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Why We Urgently Need to Discuss Anti-Asian Racism Today

By Anne-Marie Pham, MPA, SHRM-SCP

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic over a year ago, Asian people have faced growing fear, hatred, suspicion, and physical assaults. The recent shootings in Atlanta led to the murder of eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women.

Much of this is driven by a racialization of the COVID-19 virus, the belief that it originated with Asians and is spread by persons of Asian heritage living across North America. According to the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), most of those impacted by these racist actions are of East Asian descent and accounted for 84% of the crimes reported.

This has had a huge impact on the mental wellness of Asian Canadians and Asian Americas, who have expressed that they now feel physically and psychologically unsafe.

According to the CCNC and Project 1907 report, Canada has a higher number of anti-Asian racism reports per capita than the US. British Columbia (BC) has the most reported incidents per capita of any sub-national region in North America, followed by California, New York, and Ontario.

CCNC found that half of Chinese Canadians polled say they have been called names or insulted since the pandemic was declared. Abuse and attacks have extended to other ethnocultural groups erroneously thought to have similar physical traits including Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, etc.

Women and seniors have been the most deeply impacted. In Vancouver, British Columbia alone, attacks on women accounted for over 70% of reported incidents.

Aside from physical violence, verbal attacks, and foul behavior including coughing, and spitting at them in public, Asians also face microaggressions, lack of workplace opportunities, and are passed up for promotions in the workplace setting.

FACTS

Asian Canadians and Americans are a growing ethnocultural group in North America.

  • The Chinese American community is the largest overseas Chinese community outside Asia. As of 2017, Americans of Chinese descent, including those with partial Chinese ancestry constitute 1.5% of the total U.S. population.
  • Among the G8 countries, Canada has the highest proportion of foreign-born population (20.6% in 2016) and the top three sources of immigration to Canada today are all from Asia: China, India, and the Philippines and Asian-Canadians are the largest “visible minority” in Canada, composing fifteen percent of the population.
  • There is an urgent need to determine how to prepare North American society and workplaces for this beneficial and inexorable growth.

STRATEGIES

Strategy 1: Learn the history of anti-Asian racism

There is a long history of racism and discrimination against Asians in North America. Below are two of the most significant historical markers.

  • The Chinese Head Tax (1885) – Canada enacted the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, which included a head tax on almost all Chinese immigrants of $50, later raised to $100 and then $500. This put a huge financial burden on Chinese immigrants and was the first official legislation in Canada to stymie immigration based on ethnic origin. When the tax was removed from the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923, the discrimination continued with the ban on Chinese immigration until 1947. The Canadian government profited from this practice, collecting $23 million in various head taxes over 38 years
  • The Japanese Internment (1942) – Starting in 1942, Japanese Canadian citizens were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast and interned in remote areas in eastern British Columbia and elsewhere. The Canadian government seized and sold their property then forced them into mass deportation after the war ended. Altogether, 22,000 Japanese Canadians (65% were Canadian-born) were ejected from their homes. Wartime restrictions were kept in place until April 1949. In 1988, the federal government apologized and offered compensation for the internment. In 2013, the City of Vancouver made an official apology.

In the United States, about 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were also forcibly relocated and incarcerated. 62% of the internees were United States citizens and most lived on the Pacific coast. These actions were ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Strategy 2: Understand the psychological impacts on Asian people

Today, racism towards Asian North Americans manifests itself through everyday microaggressions and inequities, often rooted in myths and stereotypes about Asian people. Beyond the veil of consciousness – the person being racist may not know it and neither may the person at which racist behavior is directed. It is therefore important to have awareness of some of the following microaggressions experienced daily by Asian people:

  • Being generally perceived as benign, insignificant, and inconsequential.
  • Being mistaken for a maid, assistant, or babysitter.
  • Asian women being objectified as traditionally docile, submissive, quiet, and nice – like “China dolls”. This leads to lower respect for Asian women and can induce verbal abuse and negative treatment in the workplace.
  • Being seen as docile, hard-working, and stoic – qualities not typically associated with strong leadership, thus creating an artificial “bamboo ceiling” that hinders the advancement of Asian workers with skills.
  • Being ridiculed and teased but not expected to react or complain. Reactions, when they occur, are often seen as aggressive, rude, and impolite (traits that contradict the ‘model minority’ stereotype).

The meaning of model minority: This connotes that Asians are generally hyper-smart, financially successful, academically outstanding, well behaved, law-abiding, and upwardly mobile – socio-economically speaking. Asians are also wrongfully presumed to be ‘good at everything’. The model minority myth can be weaponized to pit Asians against other minority groups. “If Asians can do it, then why can’t Black people, Indigenous people, other immigrants, etc?” Asians continue to be used as a scapegoat to undermine the racism that happens in North America.

Asians who internalize this belief may develop a mindset of false superiority. They may believe they are “white adjacent” with closer social proximity to the white majority population, and by implication and association, more capable of achieving greater status and privilege.

