Toronto woman says fellow bank customer made anti-Asian slurs
Stephanie Kim said the bank did nothing to help her, making her feel like a second-class citizen.
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Stephanie Kim says she’s experienced racism before, but she was caught off guard by a series of racial slurs she experienced while standing in line at a bank on Friday.
Kim, 27, was waiting to speak with a teller at a TD branch, located at Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave., when she says she heard a man standing behind her making “weird noises” in her direction.
“I looked straight at him and he said ‘hey chinky, chinky can you grant me a wish, chink?’” said Kim. “I ignored it at first, kind of brushed it off, didn’t really know what to do and then he kept hounding me essentially, being like ‘can you grant me a wish chink?’”
Kim, who is ethnically Korean, said she told the man to stop, but he responded by saying “we can do anything to you guys” and “we own you.”
The man was white, in his late 20s or early 30s, she said, and his clothing “looked tattered.” He wore a bandana, a baggy shirt and jeans, which hung low, and held a hat in his hand.
She said there were fewer than a dozen people in the branch who might’ve heard the slurs, including four people waiting in line.
“Nobody really did anything, nobody acknowledged it. I was staring at people, they were staring at me,” she said. “They just kind of looked at me with pity.”
Once Kim was at the front of the line she explained what happened to the teller, who didn’t seem to understand the slur, she said. When she finished banking, she approached another staff member to ask about the branch’s security, and pointed out the man who had called her a “chink.”
Kim said the staff member apologized and explained the man was known to the bank, but there was nothing they could do because he was a client.
“I’m like, ‘I understand that but I’m also a client,’” she said. “I literally at that point felt like a second-class citizen.”
After phoning the branch later on Friday to initiate a formal complaint, she said the branch manager called her Monday morning to apologize.
“We regret that our customer has had this experience and we are equally concerned about this situation,” said TD spokesperson Daria Hill in a statement. “We treat situations like this one very seriously because we are committed to an environment of mutual respect where customers feel comfortable and safe in our branches. Generally speaking, there are protocols in place within our branches to deal with security risks.”
Hill stated the other customers’ “unacceptable behaviour” would be dealt with “appropriately.”
Nicole Simes, a lawyer with MacLeod Law Firm, said businesses aren’t necessarily responsible for racial slurs or discriminatory comments made between members of the public at their institution.
“Where they become liable is what they do in response,” Simes said. “If they handle the situation in a manner that protects the dignity of the person who’s experienced the racial slur . . . then they’re not going to be liable for the comments made by the member of the public in their institution. Dealing with these kinds of racism in way that further perpetuates them or doesn’t take the complaint seriously can be a problem.”
Kim said she appreciated the bank’s apology but hoped the branch could develop a guideline so its employees are prepared to respond should clients feel uncomfortable or harassed by others at the institution.
“For me it’s not about a formal apology, it’s about a plan of action,” she said. “What really disappointed me was that fact that no one really acknowledged it and when I addressed it, it was like I made them uncomfortable through my discomfort. At that moment I felt completely displaced.”
Kim said the incident served as a reminder that prejudices persist in a city as diverse as Toronto, where she was born and raised.
“I think people don’t realize that’s a part of life for people of different ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “Racism is so prevalent. It still exists.”