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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.

You know it’s not right, but what should you do? What should you say? 

Stay safe. Stay calm. Speak out.

 

Be like David Wong, who reported this encounter on Facebook, David was confronted by a stranger, and singled out for intimidation – just for being Asian.

 

Read his account here.

STAY SAFE:

“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.

 

STAY CALM:

“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.

Image from Radio Canada.

SPEAK OUT:

“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.

 


Want to report an incident? Please click here and fill out the quick questionnaire in English, French or Chinese.

 

Speak out.

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. 

Help contribute to this list of responses by clicking here, so we can all be better prepared for the next time:

  1. “Like you, I’m also stressed and hurting from this virus – but your racism is making it worse, for all of us.”
  2. “Most Canadians aren’t racist. What’s your excuse?”
  3. “Like you, I’m also stressed and hurting from this virus – but unlike you, I’m trying to make it better, not worse!”
  4.  “COVID-19 does not discriminate. Neither should you.”
  5. “It’s an honour just to be Asian! Sandra Oh says so.
  6. “This virus can make you sick, but don’t let it make you a racist. You can be better than that.”
  7. “Please keep your racism to yourself!”
  8. “If you want everyone to know you’re a racist, keep on talking.”
  9. “I know I’m not your people. I’m Canadian.”
  10. “I’ve tested negative for coronavirus. Have you been tested for racism?”

Want to report an incident? Please click here and fill out the quick questionnaire in English, French or Chinese.

Stay safe. Stay calm. Speak out.

 

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.

 

In her own words, Justine speaks out about her experience of racism amid the pandemic

 

A couple days later, after more than 18,000 likes of her initial Instagram post, and more than 2,200 comments, Justine tells her followers and ally network that she’s reached out to local media, and reported the racist incident on a couple data tracking sites, including CCNC-SJ partner site Fight COVID-19 Racism. Her assailant identified herself as a teacher, so Justine also reached out to local school boards, writing in her post: “I hope that we all bring the same kind of energy and ferocity we have brought to identifying this one woman to pushing for the systemic change in our institutions that produces this kind of racism to begin with.“

 

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.”

 

The next day, Justine pauses a moment to breathe, and to reflect on #BlackLivesMatter – and how our experiences in racialized communities create connections and common cause to fight racism

 

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.”

 

You can follow Justine on Instagram at @justineabigail, read her posts, and learn more about building resilience.

 

Again, in her own words, Justine writes:

“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.”

 

 

 

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