses the talents of local writers, then doesn’t pay them for their time or use of their intellectual property.

    Now who’s the douche?

  4. neal simpson (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

    Okay, Now I think I might be the only one here who actually knows Sean in real life. He’s a very good guy and very on the ball with his views. Typically he is very PC, and although his comment might have been not in character of Sean I would doubt that it came from a racists place.

    Let’s face it ESL people are annoying,as well as pretty much everyone who bunches in groups while walking on the sidewalk. If we could be a society robots who talked in a single line so I could easily maneuver them while walking to work, the world would be a better place.

    Are ESL students cool? By north american standards they might not be and that should be pointed out. Tourists suck, as much as they bring to the local economy on a personal level they suck hard. Just as when I go to another country I try to not act like a tourist because I know that walking around clueless makes me not cool and hence doesn’t get me laid. It also doesn’t help having a U2 listening, messy haired brother following you around doesn’t help either.

    Lets face it folks, if Vancouver had a virus break out and monkeys started to bite people and those people turned into zombies, ESL students would be the first to go.

    Dont hate the playa, hate the game.

  5. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

    “Although to call the kettle black, Jeffrey’s little empire here uses the talents of local writers, then doesn’t pay them for their time or use of their intellectual property.

    Now who’s the douche?”

    Err… Sam, I don’t know what that has to do with making racist comments. We’ve always been upfront with all of our bloggers about how much they would get paid. I don’t make any money of Metroblogging Vancouver either.

    So how in a discussion of racism the phrase “pot calling the kettle black” has anything to do with paying volunteers is beyond me. Thanks for coming though.

  6. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

    Wang Patrol:

    It wasn’t about calling Sean out on any BS. I was actually rather surprised, not at the post itself, but at the comments that followed. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and he’s been a very strong voice for social change in the city especially on issues involving the DTES. If it were pretty much anyone else I’d not just figured that it was a racist site I’d stumbled on and kept going.

    On the issue of Sean and Fresh Daily I don’t know anything and would not want to comment on that. Fresh Daily does their thing, they have very nice looking sites and Beyond Robson is a staple of the Vancouver blog world.



    You just melted my mind.



    If I thought you were a douchebag I wouldn’t have even brought it up. I expect better of both you and Beyond Robson because 99.9% of the time you are much better. It was a dumb thing to say, we all say dumb things. I’ll probably say something racist about Australians later on tonight.

    If you honestly believe that ESL students are one of the things making this city un-cool then that’s your opinion and I’ll stand by the claim that it gets into the territory of racism. Just because you might not be into what ESL students of whatever background might be into, doesn’t make it lame or whatever. Whatever they might be contributing to their cultural communities might not always bleed over into the more mainstream culture, it’s still a contribution of some sort.


    I deleted your duplicate post dear boy.

    “Are ESL students cool? By north american standards they might not be and that should be pointed out.”

    No, it shouldn’t be. What makes them less cool, and why do they have to meet any sort of North American standard?

  7. mark (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

    Oh my… the thought police are out today.

    People who take ESL courses do not constitute a “race” (are they ESLians, ESLese?). Therefore this is not racist. You calling it that takes away from the real meaning of the word.

  8. Mike (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 9:09 pm

    I think, boys and girls, the word we’re looking for here is Xenophobia, not racism.

    Let’s continue!

    Mike (An ESL teacher).

  9. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 9:37 pm


    So just because he didn’t target a specific race we’re not supposed to call it racist? Do you have a word? As Mike points out below you Xenophobia works, and that’s giving Sean the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he dislikes Swedish ESL students as much as he dislikes those from non-European countries.

    Whether you want to pick out a specific race, blaming this city’s problems even partially on foreigners is troubling.

    The debate club dork in me is interested in the side note of when the far right started appropriating the language of George Orwell to attack anyone on the left who expressed an opinion contrary to them. I’ve been noticing it a lot in the past ten years or so.

  10. neal simpson (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    Sorry but being happy and gathering with your friends on the street is so 2007. Its 2008 now and having fun is not cool by any north american standards.

  11. neal simpson (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

    Just leave Sean alone, its rough enough having GoGoStop break up. That’s all I am saying… As well as U2 is as uncool as ESL students. Bono is my ESL student.

  12. Ryan Cousineau (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 8:50 am

    I never thought I’d be stepping up to defend Sean Orr, but I can’t for the life of me see why lumping in ESL students with yoga geeks (actual horrifying sentence Sean wrote: “We’re a bunch of yoga geeks and ESL students.”) is racist, or even xenophobic. The “we” refers to the people of Vancouver, more or less.

