By: Esther Kim
Since the earliest days of settlement in Canada, African Canadians have endured centuries of racism and discrimination that persist today. Asian Canadians also continue to face oppression at the hands of white supremacy, as exemplified by the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Now, more than ever, they must fight united against their common oppressor. History shows that the two groups have struggled to support one another and resolve tensions – here’s why:
Anti-Chinese sentiment began when they first immigrated to Canada during the late 19th-century gold rush in British Columbia. Provoked by the oncoming of 15,000 new immigrants to work on the first trans-continental railway, this attitude quickly escalated to discrimination in the forms of head taxes, violent anti-Chinese riots, lynching, and much more. By the 1950s, Asian immigration was nearly non-existent and Japanese-Canadians were forcibly relocated into ‘exclusion centres’ as a response to World War II tensions.
While these horrific instances of obvious xenophobia and racism occurred in Canadian history, a subtle and toxic culture began to manifest deep into the subconscious of the general population: Asian-Canadians as the ‘model minority’. This myth is one that perpetuates those of Asian descent as highly intelligent, polite, law-abiding, and ‘higher class’ than other racial minority groups, effectively stereotyping the race. The cultivation of this trope can be attributed to selective immigration bias, cultural differences, and the media.
After the construction of the railway, the few selected Asian applicants for immigration were highly educated and wealthy. The proliferation of Asian immigrants of this socioeconomic standing subsequently reinforced the stereotype of Asian-Canadians as hard-working individuals.
Furthermore, East Asian societies are known to highly prioritize education, as it is viewed as the safest way to achieve a successful future. Families often encourage – or pressure – their children in performing well academically, leading to stereotypical, yet favourable results for Asians in Canada. Much of Asian culture is rooted in Confucianism, a system of moral codes valuing correct behaviour, loyalty, and obedience to hierarchy. Again, we see a set of characteristics that are clichéd but favourable for Asian-Canadians, contributing to our selection as the ‘model minority’. While the East Asian and South Asian experience in Canada varies, due to differences in culture and appearance, they are not typically perceived as threats or unlawful in comparison to darker-skinned ethnicities. A study conducted in 2003 by the Kingston Police, in affiliation with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), concluded that Blacks were disproportionallymore likely to be pulled over than other races – a result of racial profiling.
Although diversity in Hollywood is continuously improving, Asian characters have almost always been represented with these traits. While Caucasian leads are strong superheroes saving the world, supporting Asians are the quiet and insignificant nerds. This, among the other types of Asian characters, are harmful because it demands for Asian-Canadians to fit in a role that is inherently subservient to Caucasians. In a similar way, Black and Hispanic people are portrayed in mass media as thugs, gang-members, drug-addicts, and dangerous criminals.
These stereotypes are not only broadcast to Caucasians, but throughout the marginalized communities as well. Each community views one another as exactly what the media represents them to be. This is arguably the most damaging effect of the ‘model minority’ myth, as it prevents ethnic minorities from uniting – a tactic used by their oppressor to preserve their self-imposed superiority.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a global discussion on systematic racism. As a Korean Canadian, I have been exposed to the racist mindset of those within my community numerous times, especially in regard to protests and riots. One particular argument that I have heard against the movement is the 1992 Los Angeles Riots disproportionately affecting Korean Americans.
The Rodney King Incident, which led to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, resulted in over $1 billion in damages, disproportionally impacting Koreatown. Due to the road blockades and police defense lines put in place to protect wealthy Caucasian neighbourhoods (such as Beverley Hills and West Hollywood) the Korean American residents of Koreatown were forced to defend themselves against rioters, who were mourning yet another instance of police brutality. As expected, the pre-existing tension between the communities significantly worsened as the media pushed the blame onto the African Americans for the damage, despite the fact that most of it was caused by the containment of the riot within Koreatown.
This instance should not be used as a reason against the Black Lives Matter movement, instead, it must be used as exactly the opposite. Black Lives Matter has received huge amounts of media coverage since its conception, effectively pushing for the justice of several victims of police brutality. Since most of the deaths, and consequently the riots, occur in the U.S., we are wrongfully led to believe that racism does not exist in Canada. History lessons in elementary and secondary schools paint Canada as a safe haven for American slaves in the 19th century, when in reality, they continued to face discrimination. It was less than 80 years ago when Ontario, the first province to do so, passed the Racial Discrimination Act, preventing the public discrimination of visible minorities.
In contrast to the visible and obvious racism that is shown in American media, Canadians display anti-blackness in subtleties. Emmelle Summerville, an 11-year-old boy at the time, was accused by his elementary school in Edmonton of being affiliated with gangs because of his durag. The school’s administration then made a false statement on his mother’s behaviour afterwards, banning her from the premises for a year. This type of racial profiling is an example of aggressions that Black people endure in Canadian society. The notorious reputation of our American neighbours creates a pretense that we Canadians do not need to work towards a fair society.
Moreover, Asian Canadians and African Canadians must realize that, to dismantle our system in which Caucasian lives are protected and valued greater than any other ethnic minority group, we must band together. Our oppressors should no longer be able to pit us against one another to uphold a society in which they benefit the most. To do this, means fighting for the justice of many lives lost due to the system, such as George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and too many more. Asian Canadians must understand that, despite our painful history in this country, we still have the privilege of being the ‘model minority’. Our oppressors use us to push other ethnic groups down the social hierarchy, while simultaneously asserting our position beneath theirs. Our privileges can be used to demand Black rights, bringing us one step closer to replacing the tensions between our communities with empathy and support.
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Image Retrieved From: Von, Mike. Los Angeles, California. Web. https://unsplash.com/photos/yfJ_UvskHGs