Henry Yu: Macleans offers a nonapology for writing a nonstory called "Too Asian?"
By Henry Yu
Macleans editors have issued a commentary online in which they “regret” that some people (putatively the “Asians” they stereotyped) were offended, but defending their story "Too Asian?" as good journalism.
It was not good journalism. What is particularly offensive about this nonapologetic nonapology is how they have tried to evade the issue.
Their statement, rather than dealing with the racist and inflammatory nature of their article, tried to rewrite the intention of their story, disingenuously asserting that their story was in fact a principled stand against the adoption of U.S.-inspired admissions caps on Asian Americans. It was no such thing.
Let me state this unequivocally as a professor teaching at UBC and who taught Asian American studies for 12 years at UCLA. I have knowledge about how Asian Americans have been categorized and racialized in admissions processes in the U.S., as well as how Canadian universities differ in their approach. There is not a single Canadian university considering adopting some form of admissions cap on “Asians”.
In fact, it would be practically impossible because our universities in general do not collect that form of information as part of our admissions process.
The ethnic-breakdown statistics that the Macleans article used from UBC were collected from a survey conducted of first-year students who were already admitted. The Macleans suggestion that there are private whispers or discussions of adopting race-based admissions for Asians in Canada is not only irresponsible journalism through unsubstantiated insinuation, but an outright lie.
They raise a red herring (Canadian universities considering U.S. policy) and then use the word "likely" to say we should “likely” not consider it, but there is nothing that is being considered (or dismissed) that they themelves have not invented out of fantasy.
Their article is not, as they claim, a principled antiracist stand calling for Canada to somehow defend meritocracy against American race-based admissions.
The main point of their article is the statement—clearly made—that there is a problem on campus caused by so many "Asian" students. That is what the title “Too Asian?” refers to—not a nonexistent nonmovement by Canadian universities to adopt U.S. policies.
And their absurd claim that the title was borrowed from an “authoritative source”? Let’s just call this what it is—bullshit. If you go to the original article in 2006 that used the title "Too Asian" in the U.S., a careful reader will quickly realize that the Macleans story takes the main idea of that story—that Asian Americans only seem to want to apply to prestigious schools, and therefore less prestigious schools face a challenge of convincing Asian American parents and students to apply to their schools—and twists it to conveniently become a story about race-based admissions capping too many Asians.
Except for a few exclusive Ivies in the 1980s and 1990s, no school in the U.S. wants "less" Asian American students; in fact they are considered prize students to be recruited, as is indicated in that article.
I taught at UCLA during the debates in the 1990s about removing affirmative action from public universities. I was a graduate student at Princeton when allegations surfaced that Ivy League schools were secretly capping Asian American admissions at 15 to 20 percent.
There were contentious and heated conversations about race and the meaning of meritocracy. There were many different opinions, and sometimes the debates were ugly. But the truth is that not a single university or college in the United States had a publicly stated race-based admissions policy that limited or put a quota on Asian Americans.
Whatever the debates, there was never any such thing as a race-based admission policy for Asian Americans. In fact, part of the complexity of the controversy regarding Ivy League admissions involved the need for activists and scholars to use statistical means to establish that these institutions were somehow limiting Asian American enrolments, a fact that Ivy League universities still deny.
But if there is a secret policy that is race-based in the U.S. in regard to Asian Americans, it is not explicitly stated as policy in the way that Macleans implies, nor is any single Canadian university contemplating such a policy in secret or in the open.
It is disingenuous and nauseating that Macleans editors raise this nonissue as if they themselves are the white knights riding to the rescue of the “Asian” students that they blame as the problem.
During my years at UCLA, I spent over a decade as a scholar trying to counteract the noxious effects of stereotypes about so-called “overachieving”, “model-minority” Asian Americans. I counted among allies other scholars and also a large community of political activists, parents, and educators from a wide spectrum of ethnic backgrounds.
