Community responds to maclean’s racist “Too Asian?” article

A Call to End Anti-Asian Racism
November 18, 2010

We, the undersigned, believe that the articles published by the Maclean’s newsmagazine and the Toronto Star newspaper on November 10, 2010, worked to racially profile and stereotype Asian Canadians as perpetual foreigners in Canada. They also reinforced anti-Asian resentment and antagonism by raising anxieties over Canada’s changing demographics and China’s emergence as a global power. Both media outlets generated ‘us’ versus ‘them’ distinctions between white and Asian Canadians, consequently inciting racial antipathy and division, instead of fostering a constructive dialogue on diversity and integration. The damaging and violent impact of racial stereotyping and antagonism are far-reaching, not just in the realms of media, education, workplace, and the society at large, but also to the targeted individuals and communities.

Maclean’s and the Toronto Star recycled historical and ongoing depictions of Asians as yellow and brown perils that threaten the Canadian social order. These media depictions reinforce and manifest in anti-Asian government policies and public thinking. The Head Tax and Immigration Exclusion laws, the Continuous Journey regulations, and the World War II Internment targeted the Chinese, South Asian, and Japanese Canadian communities, respectively. In 1979 the news television series W5 portrayed ‘oriental foreign students’ as taking over Canadian educational institutions. We therefore see Maclean’s and the Toronto Star as reinforcing a long and deeply ingrained history of racial anxiety and profiling that have led to the oppression and exclusion of Asian Canadians.

The media’s racial distinction of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ works within a troubling understanding of Canada in which whites or people of European descent are considered the sole rightful citizens and beneficiaries of the nation. Such an understanding makes it difficult to conceive of Canadian universities as educational institutions where Asians as well as other communities of colour, such as Aboriginal, African, Caribbean, Latin American, and Middle Eastern people, can also belong. Racialized individuals and communities face challenges to their claims of belonging when certain institutions and entitlements are already deemed as not for them.

The media also continue to portray Asian Canadians in homogeneous ways and fail to account for the differences within the group. They do not distinguish among Asians who are international students, newcomer immigrants, or Canadian-born citizens. They do not report on the varying educational conditions of Asian Canadians based on class, gender, and language. They lump Asians together regardless if their ancestral background is from South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, or Sri Lanka. Since Maclean’s and the Toronto Star depicted Asian Canadians as a homogeneous model minority, they failed to see the structural roots of the academic and social struggles of many Asian Canadian students. They also missed seeing how community groups are addressing barriers that hinder their pathways for genuine settlement, integration, and wellbeing in this country.

Although Asian Canadians have borne the brunt of racist government policies, media portrayals, and public opinions, they also have been actively recruited for their labour and money. Their labour has been crucial in the development of Canada, ranging from the construction of the railways in the late 1800s to the live-in care of children and the elderly within the past 25 years. Their financial resources are keenly sought after, as economic migrants who could bring investment and entrepreneurial capital and as international students whose high tuition fees help compensate for the government’s inadequate funding of public education. Many Canadian universities aggressively outreach and recruit students from Asia. In fact, 15 presidents of Canadian universities traveled to India this month to enhance Canada’s profile in the global knowledge economy.

As such, Asian Canadians are trapped in a perpetual racist contradiction: they are both wanted and unwanted in Canada. So long as they provide labour, money, and expertise, they are wanted. However, when they assert their right to full humanity and genuine integration in Canada, they confront exclusion.

Since the media – as well as educational institutions – have perpetrated anti-Asian racial stereotyping, oppression, and antagonism, they need to change their policies and practices in order to help realize the promise of a multicultural nation.

Therefore, we demand that Macleans’ and Toronto Star:
•         Must give a comprehensive public apology.
•         Must engage in public consultations to address racial profiling and stereotyping in their media outlets.
•         Must implement measurable corporate and editorial anti-racism policies in consultation with relevant community constituents, and must publish the results annually.
•         Must implement employment equity programs to diversify its editorial and frontline personnel.

We also demand that Canadian institutions of higher education:
•         Must develop academic programs and courses that explicitly address racism in Canada and the historical and contemporary experiences, representations, and contributions of Asian Canadians.
•         Must undertake campus climate surveys of racialized students, staff, and faculty.
•         Must establish advocacy and support offices for racialized students, staff, and faculty.