Paradkar: Covidiots come in all colours. Using race-based data to demonize South Asians is a cruel twisting of the evidence

The politically correct response to the thoughtful discussion of the cultural aspects by South Asian doctors (South Asians play a part in COVID-19 transmission and we need to acknowledge it).

More interesting analysis and commentary would contrast the low COVID-19 rates in Richmond, largely Chinese Canadians, with the high rates in Surrey, largely Indo-Canadians to assess the relative importance of socioeconomic and cultural factors.

Average household size is largely comparable: 2.6 in Richmond Centre and 2.7 in Steveston-Richmond, 2.7 in Surrey Centre but 3.4 in Surrey-Newton.

Participation rates are slightly higher in Surrey while male unemployment rates are comparable. However, female unemployment rates are higher in Surrey. Median incomes for both men and women are largely comparable although Steveston-Richmond median incomes are slightly higher.

Both socioeconomic and cultural factors play a role, it is not one or the other:

From the barbaric East Asians and their bat-eating habits to the villainous South Asians and their dangerous socializing habits, the COVID-19 narrative has traced an interesting if richly racist trajectory in the eight months since it has afflicted us.

Across the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and other nations, the pandemic is unveiling what health experts have always known: structures birthed in bias and driven by principles of profit have gone on to exacerbate the suffering of people living in the margins.

In June, a study by Public Health England said Black and Asian people in England are up to 50 per cent more likely to die after being infected with COVID-19. 

In the U.S., analysis by the APM research lab shows Black, Indigenous and Latino Americans experience a death rate triple or more that of white Americans from COVID-19, adjusted for age.

And in Canada a StatsCan report last month found people in large visible minority neighbourhoods in B.C, Quebec and Ontario had a much higher likelihood of dying than mostly white neighbourhoods. 

There is a growing discussion, in particular, on the role of South Asians who account for nearly half the cases of COVID-19 in the GTA’s Peel region, although they populate about a third of it. Of the 1,417 new cases of COVID-19 Ontario reported Wednesday, about a third, or 463, came from Peel.

All this data. 

Data is important to pinpoint where weaknesses lie and where solutions are needed. But of what use data if the collection itself is seen as action against those inequities? Of what use data if the analysis is used to blame communities for cultural deficiencies and individuals for systemic failures?

As the Peel example shows, layer that data with anecdotes and personal experiences of irresponsible socializing and snap, a simplistic narrative is born.

In an essay published last week in the Royal Society of Canada, University of Toronto professor Rinaldo Walcott slammed the gap between calls for race-based data collection and claims it leads to better policy making.

“Race-based data can quite frankly slow down reform,” he wrote. “ ‘Doing the research’ when a problem is already identified and its solutions known, means the collection of race-based data does not actually add much to policymaking. In fact, in some cases, it can do more harm than good.” 

Toronto Public Health data has consistently shown disproportionate impacts of COVID in the city’s northwest. Sané Dube, a manager of Community and Policy with Social Medicine at the University Health Network, often takes the 29 Dufferin bus that goes through some of the worst-affected areas. “The 29 often looks like there’s no pandemic. The bus is so full. And people who are going to work are on that bus. Same with the 35 on Jane.” 

Public health could ask the TTC to provide more buses on those routes, she says, so that people — many of whom are essential workers, “you know, the people we need to work to be able to survive the pandemic” — don’t have to be on crowded buses. 

That is one example of evidence-based action. 

If Black people have long been treated as having a cultural abnormality with their broken families — think of the single-mom and absent-father tropes — without a thought to why those families have been ripped apart, now it’s the turn of South Asians to be demonized for the opposite, their multi-generation family homes and their socializing habits. 

That there is an affordable housing crisis is well-known. Earlier this month Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown announced Peel was getting an isolation hotel, a place for people with precarious employment or living in crowded housing to isolate safely. This is another example of evidence-based action. But why the delay?

“That Peel is getting this now — we are in Month 8 of the pandemic. Why are we just getting this now?” Dube asks. 

“There is complexity behind this data that goes far deeper than South Asian “culture” or “values,”” Seher Shafiq wrote in First Policy Response, a new project by Ryerson Leadership Lab and other institutions that publishes policy ideas, where she is a managing editor. 