When I returned to Canada in 2003 to the city where I was born and the university from which I had received my undergraduate degree, I felt relief to be again at home in a society that had legally enshrined multiculturalism and to teach at a university where mixing and socializing across a wide variety of differences was the norm.
Can we do better? Of course. Do we have a problem of being “Too Asian?" I do not even understand the meaning of the question as Macleans has posed it.
What is an “Asian” in their mind? Is it the same definition created by the anonymous pair of girls from Havergal College, who were mentioned at the beginning of the original story?
I am sickened that Macleans, in the most disingenuous way, would claim to be taking a heroic, principled stand against race-based admissions capping “Asian” enrolments, as if anyone other than this magazine was contemplating it for Canada.
Over a century ago, William Randolph Hearst perfected “yellow journalism”, a way of selling newspapers through outrageous and sensationalist headlines. Race-baiting was a common technique in yellow journalism, and in California a series of newspapers owned by Valentine McClatchy used anti-Asian headlines to incite the movement to disenfranchise and exclude Chinese and Japanese immigrants.
The “Too Asian?” headline that Macleans used, and more importantly, the nonexistent Asian “problem” that they themselves invented, could have come right out of one of those rags. They should be ashamed of using it, and they should be even more ashamed of foisting responsibility off on the Americans that they falsely accuse, as if Macleans had no responsibility for creating the headline.
Words matter, and no matter how you spin and twist their meaning, you cannot reinvent what was written for all to read. Macleans fucked up. Own up to it and stop pretending that you were saying the opposite of what you actually wrote.
Henry Yu is an associate professor in the UBC department of history and principal pro tem of St. John's College at UBC.
Nov 27, 2010 at 10:47am
Henry Yu is another Al Sharpton. If you can't discuss race openly, you will foster more racism.
If white people had, say, 70%+ rates of alcoholism, for example, and you couldn't make a comment on all the booze-can white people without being called racist, you'd further reinforce the stereotype because people know when you don't want to talk about something, it's probably true.
What I don't understand is, why aren't we discussing race more openly?
Shouldn't we be praising our asian friends for setting the bar high?
What happened to celebrating diversity?
Dan in Van
Nov 27, 2010 at 11:32am
I, for one, would like to applaud Macleans for broaching this difficult subject. I have no doubt there are Canadians who are avoiding certain universities because they are perceived as being "too Asian".
This a big, tough subject involving race, culture and identity and I think it's better we have this discussion in the open. But people like Henry Yu do us all a great disservice but playing the race card and trying to quell the debate.
Could high foreign student enrolment in Canadian universities be having a negative effect on Canada? Perhaps, perhaps not... but it's better to discuss than point fingers and label people racists for asking the question.
One need only look at Mr. Yu's effort to "reimagine" the history of Vancouver to understand his motive. He is the one obsessed with race and is trying to rewrite history.
It seems a bit odd that a professor would be so willing to stymie open discussion. Perhaps the culture in our universities is shifting away from from its Western roots, to something a bit more foreign.
Nov 27, 2010 at 12:24pm
"Playing the race card"--we talk about race all the time at UBC and in Vancouver. Talking about race is not the same as feeling stymied by not feeling free to express racist sentiments. If you feel that you cannot say something because people will call you a racist, perhaps you might think for a second what it is that you are trying to say. If I say "Almost every person who is a serial killer is white, therefore all white people are serial killers" this is not "talking about race," it is a racist stereotype. I do not go around thinking to myself that no one wants to talk about race because I am somehow not allowed to say this all the time. I can say whatever I want. Nobody is going to arrest me, and Prof. Yu is not going to personally stifle me for saying it. He is just pointing out that if you want to say something that is racist, have the courage to "own" it and stand up to the consequences. If people call you a racist, that's a consequence of saying something racist. Nobody said that we shouldn't talk about race.
