Open letter: A call to eliminate anti-Asian racism

The following open letter was sent out today (November 23):


Kenneth Whyte, publisher and editor-in-chief, Maclean’s
Cathrin Bradbury, editor-in-chief and general manager, Maclean’s Intelligence Unit
Mary Dwyer, senior editor, University Rankings
Philippe Gohier, acting managing editor,
Carson Jerema, editor, OnCampus
Nicholas Kohler, senior writer
Stephanie Findlay, intern
John A. Honderich, chair, Torstar Corp.
John D. Cruickshank, publisher, Toronto Star
Michael Cooke, editor
Kathy English, public editor
Louise Brown, education reporter

A Call to Eliminate Anti-Asian Racism

We, the undersigned, believe that the “Too Asian”? article in the Maclean’s magazine and the “Asian students suffering for success” article in the Toronto Star newspaper, published on November 10, 2010, worked to racially profile and stereotype Asian Canadians as perpetual foreigners in Canada. These articles served to reinforce anti-Asian resentment and antagonism by raising anxieties over Canada’s changing demographics and the emergence of China and India as global powers. Both media outlets generated binary “us” versus “them” distinctions between white and Asian Canadians, consequently inciting racial antipathy and division, instead of fostering a constructive dialogue on diversity and integration.

See also

Henry Yu: Why Macleans and racism should no longer define Canada

The articles symbolize the failure of Maclean’s and the Toronto Star to uphold their journalistic and corporate social responsibility. The damaging impact of racial stereotyping and antagonism is far-reaching, not just in the realms of media, business, education, workplace, and the society at large, but also to the targeted ethno-cultural individuals and communities.

These media depictions remind us of past anti-Asian government legislation, programs, and public thinking. The Head Tax and Immigration Exclusion laws, the Continuous Journey regulations, and the World War II Internment targeted the Chinese, South Asian, and Japanese Canadian communities, respectively. In 1979 the CTV television news series W5 portrayed Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Asian descent as “foreigners,” allegedly taking over Canadian educational institutions. We see Maclean’s and the Toronto Star as reinforcing a long and deeply ingrained history of anti-Asian racial anxiety that has led to bigoted profiling and discrimination of Asian Canadians.

The media’s racial distinction of “us” versus “them” works within a troubling understanding of Canada in which white people or those of European descent are considered the sole rightful citizens and beneficiaries of the nation. Such an understanding makes it difficult to conceive of Canadian universities as educational institutions where Asians as well as Aboriginal peoples and other communities of colour, such as African, Caribbean, Latin American, and Middle Eastern peoples, can also belong. Racialized individuals and communities face challenges to their claims of belonging when certain institutions and entitlements are already deemed as not for them.

The media often portray Asian Canadians in homogeneous ways and fail to account for diversity within the group. They do not distinguish among Asians who are Canadian-born, naturalized citizens, newcomer immigrants, or international students. They neglect to consider the varying educational circumstances of Asian Canadians based on income, class, gender, religion, and language. They lump all Asian Canadians together regardless of their ancestral background, whether they are from China, India, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, or Sri Lanka. Since Maclean’s and the Toronto Star depicted Asian Canadians as a homogeneous model minority, they failed to acknowledge the various structural roots of the academic and social struggles that many Asian Canadian students experience. They also missed seeing how community groups are addressing barriers that hinder their goals and pathways for genuine settlement, integration, and well-being in this country.

Although Asian Canadians have been and continue to be discriminated against by racist media portrayals, government policies, and some public opinion, they also have been actively recruited for their labour and capital. Their labour has been crucial to the development of this nation, ranging from the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway 125 years ago to the recruitment of temporary workers and live-in caregivers of children and the elderly over the last 25 years. Their financial resources have been keenly sought after, as they are considered economic migrants who could bring investment and entrepreneurial capital, and as international students whose high tuition fees augment the inadequate funding of public education. Many Canadian universities aggressively reach out to and recruit students from Asia.

As such, Asian Canadians are trapped in a perpetual racist contradiction: they are both wanted and unwanted in this country. So long as they provide labour, capital, and expertise to the Canadian economy, they are wanted. However, when they assert their entitlement to human rights, genuine integration, and even education in Canada, their sense of belonging is challenged.

Since the media – as well as educational institutions – have perpetrated racial stereotyping, oppression, and antagonism, they need to change their policies and practices in order to help realize the promise of a truly multicultural Canada.