    And won’t anyone stand up for the good name of yoga geeks!?

    Anyways, I think Sean-O’s screed was entirely fair comment, and I say that as someone who doesn’t agree with a word of it. Indeed, I have much more of a problem with Jeffery’s logical leap that anything there constituted “casual racism.” Even the sainted Douglas Coupland gently called out the curious phenomenon of non-interactive ESL students in “City of Glass.”

  13. Lydia (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 9:08 am

    I just read the actual article, and all it said, as Ryan just pointed out, is that “we’re a bunch of yoga geeks and ESL students.” I happen to be neither, but I don’t find that offensive. I call that Robson St.

  14. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 9:25 am

    Ryan as I said it seemed like something that one might say and then take it back or clarify it but Sean has not done it. He then re-asserted that ESL students could not be cool.

    Everything else he listed was a non-specific behavior. Doing yoga does not automatically mean anything about your race, country of origin, culture or anything else. Nor does anything else he lists, except for ESL students.

    Being an ESL student, with the exception of Quebecois students who tend to have better English than we do before venturing outside of Quebec, almost exclusively means that they’re a first or possibly second generation immigrant or a student from a foreign country. He clarified that he meant the later, so he meant “foreign student who does not speak English”.

    Again for the most part in Vancouver that most likely means Asian, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’d include Swedes, Finns and others in that group, because we all know that when you’re talking about ESL students in Vancouver you’re talking about the Sedin twins.

    At the end of the day one of his problems with Vancouver is foreign students. If we’re giving the benefit of the doubt then it’s at the very least xenophobia.

    Trust me had Jonathan Narvey posted something listing the top reasons Vancouver was not doing well and listed “foreign students” in the top ten Sean would be all over him. That’s not saying it would be something that Jonathan would do.

    In the Douglas Coupland example Coupland identified a specific trait of many ESL students and talked about it with some sensitivity. Again one can be critical of other cultures, peoples, races whatever without being offensive.

  15. Chris (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 1:42 pm

    Wow. Totally over-reading into Sean’s comments man.

  16. Tim (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

    Just for the record – as the publisher of BR I stand by Sean. While his comments may have justifiably been interpreted as insensitive or poorly worded, my belief is that they were not a result of any racist or xenophobic beliefs or tendencies that Sean holds.

    Sean has a certain style of writing and he likes to provoke discussion – that was the purpose of his post; and hopefully, for better or worse, some constructive dialogue took place on BR and here on Metroblogging Vancouver.

    Also, for those of you lamenting the current state of BR, I just want to let you know that the reason the MB has been 90% of the content on the site lately is because we’ve had a complete turnover in our contributing team. I, personally, was not happy with the quality of the editorial over the last number of months and the efforts or level of commitment from the team that was in place.

    The good news is that we’ve recently added four new writers (and are in discussions with many more) so look out for more variety of posts on BR in the near future.

    (I am cross posting this from a comment I placed today on BR)

  17. Jess (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

    I’m ESL, and I’m Sean Orr’s girlfriend.

  18. robb (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 11:39 am

    Whoa dude. if you hate sean orr so much, stop reading what he writes.

    the article in question was not about esl or xenophobia or anything like that. it was about a newspaper that some people liked to read and won’t be able to read anymore. i headed into the comments expecting to find other fans of the paper, maybe some discussion about where our favourite writers might end up. I certainly didn’t expect a huge “sean orr is a racist douche” fight.

    with this sort of off-topic, simple minded attack you kind of come across like a vindictive idiot with blog envy.

  19. zio zediyo (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 2:29 pm

    “not cool” = racist?


    sucks to be so “not cool” that you will crusade for your peers

    but hey congratulations, you’re getting the attention you wanted and maybe this will give you some closure on high school

  20. i sound like a parrot (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

    i think sean is too cynical and elitist for my taste. it gets a little annoying and this issue is an example of it. however im sure he didnt mean to be racist.

  21. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

    Again as stated it’s probably more accurate to talk about this in terms of xenophobia. Which as Wikipedia says, “The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners or in general of people different from one’s self.”

    Sean used the term “cool” in a qualitative manner and said that ESl students could not be cool. I’d argue at the least that can be seen as xenophobic, and you are fully welcome to disagree with me. Ideally while being polite, but I’m not going to hold you to that.

    Once again, because I guess I’m not using a large enough font, I don’t think that Sean’s a racist. I stated that in the post, in the comments and elsewhere. I think he said something that people took that way, including me, and instead of clarifying it, recanting it or spending ten seconds to assue us he wasn’t (at least until well after this post) he let people hide behind the secrecy of the internet and defend him with half the wit and cleverness as he’s able to marshall himself.

