Last night, my school, the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs organized an anti-Asian racism event: We Rise Together: Stopping Anti-Asian Racism. Professor Yanling Wang, my colleague, organized and hosted the event. She had the Assistant Vice President and director of Carleton's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion office, Michael Charles, introduce the panel, and then four Asian-Canadians spoke: Daniel Quan-Watson, Deputy Minister at Government of Canada Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs; Xiabei Chen, Professor of Sociology at Carleton; Senator Yuen Pau Woo; and Falice Chin, Executive Producer at CBC Ottawa. The discussion was moving, disturbing, and enlightening. The audience, of course, knew of the burst of anti-Asian racism that has accelerated as the pandemic hit Canada, but that is just part of other dynamics and processes that are making life in Canada increasingly difficult for Asian-Canadians.
It, of course, goes back to when Asians first immigrated to Canada and were treated awfully. I hadn't realized that Asian Canadians are roughly 18% of the country, so I hadn't really processed how underrepresented they are in the media and in politics--I had basically been extending the American proportion of 5-6% to Canada. I also hadn't realized that Asian Canadians get unfairly blamed in Canada for skyrocketing housing prices.
For me, the discussion that really resonated was how the rise of China and the development of bad relations with China has caused Asian-Canadians to face more hostility. Because, well, I have been part of that process. A friend of mine called me out after I tweeted a couple of months ago about meeting with our financial adviser who was recommending investing in Chinese companies and my scoffing at the idea. My thought at the time is that I am not going to invest in a country at a time where that country's leadership has taken Canadians hostage. Other awful policies were also in my head--the genocide against Uighurs and other Muslims in Xiajiang at the top of the list. At a time of increasing violence against Asian-Canadians, my words were thoughtless and irresponsible.
We can and should be critical of the government of China, but we need to do so in ways that make the criticisms distinct from Chinese people, whether they are here in Canada or there in China. I have written and talked about China's increased belligerence in reference to the two Michaels, to the way the Chinese armed forces are behaving in the South China Sea, and more. I need to do better so that I don't feed hate.
We certainly should not treat Chinese Canadians and others of Asian descent as if they are not Canadian. There is a tendency to refer to diasporas as having two homes and divided loyalties. Jews get this all the time (right now, with regards to the latest round of violence). The reality is that Chinese Canadians are Canadians. Canada is their home. They are loyal to Canada. What the Chinese government does is distinct from what Chinese Canadians are doing and supporting. And as my own work on diasporas reminds me, no diaspora is just of one mind anyway. Chinese Canadians vary in how they view China, so to generalize about all of them is very problematic.
Anti-Asian racism is not just about China and Chinese Canadians, but because racists are ignorant, they will direct their anti-Chinese hate towards anyone who looks Asian, just as Sikhs get beaten by those looking to beat Muslims. To be sure, there are other dynamics in play. In this post, I just wanted to reflect a bit about the event and some stuff I have been thinking about lately.
Last night reminded me that we can do much better. I will try to do so.