Therefore, we demand that Maclean’s and theToronto Star:

  • must issue a comprehensive and unqualified public apology to Asian Canadians;
  • must engage in public consultations to address racial profiling and stereotyping via their media outlets;
  • must implement measurable corporate and editorial anti-racism policies in consultation with relevant community constituents, and must publish the results of their policies annually;
  • and, must implement employment equity programs to diversify their corporate and editorial boards and frontline personnel.

We also demand that Canadian institutions of higher education:

  • must develop academic programs and courses that explicitly address racism in Canada and the historical and contemporary experiences, representations, and contributions of Asian Canadians;
  • must undertake and publish campus climate surveys of racialized students, staff, and faculty;
  • and, must establish advocacy and support offices for racialized students, staff, and faculty.

We sign this open letter in solidarity with principles and struggles to eliminate anti-Asian racism.


Canadian coalition of community partners to eliminate anti-Asian racism

National Anti-Racism Council of Canada

Council of Agencies Serving South Asians

Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter

Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation

University of Toronto Students’ Union

Ryerson Students’ Union

Youth Coalition Against Maclean’s

RAW – Raging Asian Women

Cowessess First Nation (Sasatchewan)

Graduate Geography and Planning Student Society, University of Toronto

National Association of Japanese Canadians – Toronto Chapter

Philippine Women Centre of Ontario

SIKLAB Ontario (Advance the Rights and Welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers)

Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance / Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada

Community Alliance for Social Justice (Filipino Canadian alliance)

Migrante Canada (Filipino Canadian national migrant labour organization)

Labour Education Centre

United Steelworkers, Canadian National Human Rights Committee

Asian Canadian Labour Alliance – Ontario Chapter

Asian Canadian Labour Alliance – British Columbia Chapter

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists – Ontario Chapter

Latin American Trade Union Coalition

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Canada

Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants

Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies

Anniversaries of Change Coalition Steering Committee, Vancouver, B.C.
Charan Gill (Progessive Intercultural Community Services Society), Harbhajan Gill (Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation),
Tatsuo Kage (National Association of Japanese Canadians),
Karin Lee (Filmmaker),
Lorene Oikawa (BCGEU),
Mabel Tung (BC Nurses Union),
Harley Wylie (Consultant, Nu-chah-nulth ancestry),
Beverly Yhap (Writer),
Henry Yu (University of British Columbia)

Japanese Students at UBC(University of British Columbia)

Calgary Chinese Community Service Association

Calgary Anti-Racism Education

The Ties That Bind: Building the CPR, Building a Place in Canada

Sien Lok Society of Calgary

Women Together Ending Poverty

Hassle Free Clinic

Ginger Post

Perspectives Magazine, University of British Columbia

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Local 2025

Canadian Auto Workers

Victor Gomes, Equity Committee, Toronto and York Labour Council

Dr. Tania das Gupta, Dept. of Equity Studies, York University

Omar Latif, Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians

Evelyn Encalada, Justice for Migrant Workers

Edwin Mercurio, National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (Canada Chapter)

Amal Rana, Pakistan Action Network

Comments (25) Add New Comment
Sid Tan
Personal preference is to focus on the continued call for an apology in the short term. Good to see a broader public engaging in the long term anti-racism and social justice work CCNC has done since W5.

Experience has taugt me trust and solidarity are imperative when
reactive events occur. Then the media runs with it and everyone
seemingly steps up and says all the right things. The internet makes it easier for loose ties advocacy and activism. This is good.

My concern is building strong ties when the news cycles end and enthusiam eventually wanes. Then the always hard work drudgery of maintenance and organising to be done in preparation for next incident. Good to see forward looking measures.

My personal view and CCNC's is a public apology is central to a
resolution of this issue. If you look at the CCNC press release, this is seemingly the only point at issue. Superb work by the team at CCNC National and Toronto to move this forward respectfully.

Full disclosure: The above are my opinions tho I'm chairperson of CCNC National and a founding board member of the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada (NARCC).

Rating: -1
Sid Tan
Omni (a Rogers company) Cantones and Mandarin coverage of CCNC briefing Nov. 22/10
Rating: -1
If you think Macleans will apologize for this you are dreaming. Its readers are the people who would just roll their eyes at everything printed in this article/open letter.
Rating: +1
Read past the headline and you actually have a fairly analytical and research backed article (Maclean's).
Rating: +2
N'est ce pas?
The media in this country have managed to make the issue of racism so taboo that to even speak about it, let alone openly debate individual accusations, is to risk being labelled a racist, fascist or bigot.
Rating: -3
Had Enough Yet?
Sid Chow Tan is basically nothing more than a professional Race-Hustler who takes his cue from the likes of Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton. Having extracted a groveling apology from the New Westminster city council is of COURSE not enough! After all, an apology means nothing unless (our) $$$ is involved, right?