It is also important to dismantle the model minority myth because Asians (like other minority racial groups) are not a monolith.  Not all Asian groups are successful, or well off economically. There is great socio-economic and socio-developmental diversity in the vast Asian diaspora.

Strategy 3: Educate the workplace 

Unpack these three dangerous myths with employees, so they can better understand the lived experiences of Asian people. Encourage safe and courageous conversations, centering on the voices and experiences of Asian employees. If they wish to be involved, be sure to create space, time, and resources for them to do so.

  1. Model minority: The myth that Asians are the perfect minority group – that they work hard, assimilate, and never complain. This causes division and misunderstanding.
  2. Yellow Peril: Asians are historically seen as an existential danger to the Western World – creating fear among people. This means they are viewed as sub-human and especially dangerous if their powers are not contained.
  3. Perpetual Foreigner: This affects Asians and other visible minority groups – the belief that these groups can never be assimilated into the broader culture. This assumption leads to questions such as “Where do you come from?” and statements like “You speak English so well”. When a minority employee speaks in a white-dominant setting, the automatic assumption may be that this person is out of place, does not “fit” or is ‘out of the ordinary’.

Strategy 4: Review policies and practices 

  • Review policies and strategies at work to support racialized employees. Consult with impacted employees in the review of these policies and strategies.
  • Partner with subject matter experts to facilitate dialogue and build skills for leaders to be more inclusive and anti-racist. Build accountability at the leadership level.
  • Create initiatives that address anti-Asian racism and partner with organizations that work in this area.
  • Provide safe spaces for free discussions on uncomfortable issues about racism and discrimination.
  • Create resources for reporting and investigating incidents of racism. Make sure individuals can report without fear of reprisal.
  • Create additional resources to raise awareness of anti-Asian racism and what individuals can do (see resources below curated by CCDI).

CCDI RESOURCES – AWARENESS/STATISTICS:

  • Fight Covid-19 Racism: A Canadian site that tracks/maps incidents of anti-Asian racism, discrimination, and harassment. The site provides the opportunity for those experiencing these acts to share their stories and also provides a number of resources from other organizations to support Asian communities.
  • Stop AAPI Hate: A US-based organization. Their site contains safety tips for bystanders to support those experiencing acts of racism.
  • Chinese Canadian National Council – For Social Justice: An education and advocacy group for Chinese Canadian communities in Canada. They have “Stop the Spread of Racism” and #FaceRace campaigns that grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve also released an infographic on COVID-19 anti-Asian Racism In Canada.
  • Project1907: An organization started by Asian women to provide space for understanding nuances of intersectional experiences building a collective and solidarity for those experiencing racism. They track reports of racism using community-based reporting and have infographics on how to respond to anti-Asian Racism, and trends in COVID-19 anti-Asian Racism in Canada. There is also a visual created from their stats on types of anti-Asian hate crimes.
  • ACT2EndRacism: An organization formed in Canada through a coalition of Asian community groups, and individuals across Canada concerned about anti-Asian hate crimes. In multiple languages, they provide information on how to report and links to community resources. They also have a media watch for anti-Asian hate crime articles and provide education and resources for the community.
  • Elimin8hate: Provides anonymous and safe reporting for Asian-Canadians experiencing racially motivated attacks and provides public resources for those impacted by anti-Asian racism across North America.
  • Cold Tea Collective: An online media platform focused on sharing stories and experiences of North American Asian millennials. Based out of Vancouver, BC with writers across North America. They have a post on Mental Health Support for the Asian-Canadian community, which includes a number of resources and links for Asian-Canadians, including those with mental health support services offered in different languages.
  • Asian Mental Health Collective: A North American platform focused on supporting mental health within Asian communities.
  • Learn more about historical anti-Asian racism and racist events in Canada through this CCDI toolkit.

ANNE-MARIE PHAM, MPA, SHRM-SCP, Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Anne-Marie has worked with diverse communities and workplaces for over 20 years. She has a deep understanding of issues and opportunities related to diversity and inclusion and specializes in mobilizing, educating, and sharing the latest research and promising practices on equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. Anne-Marie brings a unique set of skills and perspectives having worked as a diversity and inclusion lead for Spectra Energy and the City of Calgary, and as a trainer and facilitator for Human Resources and Skills Development. She has provided dynamic presentations, training, and consulting services to clients from a wide range of industries in the business, public and non-profit sectors.

Anne-Marie has a master’s degree in public administration (MPA), a BA in Sociology, and a senior HR Professional certification with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Anne-Marie is also a certified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (Tool). Anne-Marie is a wife and mother of two, as well as an avid community leader, supporting civic participation, mentoring, and leadership development especially among immigrants, visible minorities, women, and youth. In 2013, she received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee award for her community service. In December 2017, Anne-Marie was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF), a Crown Corporation dedicated to working towards the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination.