AN OPEN CHALLENGE TO CANADIANS TO CONFRONT RACISM AMID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The #FaceRace Campaign is a living history of the experience of racism by Chinese and Asian Canadians during the global COVID-19 pandemic – and beyond. It aims to build knowledge and awareness about anti-Asian racism in Canada leading up to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also aims to empower victims of racism to identify and fight racism, while promoting community resilience.
Most Canadians responded to the world public health crisis through quickly adapting to prevention and containment measures – including frequent hand washing, social distancing, self-isolation, and wearing face masks and other protective gear – under the guidance of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and provincial and municipal health authorities.
However, some Canadians reacted to the outbreak and discovery of initial cases in Wuhan, China, by spreading disinformation, threatening, blaming and targeting Chinese Canadians, other Asian Canadians, and Indigenous Peoples, with racially based micro-aggressions, escalating to hate incidents and violence.
Amid fear and panic of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian racism among Canadians wrote itself into our common history. Chinese Canadians, many of whom have deep, multi-generational roots in this country, experienced racism along with other Asian communities and Indigenous peoples, anyone seen as “Chinese”.
These are some of the many reported incidents of micro-aggressions, hate incidents and hate crimes told from the point of view of victims of racism in Canada. This list is representative of the Asian Canadian experience during the pandemic, and it is not a complete list of incidents. Many types of racially motivated aggression often go unreported, or they do not make it into the news.
Sometimes it’s awkward. A passer-by mutters something to you while you’re walking through a city park, or on the sidewalk on your weekly grocery run. Maybe you’re riding the bus or subway, going to the drugstore to pick up medication for your parents, or groceries for an elderly neighbour. Sometimes you’re not even sure what just happened.
Did a complete stranger direct a comment at you? Did they deliberately move into your personal space – violating social distancing – and then question your right to be here? Did they mock your appearance or act prejudicially against you for being different?
“Whoa! Your English is really good, you speak it well! / Tu parles un beau francais! D’ou viens-tu?” Awkward. The familiar backhanded compliment. Micro-aggressions. You know the answers. You know what you really want to say, but is it worth it?
That’s what racism feels like for many Chinese and Asian Canadians – who have been unfairly blamed for the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many of us freeze in the moment when we face racism happening to us or in front of us, and it’s often only later that we think of something great to say in response. Just make sure it is safe to do so – whether you’re in a physical space or online – by monitoring potential allies, and knowing where you can find additional support.
As racialized Canadians of diverse heritage, we have the power to choose how we react in instances when we feel that we’ve been targeted for racial bias or discrimination. And we can build our own capacity to respond to difficult situations by observing how others have built their resilience.
Take for example the experiences of Toronto activist and founding editor at @LivingHyphen magazine, Justine Abigail Yu, who used her own voice on social media via Instagram to turn the tables on the person who racially assaulted her.
Justine, a Filipina-Canadian, chose to speak out about what happened to her, took action to make her own response public, and built up her own resilience through ACTIVELY PROMOTING ALLYSHIP.
On July 29, 2020, Justine recounts her experience to nearly a dozen local and national media organizations, all of whom publish or broadcast her story, which she posts about again ON INSTAGRAM . In her post, she comments on media protecting the identity of her alleged attacker, and that “it is not lost on me that this woman is afforded a level of dignity and protection by these mainstream media outlets while in that quiet moment in the park, I was robbed of all that dignity and protection.”
By early August, media hype has passed, and there are SIGNS of positive impact from her activism. Justine writes: “I am not the first person this has happened to nor will I be the last. How many offenses go unreported and unspoken because we are afraid, because it is not worth our time, because no one will believe us anyway?” and “To you I want to say *unequivocally* that there is no “right” way to respond to an experience like this.”
“COURAGE. TENACITY. TRUST. We need to channel all this now to push for systemic change, to change the institutions that create this racism to begin with. After all, we cannot heal in the environment that made us sick.”
“I look back at him and stare back, and then pay no attention to him,” writes David, while checking his surroundings for safety, including the presence of other passengers, possible law enforcement, and the likelihood anyone will help him, if he is physically assaulted.
“I keep myself aware of where he is.” Checking and monitoring his own safety, David remains calm, while evaluating his situation. He has his phone and camera in his pocket, but he doesn’t take it out. (“I could had taken a photo or a video of him but that would had ignited a reaction from him . . . His stare and his smoking obviously was to try to intimidate me,” David later wrote in response to comments on his post.)
“I positioned myself discretely . . .” Being ready for an attack, David remains calm.
Eventually, the man leaves the train at Jean-Talon metro station.
“I won’t allow myself to be intimidated or to possibly be a victim,” David writes, putting his emotions and thoughts on the record for others to see.
Sharing these encounters and learning to talk about them with others is key to building community awareness and public safety. David did not back down from a potentially dangerous situation. He made the right decisions, given his circumstances. And he shared his story with the more than 5,300 members of GECREAQ.
This proud history of resilience was recognized on June 22, 2006, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons in Canada’s 39th Parliament, and APOLOGIZED TO CHINESE CANADIANS for more than six decades of legislated racism and other forms of discrimination, vowing that it would never happen again. But history has a habit of repeating, and political and social animus against Canadians of Chinese heritage has periodically resurfaced. Politics and law resulted in the Chinese Head Tax (1885 to 1923) and Exclusion Act (1923 to 1947), which penalized and attempted to EXCLUDE CHINESE FROM CANADIAN SOCIETY FOR AT LEAST 62 YEARS.
