Confessions of a ‘model minority’: How I’m learning to confront my own biases

Seeing more articles like this one by Joanna Chiu on the prejudices and racism of minorities for other minorities, a useful reminder that white/visible minority dichotomies are overly simplistic and do not capture the challenges in reducing racism, discrimination and bias:

Childhood for me was … busy.

My parents, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, rarely took time off work and spent their weekends chauffeuring my brother and me to our lessons.

It was all they knew. In Asia’s cutthroat cities, many parents feel they have no choice but to spend a huge amount of their salaries to help their offspring stand out from the studious masses. We never went camping, or fishing, or whatever other Canadian families did for leisure.

Our Saturday mornings consisted of three hours of Cantonese school. If one of us got a perfect score on our vocabulary test, we would get McDonald’s for lunch as a treat.

After that, we’d head straight to two hours of piano lessons in a neighbouring Vancouver suburb. On Sunday mornings, we attended art class followed by tutoring in music theory, composition or music history. All those lessons were supposed to stimulate our growing brains.

I always felt connected to Hong Kong as my birthplace and embraced its stereotypical work ethic. I cried when my brother brought home a report card that contained mostly B’s and a C.

I didn’t see anything wrong with being a so-called model minority.

Sometimes strangers would say rude or mocking things to us, but racism was something to make peace with. Life would inevitably get better, after all, if we just kept working hard and didn’t complain.

Besides, I volunteered every week and started clubs at my school devoted to equality and human rights issues. That was part of the whole package of becoming an exemplary world citizen, I thought. It wouldn’t be long before there was an ethnic minority prime minister, if we all just kept working hard!

I was taught to brush off racism as a kind of flattery — that it stemmed from people being “jealous” of Asians’ high rate of university admission and higher-than-average salary level in North America.

Last year, I was working downtown and people would give me dirty looks or yell slurs at me on the street. Online, I was regularly getting a litany of abuse. My dad tried to comfort me by saying it was because I looked like “an executive” with my new job. It was a sign of success.

This wishful thinking made sense to me, but now I see why it’s illogical in the face of hate crimes happening around the world against people of Asian appearance.

In Vancouver, a man pushed a 92-year-old man with dementia to the ground outside a convenience store while yelling racist insults about COVID-19. In another incident, someone punched a woman of Asian descent near a bus stop downtown and walked away. Dakota Holmes, an Indigenous woman, was punched in the face and told to “go back to Asia” while she was walking her dog.

A recent Angus Reid Institute poll found that almost 30 per cent of Chinese Canadians surveyed said they had been physically attacked since the COVID-19 crisis began, while 43 per cent said they’ve been threatened or intimidated.

It’s a shock to the system for some of us — a reminder that racism can’t be outworked, outhustled, or out-run.

Rightly so, many people are speaking up to say that Asian communities shouldn’t stop at finally acknowledging that racism against Asians is a serious problem.

Around the world, people are also organizing under the “Asians for Black Lives” banner.

When police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, three other officers were present, including Tou Thao.

Thao’s participation in Floyd’s death has rightfully sparked calls for Asian communities to better address the ways in which anti-Blackness is embedded into many Asian cultures and societies.

Oftentimes, this doesn’t come in the form of overt acts of hate, but in our resounding silence on systemic issues affecting other minorities that cannot be solved by trying to play within the rules of white supremacy.

Steven Zhou argued in an op-ed piece in the Star last week that a sense of superiority based on work ethic is prevalent among Chinese Canadians, and can lead to prejudice.

In recent public discussions in Canada, we’ve mostly heard from Asian millennials referring to racism among our elders, and pledging to speak with our elders about their derision of people with darker skin.

Although our “aunties and uncles” are more likely to say racist things out loud, younger people surely have biases, too.

What can an Asian Canadian who has internalized the model minority myth do?

Personally, I feel like I’ve dug myself into a hole of work and volunteer commitments. My instinct is to sign up for more work on anti-Blackness and anti-Indigenous topics. As co-chair of a group that promotes the contributions of women and people of colour on China studies, I put together a resources list for China expert communities to fight anti-Black racism, and have been going through all the readings.

Perhaps, part of the solution is to stop the endless activity. I’m lucky to have multiple sources of income during the pandemic, but exhaustion skews judgement. Instead of writing this essay in a few hours, as I normally would, I asked my editor for more time to reflect on my complicity in social injustices.

It’s been long overdue.

My biases are rooted in not only racism, but also classism and able-ism, where despite having a disability myself (ADHD), I’ve assumed that most people in Canada have similar access to education and can overcome their challenges to pursue conventional success.

When we speak of racism, it’s easy to think it’s a problem that other people have. The uncomfortable truth is that we all have unconscious biases that can grow into hate if we don’t confront them within ourselves.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/08/03/confessions-of-a-model-minority-how-im-learning-to-confront-my-own-biases.html

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.

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