    In the entire first paragraph of this post I made pains to state that I have a great deal of respect for Sean Orr’s work on the Morning Brew. I guess reading the post was too much work, but whatever it’s the internet anything longer than a Twitter post seems to freak people out.

    If people want to imagine that this is some kind of grudge match between Sean and myself that’s their bits of kibble. I’ve never met him, I don’t know him. He seems like a fine guy. I’m sure he smells nice too. God forbid the internet goes a moment without some drama.

    Again Sean has been a strong and important voice for the homeless in Vancouver and the downtown East Side in particular and he should be comended on that. Let’s quote from the very first paragraph of this post, “It’s always so easy to just ignore the problem, but having Sean Orr bang on about it nearly every day makes that harder to do and that’s a good thing.”

    Anyway I’ve let people misread the post and leap on me. Whatever, at least I used my real name and left my email address. You might disagree with me, but at least you know I’m not hiding. I’m up for people disagreeing with me, I’m up for a real debate on racism, xenophobia or any sort of bigotry. If anyone wants that, then cool.

    If people just want to turn Metroblogging Vancouver / Beyond Robson into some kind of Mac / PC, chunky / smooth type argument then that’s your deal. I let Tim, the publisher/owner/whatever of BR have his say. If I have issues with Beyond Robson they are 100% not related to Sean Orr, and unless I had real substantive issues I certainly would not air them on the internets.

    That said hopefully you all have a good day. Go home, watch some reality television or play ping pong with your loved ones. Whatever you need to do to calm down.

  22. Dr.Monbiot (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

    Holy fuck this is a lame waste of time. And I thought beyond robson was shite.

  23. Christine (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

    Hi Jeffrey, this is kind of an aside to the main discussion but you mention that ESL student fees at UBC and SFU are used to lower tuition fees–I was wondering what basis you had for this because in my research on this subject I have found that international student fees (which I think you are referring to as “ESL” student fees) are actually used to buttress the corporate university model. It’s entirely profit driven and none of it goes towards easing the tuition of “local” students. In fact, there is a set quota of international students that are encouraged to attend UBC and SFU because of this. A great deal of planning goes in to this. For example, the recent development of an international student wing at SFU was part of a plan to “encourage” international students to attend SFU; the degrees attained by international students in this department are very costly and aren’t even recognized in Canada (though they are becoming a heavy requirement on resumes in their home nations).

  24. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 10:38 pm


    They sure do pay higher fees. Check again, I think maybe you misread. I’ve cut and pasted below. But yeah, they get a raw deal right across BC. (I don’t know enough about the universities outside of the province to comment). They pay two, three or more times as much and often receive far less in the way of services that normal students do.

    As you said the post-secondary education system in BC could not survive as it is without their funds.

    What I wrote:

    “But what’s even wrong about ESL students who are just here for a few years to study at UBC or SFU? They pay much higher tuition than Canadian students, several times higher, and that extra revenue helps to pay to keep the (still too high) tuition fees of Canadian students lower.”

  25. Sean (but not THAT Sean) (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

    So, what everyone here is really saying is that ESL’ers need to start putting out more, right? That’s what I think too. I mean, can you imagine an episode of “Keys to the ESL”? I can.

  26. Christine (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

    Hey Jeffrey, I wasn’t disputing that international students pay higher fees (in fact they do and that’s part of the reason they are encouraged to attend UBC and SFU…so much so that there is a quota). I was just wondering about the claim that the higher international student tuition fees are used to lower the tuition fees of Canadian students because, to my knowledge, not a whole lot of the profit made off of international students goes towards that. Instead, these insanely high international student tuition fees are specifically designed with profit in mind and have little to do with making post-secondary education affordable or better for Canadian students.

  27. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

    Ah, then I misundestood you.

    Well as you say the money is used for profit, but the universities are not for profit centres (there’s no shareholders) so that money is folded back into the universities. There’s not really a 1:1 ratio of extra money charged to the visiting students versus discounts to the Canadian students but without that money a lot of services for Canadian students would either be cut or decreased. Or there would be tuition hikes.

  28. Sean Orr (unregistered) on January 26th, 2008 @ 2:32 am

    Um, I hate to interrupt here but can we get back to the main topic? There needs to be far more talk about me and less about how much it costs for ESL students to go to school. Seriously, who cares about them when there’s just so much me out there?

  29. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 26th, 2008 @ 1:57 pm

    I hear you know my brother. That’s not specifically about you, but it’s all I got right now. Also I claimed that you smelled nice, a fact that I didn’t bother to check so hopefully it’s true, least our accuracy here comes into question.

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