The “YELLOW PERIL” racist trope has found its way into more recent Canadian history, too. Forty years ago, Canadian broadcaster CTV’s W5 program aired an investigative report, “Campus Giveaway,” that claimed some 100,000 coveted university admissions were being given away to foreign students, who were identified by W5 as being mainly from China. Further investigation revealed that these were Canadian citizens or permanent residents who had been misrepresented and stereotyped as foreign students. Furthermore, inaccurate reporting had exaggerated five-fold the actual number of foreign students in the country at the time.
Chinese Canadians across the country mobilized against BEING UNFAIRLY MISREPRESENTED in the W5 program – giving rise to a new generation of community activists who formed the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC).
Activism and community organizing in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and other cities, continued and expanded throughout the Chinese Canadian community. CCNC and its partners launched a REDRESS CAMPAIGN for the Head Tax and Exclusion Act, seeking apology and government compensation.
In interceding years, Chinese Canadians also built community resilience under the onslaught of further racism, notably during the first coronavirus outbreak in 2002-2004 of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in southern China. SARS spread abroad, likely through travelers, and eventually sparked an outbreak in Toronto.
Despite progress on some fronts to advance human rights, Chinese Canadians, and other groups, have faced persisting intolerance, bias, micro-aggressions, and hate violence.
CASUAL RACISM: Chinese Canadians are often targeted for casual racism in Canadian politics and daily life. Political strategist and pundit Warren Kinsella was caught off-guard making denigrating comments about Chinese food in a publicly accessible personal video blog post in November 2008. He later apologized, but only after Canadians cried foul.
FRAMING RACE: Six years after writing a column for The Globe and Mail in the aftermath of the 2006 Dawson College shootings, which resulted in her firing from the newspaper, Chinese Canadian journalist JAN WONG WROTE HER SIDE OF THE STORY.
“Unless you have experienced racism, it is hard to explain its corrosiveness. You feel frightened and violated and impotent all at once. When race is perceived to be a factor, the hurt from almost any slight, even an innocent, unintended one, can last a lifetime.”
HATE CRIME: In May 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released the REPORT of its inquiry into what was called “nipper-tipping” – that is, systemic racism related to attacks on Asian Canadian anglers across the province. CCNC-SJ and CHINESE AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN LEGAL CLINIC (CSALC) worked with OHRC by providing community support, an incident reporting hotline, and victim impact statements in a related court case, in which racially motivated hate was determined as a factor in the commission of several crimes.
Chinese Canadians continued to suffer under deliberate cultural racism and misrepresentation. In 2010, Maclean’s news magazine published an article, in its 2010 University Rankings edition, titled “ ‘Too Asian’? ”, in reference to admissions at certain Canadian universities and colleges. The community mobilized again to CHALLENGE THE OVERT WHITE PRIVILEGE AND “OTHERING” of Chinese Canadians in the article, with a series of campus town halls, media releases and events that successfully called out the magazine editors and writers. Later, Maclean’s received scholarly treatment of its yellow journalism, when the community further responded with the publication of “TOO ASIAN”: RACISM, PRIVILEGE AND POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION.
THERE ARE MANY OTHER EXAMPLES of racism framing our Canadian experience. Left unchecked, and unchallenged, racism has written its way into our common past and present. Will it continue to define our future as Canadians?
How often do we hear a Prime Minister make such pronouncements in response to racially motivated attacks in Canada? In the case of COVID-19, politicians were very soon making blanket values statements about our identity as Canadians, inclusivity, and commitment to diversity.
“It’s unacceptable. Hate, violence, and discrimination have no place in Canada. This is not who we are,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the end of a daily pandemic press briefing on May 22, 2020.
“I want to thank those who have stood up against violence and exposed what is happening in our communities. We need to speak out against racism wherever it is found, so we can stop it.
“To Asian Canadians across the country, know we all stand with you. We will not let hate divide us.”
Trudeau’s words should have been reassuring, except that widespread racism had already occurred, when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) ravaged the globe. The 2002-2004 outbreak was first detected in southern China, and then – as now – Canada was not immune to the virus, or to the racism that followed. Toronto became an epicentrer of worldwide outbreaks during SARS. Government reacted predictably. They funded projects to document the experience, and then politicians and policy makers promptly forgot about the lessons of the crisis.
Racism related to COVID-19 has been particularly virulent throughout North America and the world, with U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP openly promoting bias, disinformation, and blame against China and Chinese people.
This xenophobia has spilled over the Canada-US border and poisoned Canadian politics and society, even pitting a Conservative Party leadership candidate against Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer.
Source: https://beyond.ubc.ca/henry-yu-white-elephant/ I have been thinking a lot about the surge in anti-Asian assaults and hate crimes lately. Partly it’s because I am asked regularly as a historian to explain the history of anti-Asian racism and how that history can help us analyze what is happening now. The connection between our past and present is
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This campaign was supported by the Government of Canada.
Land Acknowledgement / Reconnaissance du territoire
CCNC-SJ acknowledges that we operate upon the traditional territories of many Indigenous nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and Wendat peoples, and is covered by Treaty 13.
CCNC-SJ reconnaît que nous opérons sur les territoires traditionnels de nombreuses nations autochtones, y compris les Mississaugas du Crédit, les Anishnabeg, les Chippewa, les Haudenosaunee et les Wendat, et que nous sommes couverts par le Traité 13.