Bank of Canada whitewashes Asian-looking woman on $100 bill

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      To include or not to include—that's the $100 question in Canada apparently. But it's one that we shouldn't even need to ask.

      At issue is the depiction of an Asian-looking scientist that originally appeared on the new Canadian $100 bill.

      The image, which featured a woman peering into a microscope alongside a strand of DNA and a bottle of insulin, was intended to celebrate Canada's medical innovations. (Canadian medical scientist Frederick Banting is credited with being one of the main discoverers of insulin. The polymer bill was released on November 14, 2011, which is World Diabetes Day and was also the 120th anniversary of Banting's birth.)

      According to reports, the Bank of Canada consulted with eight focus groups about the proposed images for new $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 banknotes. (The focus groups, held in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Fredericton, cost $53,000 to conduct.)

      According to a 2009 report (commissioned by the Bank of Canada) obtained by the Canadian Press, focus group participants raised concerns about the Asian researcher.

      On the one hand, some worried that it was a stereotypical association of Asian people with the sciences. Meanwhile, others felt that Asian people shouldn't be the only visible minorities represented. But still others were concerned that the yellowish-brown colour of the banknote played into perceptions of the woman as Asian. Seems like everyone had a problem with it, one way or another.

      Then the bank caved in and withdrew the image. That's where things went sideways. Actually, backwards. The bank's attempts to defend itself exposed something inherently problematic about its approach.

      They reworked the features of the woman to give her what they confusingly termed a "neutral" ethnicity. (Neutral? Yikes! Probably the term they really meant, but couldn't say, is the racial majority. But when it comes to identity politics, calling one ethnicity neutral is asking for trouble.)

      The woman now appears to be Caucasian, their definition of neutrality. According to reports, the bank has a policy not to depict any specific ethnic group.

      Unfortunately, this stance operates upon the mistaken notion that Caucasian people don't have ethnic origins. (Again, a translation: what they probably meant was that they can't depict any ethnic minority group.) It also supports the belief that Caucasian people can represent all ethnic groups while visible minorities or aboriginal people cannot.

      Does this also mean that any Canadian public figures who aren't Caucasian would never appear on Canadian dollar bills? If, for example, David Suzuki (who was voted fifth greatest Canadian in 2004), Adrienne Clarkson, or Michaëlle Jean, were eligible to be on the bills, would they be excluded because of their ethnicity? And what would happen exactly once Canada elects its first prime minister who is not of Caucasian descent? What if, for instance, former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh went on to become prime minister? Would he be excluded?

      And how is it even possible for this policy to be in place when the government of Canada has an official multiculturalism act? What's more, it's certainly a shortsighted, outdated one that has a very limited lifespan as Canadian demographics continue to undergo rapid change and visible minorities become the majority in numerous Canadian urban centres.

      This example also illustrates what challenges organizations sometimes face when attempting to make tentative forays toward more inclusive representation. Mistakes will be made, and there's often awkwardness to be expected. But it's up to the Bank of Canada to continue to learn from this and persevere in attempting to become more reflective of Canada, and to catch up with the times, rather than continuing to render over five million Canadians invisible.


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      jojo star

      Aug 18, 2012 at 9:31am

      Canadians are racists people they just dont like being exposed as that and will make up so many other excuses. i am canadian of Indian descent and left canada 20+ years ago to live and work in Asia. it is strange how i am treated better in foreign countries (they know i am not a local) than in my own country (as 'real' Canadian dont consier me a citizen)..

      Brad Yeldarb

      Aug 18, 2012 at 10:02am

      She doesn't look Asian at all...


      Aug 18, 2012 at 10:09am

      our worldis awash in white and not the good kind either


      Aug 18, 2012 at 10:25am

      I encountered this creeping racism, when I first came to Canada and ended up in southern Ontario. After 2 years of this, I moved west, where the racism is much subtler and is a lot easier to ignore.


      Aug 18, 2012 at 12:28pm

      Can you say tempest in a teapot? Why is our money wasted on focus groups for banknotes? Most of us will never see or use a $100 bank note. Most retailers don't accept them for fear they are counterfeit currency. Racism is real, yes, but I find this banknote focus group, freakout about an image of a woman looking into a telescope on a banknote absolutely stupid. There is nothing demeaning about being associated with science...get a life people.


      Aug 18, 2012 at 1:04pm

      In related news: "Stick Figures to Replace Human Representations".

      And: "Stick Figures Condemned as Too Skinny".

      And: "Government Introduces Thicker Stick Figures".

      And: "Thicker Stick Figures Condemned by Medical Association".

      And: "Medical Association Condemned by Stick Figure Union".

      And: ... sigh.


      Aug 18, 2012 at 2:02pm

      There is so much racism in Canada it's just ridiculous to boast about being so "multi-cultural" and diverse. Well, yes we are by definition, but we're also extremely segregated not just across the country, but within the cities themselves. It's just easier to deal with in some places than others.

      Devlin Mcgregor

      Aug 18, 2012 at 2:17pm

      This is absurd and embarrassing. I don't think this is rooted in racism as much as it's rooted in our hypersensitive culture turning us into spineless, knee jerking crybabies.

      Chinese Racist

      Aug 18, 2012 at 2:55pm

      As a person of Chinese descent, I have experienced name callings such as "Chinks, Gooks, and the usual go back to China." It is certainly the cultural hubris developed by the self-regarded first people/colonizer of this land. Older white male teachers in classes sabotaging immigrant children, younger Canadian humuliating immigrants lifestyle. What do we do about the Anglo-American melting pot of mediocrity?


      Aug 18, 2012 at 3:05pm

      The visible minorites only make up 20% of the Canadian population, so a person representing the majority 80% could be considered ethnically neutral. So should you depict an African, Asian or an Inuit etc? Which ever you picked the others would feel slighted. This way they can all feel equally slighted & blame the 80% majority for all being racist, as if they, themselves, are not. Let us all try to get along.....together!