Tom Kato, 41, left Branding Iron Bar and Grill in Keremeos feeling uneasy and frustrated after spotting two stickers displaying white power symbols and the words “It’s OK to be white.” The bar’s owner has since said he will not take down the stickers. (Contributed)

Racist stickers at Keremeos pub leaves group uneasy and angry

The ‘OK’ hand gesture is a known hate-symbol

A Vancouver man was shocked to discover white power stickers inside a Keremeos pub while visiting the village.

Tom Kato, 41, was staying in Keremeos with friends while on a motorcycle tour when he and five others decided to head over to the Branding Iron Bar and Grill for some food and drink. Unfortunately, the evening was ruined by two offensive stickers.

“It made everybody that I was with feel uncomfortable, and then I started to get upset and frustrated,” said Kato.

The group was first thrown-off after they saw a sticker placed on an emergency exit door with the words “It’s OK to be white” accompanied by an “OK” hand gesture.

To some, this hand gesture may seem innocuous; however, it’s anything but. In recent years the hand gesture has become widely recognized as a hate symbol used to represent white power. In 2019 the gesture was added to the Anti-Defamation League’s “Hate on Display” database.

The “OK” hand gesture — now used as a non-ironic symbol of white supremacy — originated as a hoax on the notorious internet forum 4Chan. (Anti-Defamation League photo)

READ MORE: Village of Keremeos looks to dismantle systemic racism

At first, Kato and his friends were hesitant to attribute the sticker to the establishment they were in, thinking it may have been put up by someone random. This changed when they noticed a second identical sticker on a fridge behind the bar.

“That’s when we were like ‘Woah, OK, this place is no good,” Kato said.

Kato, a Japanese-Canadian, was travelling with five friends. He was the only non-white person in the group. At the time, Kato and his friends were unaware of the meaning behind the hand gesture, but the words alone were enough to make him and his friends uneasy.

Kato’s wife later informed him of the symbolism behind the hand gesture.

The group decided it would be best to quickly eat, pay and leave. On the way out, Kato snapped a photo of one of the stickers which drew some unwanted attention from an “older gentleman behind the bar” who he believes may have been the owner.

“He basically told me he’s entitled to his opinion and that he doesn’t think it’s racist,” said Kato.

Kato explained to the man that he respected his right to an opinion but also made it clear that in his opinion the stickers are very offensive.

Kato said he felt obligated to speak up if only to prevent others from having the same experience.

“I just don’t want another person or family to go in there and feel uncomfortable,” he said.

As an expecting father, Kato hopes his child will never have to feel uneasy as he did when he was at Branding Iron Bar and Grill.

“I don’t know what I want the outcome to be but I just think the stickers need to be taken down at least,” explained Kato.

The owner of the bar has since said he has no plans to remove the stickers, according to Keremeos’ mayor Manfred Bauer.

Bauer also made it very clear that the stickers and the owner’s opinions are not representative of the Village of Keremeos.

“It’s a private business and there’s nothing we can do,” said Bauer. “As far as the village is concerned, we do not tolerate any kind of racist behaviour.”

The Western News has attempted to contact the bar’s owner but has not yet received a response.

Kato thinks that now more than ever people are becoming more emboldened to speak up and call out racism. He hopes sharing his story will encourage people to continue to speak out.

“The people who should feel uncomfortable are those people who have those (racist) types of opinions,” he said.

“If you don’t say anything nothing is ever going to change… We just have to keep trying.”

READ MORE: Keremeos MLA disheartened by xenophobia towards Quebecois seasonal workers



jesse.day@pentictonwesternnews.com

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