‘Why don’t they just work harder?’ This kind of anti-Blackness is prevalent in Chinese-Canadian communities. It’s time to address it

A good reminder that racism, discrimination and prejudice exist among all communities.

One of the positive changes under former Minister Jason Kenney was to broaden the discussion from a white/visible minority quasi-dichotomy to an understanding and appreciation of tensions and issues between visible minority groups, not just with the white majority. Shree Paradkar’s makes comparable points (Star ColumnistsDear brown people: I’m about to wash some dirty linen in public. Consider this an overdue act of tough loveJun. 28, 2020):

The idea that we live in a happy multicultural mosaic is one of Canada’s boldest lies.

Vote-thirsty politicians constantly dog-whistle at emboldened white supremacists on the Canadian fringe. Institutions across the board are being exposed for mistreatment and neglect of racialized voices. Not even Parliament escapes scrutiny as Canadians saw footage of Jagmeet Singh, the NDP’s brown and turbaned leader, getting kicked out of the House for calling out racism.

But the problem doesn’t lie exclusively with white people. Rather, it has long metastasized into communities of colour that internalize discrimination in order to spew it at groups they see as inferior — usually Black Canadians.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in parts of the Chinese Canadian community, of which I’m a proud member. While covering the election last fall, I ventured into neighbourhoods in Toronto filled with individuals of Chinese descent who, aside from the usual headaches over money, health care, or employment, were worried about “illegal border crossers” making their way onto their streets. They were clearly being fed that language by right-wing campaigners, but the pervasive fear showed how easy it is to capture people of colour with narratives that, though often rooted in racist untruths, galvanize a sense of superiority vis-à-vis those who “don’t belong.”

Which brings us to the question of anti-Blackness in communities of colour. I think it’d be hard to find a young person of Chinese descent in Canada who can’t recount at least one instance of hearing an older member of their family repeat a well-worn anti-Black trope. It might not be routine dinner conversation, but it happens all the time. Slogans of underclass ideology are robotically repeated: “Why don’t they just work harder?” “Black parents have a problem raising their kids the right way.” Or the popular, “I came to this country with [insert small dollar amount]; don’t talk to me about discrimination!” And so on.

Part of the problem is internalizing an implicit hierarchy based on race that only gets reinforced by “model minority” ideals in a country that operates on white normality.

This leads to envious worship of those above you in the arbitrary ethnoracial hierarchy, along with contempt or fearful hatred of those who you think can’t get to your level. The latter have always tended to have darker skin.

More optimistic activists may suggest that common experiences of discrimination should lead to people of different races (and from all walks of life) to automatically form political and social solidarity. Or that they naturally amount to a tangible political constituency because they all faced racism at some point. This is a naive assumption, even for people within the same race, which makes the current Black Lives Matter moment — spurred by the death of George Floyd — a valuable wake-up call.

Now more than ever is an opportunity for communities of colour, including the Chinese community, to question how their racist bias affects the world around them and why there’s such widespread anger among the Black community. It’s an uphill battle for progressive community organizations like the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), which have a history of advocacy against racism that extends into the COVID-19 era of anti-East Asian discrimination.

Their battle today will have to be led by youth, who have an opportunity to extend the broader conversation of racial and social justice into their neighbourhoods and, perhaps more importantly, into their homes.

Much of this comes down to genuine progressive engagement with newcomers — a task that, in contrast to years-long forays by Canada’s conservative right, the political left is only beginning. The current opening to speak candidly about race and racism can help fill that vacuum, but only if civil society steps in on the ground level. Young people will, again, likely have to do the work of communicating, and even translating, to those who are unfamiliar with progressive narratives or vocabulary in an intelligible fashion.

In any case, the current hold of right-wing tropes and politics on significant swathes of the Chinese Canadian community (some of which have bled into alt-right territory) is not inevitable. The stereotype of wealthy, apolitical Chinese buying up land and condos can be challenged by engagement on universal issues of racial justice, among other progressive concerns.

It is necessary work for any era, but our time is one of fascist revanchism compounded by a pandemic and economic stagnation. More understanding between communities can be one of the few antidotes if collective solidarity leads to tangible successes in creating more equity in our institutions and accountability in our centres of power toward racialized people.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to ‘Why don’t they just work harder?’ This kind of anti-Blackness is prevalent in Chinese-Canadian communities. It’s time to address it

  1. gjreid says:

    This is an interesting article about anti-Black racism in the Chinese Canadian community. I would only make two comments. First, It is implied that the Chinese have learned their racism from the white Canadian community; but that, I suspect, is only part of it; I don’t think that the Chinese, or anybody else for that matter, has to “learn” racism from anybody. Racism, in the broad sense of cliches and stereotypes, is pretty wide-spread, at least this has been my experience, in virtually all human communities. To attribute everything to white people is patronizing and robs all other communities of agency. Whites become a sort of demiurge, responsible for everything. Second, a Chinese friend of mine once remarked to me, “You Canadians” – he meant all Canadians, but, mostly, whites – “You Canadians are very lazy, aren’t you?” Compared with the Chinese and some other groups, such as the Vietnamese or Japanese, I had to agree with him. Another Chinese Canadian, a charming highly accomplished lady, years ago, when we were having lunch, said, “Chinese babies and children are, research shows, much more intelligent than Caucasians – than white people.” “That’s an interesting observation,” I said. And we continued our splendid lunch as she told me about her children. I could add a few more examples. Italian Canadians had, traditionally, a number of observations to make about WASPS, or Anglo Canadians or “mangiacake” as we WASPS were called. I think stereotypes and cliches – and even racisms – come from many sources and radiate in all directions and it is helpful, I think, to keep this fact in mind when trying to deal with the specifics of anti-Black racism. .

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