Nov 27, 2010 at 12:58pm
How often to people have to be reminded that under Canadian law every individual must be judged as an individual, no matter where our ancestors come from. Weak minds indulge in stereotyping (negative and positive, racial, gender, age, class, religion, etc.) because they are just too lazy to make the effort required to understand the individuals that surround them. All of us go through the infantile stage of "making strange" when approached by someone we don't know, but we are supposed to outgrow that groundless fear, and failure to outgrow such infantile reactions is called "arrested development. People who suffer from infantile paranoia should be listened to of course, because we need to know if and when they are in our midst, but they should never be seen as "normal".
Nov 27, 2010 at 1:21pm
One is very clear to us, the fact is there are to many asians (chinese) in our universities and colleges, therefore foreign students from China/HK must be cancelled and limits on immigration unless they are fluent in english before they come. Actually the National Post says both Hui and Yu must make an apology to MacLeans.
Nov 27, 2010 at 1:23pm
Where's Mr. Yu's apology for writing a non-story about Kitsilano being too white? (Vancouver Sun, Feb 2/10)
The hypocrisy is still stunning.
Nov 27, 2010 at 1:32pm
@Tyler I think Prof. Yu is doing a great job of discussing race and racism openly. I agree we need to have more open conversations about this issue.
@Dan Maclean's was the first to pull the "race card". I agree that there are probably Canadians that avoid certain universities because they are "too asian". I know there are Canadians that avoid certain universities because they have a reputation for being racist. -- These are important issues that need to be discussed, but the Maclean's article was very biased towards suggesting that there are too many asians in Canadian universities and that perhaps we should follow the lead of american universities that have quotas for Asian students. I also don't understand where you get this idea that Prof Yu wants to stymie discussion.
"Perhaps the culture in our universities is shifting away from from its Western roots, to something a bit more foreign." -- if you are worried about hardworking asians in Canada, think of how hard working they are in asia. If Canada is to stay competitive in a globalizing world maybe we should be shifting away from our roots into the 21st century.
UBC grad student
Nov 27, 2010 at 1:56pm
I really appreciate Henry Yu for writing this. It is astounding that there are people like Dan in Van and Tyler Durden who see Macleans pointless, racist article as somewhat "important" because it brought out the issue. I'm sorry, there is no issue. As a UBC student, I must say Macleans article was far deviated from the reality.
Some of the people who were interviewed by the Macleans reporter say their accounts got distorted, recontextualized and re-shaped into what Macleans really wanted to argue: "Asians are the problem". That alone is bad journalism, and I question the ethics of Macleans reporters and editors.
Another disgusting point is that the Macleans article still stands on the presumption that Asians are foreign. How could a magazine that is claiming itself as a national one not know the history of our country about the contributions of Chinese, Japanese and South Asians? In the Macleans reporters eyes, everybody who "looked Asians" are probably foreigners, when in fact so many "Asians' were born here, or have bee here for many generations.
If there is any conscience left in the Macleans newsroom, they shouldn't have changed their article, or distorted their initial intention (it's almost a joke the way they are covering up their mistake by bringing up the US case), but admit the fact that they were wrong. Face it Macleans, it was bad journalism.
Nov 27, 2010 at 4:41pm
"People of Chinese descent consume more rice than the average Canadian."
Is this a racist statement?
R U Kiddingme
Nov 27, 2010 at 5:29pm
The last word on Asian stereotyping, to me, happened at SFU in the 1980s. I was getting onto an elevator with some Asian students who were going to Commerce.
"Money, money, money," one said.
"Money, money, money, money," the other agreed.
Compared to that, what difference can one obnoxious Maclean's magazine headline possibly make?
While I am thankful in some ways to the Henry Yus of the world who can be outraged on my behalf, people in the real world stereotype THEMSELVES all the time.
For a genuinely disturbing example, compare racist stereotypes that were once used to oppress African American people before the Civil Rights movement with the works of Snoop Doggy Dogg.