There is no reason to believe that Sid actually wants to see an end to ”˜racism’ (whatever the hell that means) against Asians, because then his White-Guilt peddling trip would be up. No amount of apologies (or compensation) will EVER be enough for the likes of him. Always “lots more work to be done” right?

So Sid, if you are reading this, do us all a favor. Go far away. And shut up.
Rating: -1
Donald Morin, BA
I agree with Sid Tan as he is a good long time friend of mine. However, it must be noted that many Asia Canadian are racist against Canada First People due to the lack of knoweldge about our history in Canada, and their close proximity to the poor indigenous Steeet people who interact with their business. It is a two way street when it comes racism from both sides of the cultural fence. Keep up the Good work Sid
Rating: +2
glen p robbins
I agree with Donald - a former Chinese partner of mine - joked how he and his friends often referred to some of us as "white trash".

No-one is perfect on this front - and everyone is a little responsible.
Rating: +7
Its a shame
Its a shame the SFU's student newspaper The Peak also falls in this category having posted several anti-asian op ed pieces in recent time. In fact, the peak stuff even underwent anti-oppression training on the recommendations of the graduate students who were ready to yank their funding...time for SFU to wake up from its sleep conservative slumber.
Rating: 0
harvard is 90% white, so suggesting asians are smarter than whites is inexact
Rating: +3
congratulations on your BA Don, you're a champion!
Rating: -2
Sid Tan

Don't usually respond to anonymous writers but I will remain and continue nation building and the struggle for a safe, sane and sustainable planet.
Rating: +3
Sid Tan

Thanks for kind words Don. Yes, yellow racisms exists and it along with any colour of racism must be eliminated.
Rating: +5
Denying Asians (primarily/numerically Chinese in Canada) cultural propensity for technical university educations is like denying Canadians propensity for hockey or women's propensity towards shopping. I don't know if it's debatable ... It would seem to me to be empirical fact.

I read the MacLean's article and the gist of it was that some kids were opting to go to less academically competitive schools in order to have a more balanced university experience. So what? There seemed to be nothing derogatory towards "Asians" in the article other than the recognition that they are very academically competitive, and as such, less interested in a more balanced university experience. Is this stereotyping or recognition of fact?

Is it possible that everybody is way overreacting to this article?
Rating: +2
glen p robbins
My Asian associates have often told me that in their culture, the parents tell them to work one and half times as hard as 'the rest' of the kids. Back many year ago when I was at Simon Fraser U -- on the bottom floor "2" rows and rows of Asian kids would be studying - or taking a break to rest - so they could study some more.

Back in the 90's someone working for me complained after I suggested that Asian employees worked harder and produced more than the other non-Asian employees. It wasn't science - maybe it should not have been said - but it was unequivocally true.

The same sterotypes have been made about Jewish kids in the past --
maybe we should just suck it up a little - stop being jealous and learn to compete,

or go into social sciences like I did.
Rating: 0
David Emerscam
Hi goldsantorum,

Interesting comment ("harvard is 90% white...") as evidence of Asians not being smarter than whites. I'll note in Beijing, I didn't see many "whites" at the 70 tertiary-level academic institutions in that city.

I wonder if location has anything to do with it...?
Rating: 0
I would like to put out a call to all of the above; to stop Asian Classism in Our Canada. Pay your taxes, immigrate the legal way, complete your Stat Can forms, stop all unsustainable actions in the name of profit ~ OR GET OUT NOW.
Rating: +8
We're all hard-working
White people are hard-working too... back at the turn of the century. Now they're spoiled little laissez faires listening to Bieber.

Asians are hard-working now, but we'll see what they're like after a few generations, if we're still around.
Rating: -6
Asian kids are inept socially, parents that push only academics are fools...these are the same kids who are mentally retarded once they complete their academics unable to integrate and socialize or obtain jobs in their fields.

I work with several asians who grew up like this and they have said first hand that their parents told them all other races are bad and unsavoury, not to help others, take and take yourselves.

Ever wonder why asian kids are only in violin, piano, can only attend certain schools or are driven accross the city to attend schools they dont live near?

Academically they may be strong but there is no balance most asians are socially very weak and understand little or nothing about other cultures or the world.

The Macleans article was a great piece, its what everyone at UBC is thinking and has been thinking for about 10 yrs!
Rating: +4
Hey Vizio
You are not "everyone". And "socially very weak and understand little or nothing about other cultures or the world" is a baseless opinion. Perhaps it is YOU who fail to understand other cultures?
Rating: +5


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