“South Asians, like their other racialized peers on the frontlines of this pandemic, are disproportionately employed in precarious jobs in the service industry and gig economy – brewing Tim Hortons coffee, bagging groceries and delivering UberEats orders. This means they are exposed to the virus in their day-to-day lives.”

This “model minority” was hardest hit by the pandemic recession in October, according to StatsCan. 

It’s easier to pathologize communities than implement evidence-based action. Easier to berate people for parties and “multi-day weddings” than to examine if there are adequate testing sites, if they are easily accessible by public transit and if there are adequate supports for those who do test positive.

I have little doubt there are brown covidiots out there, in large homes and small, who think they are impervious to the virus and socialize irresponsibly. I have seen no evidence yet that they are disproportionately more so than any other racial or ethnic group. If there is a blip in numbers after Diwali this past weekend, will it be solidly more than the blip after Thanksgiving? More than after Christmas? 

Covidiocy may be unrelated to race but this much is clear: race and culture are very much related to who gets scrutiny and who escapes it. 

As East Asians — ironically among the least impacted by the virus — will testify, it doesn’t take long for the blame game to spill over to people and their cultures.


South Asians play a part in COVID-19 transmission and we need to acknowledge it

Important and courageous piece by South Asian Canadian doctors:

Canadian society is an interwoven matrix of multiculturalism that contributes to the strength of our nation. The South Asian community comprises a significant part of this rich heterogeneity. Today, we write to you both as physicians, and also members of this vibrant community.

South Asian culture itself is extremely diverse, but there are some themes that are common throughout the vast subcontinent. One such theme is hospitality to others, no matter what background or creed. A guest leaving your house on an empty stomach is considered a travesty, and results in long meals and conversation. 

We grew up with a strong bond with our elderly relatives, and many of us still live in multi-generational families, respecting the traditions of our ancestors before us. Our weddings, cultural holidays, and music nights celebrate not only our unique culture, but embrace the family and friends that enrich our lives. This is the ethos that shaped us as health care providers and human beings. 

COVID-19 has changed the life of everyone on the planet, and South Asians are certainly no exception. The virus that transmits from person to person (especially in close, indoor environments) are the same places we find the most comfort in our community. While we all have been given the same public health advice and messaging, it is increasingly apparent that some groups are being affected harder than others. 

It is time to acknowledge that South Asians are acquiring and dying of COVID-19 at a degree higher than other Canadians, and we need to take immediate action.

The evidence is fairly profound. In Peel Region, one of the hardest hit areas across the country, South Asians account for about a third of the population, but account for almost half the COVID-19 cases. 

COVID-19 has changed the life of everyone on the planet, and South Asians are certainly no exception. The virus that transmits from person to person (especially in close, indoor environments) are the same places we find the most comfort in our community. While we all have been given the same public health advice and messaging, it is increasingly apparent that some groups are being affected harder than others. 

It is time to acknowledge that South Asians are acquiring and dying of COVID-19 at a degree higher than other Canadians, and we need to take immediate action.

The evidence is fairly profound. In Peel Region, one of the hardest hit areas across the country, South Asians account for about a third of the population, but account for almost half the COVID-19 cases. 

In Toronto, despite only being about a tenth of the population, South Asians account for a fifth of total cases. The city of Surrey in British Columbia, where approximately 30 per cent identify as South Asian, there have been three times the number of cases of any other greater Vancouver area. 

Many well publicized COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada have been associated with South Asian events, such as weddings. When these infections are later introduced into a large, multi-generational household, it’s easy to see how the problem can compound quickly. 

What are the consequences of this spread? South Asian populations are at higher risk for dying of COVID-19. Canadian data suggests the rate of death is 25 per cent higher in neighbourhoods with large South Asian communities as compared to those with small communities. 

A large study from the United Kingdom suggested South Asians were more likely to die of COVID-19 than the general population. The high rates of underlying diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and obesity within the South Asian population are the very profile of risk factors that increase the risk of hospitalization, intensive care stay, and death with COVID-19. 

Furthermore, South Asians have a strong presence in public-facing professions in health care, commercial business, and the service/manufacturing industry, creating a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 outside of home. 

Financial instability, particularly amongst new Canadians, creates disincentives for testing and participating in contact tracing. People afraid of losing income are liable to go to work even if feeling unwell thereby further propagating the spread of infection. 

Family structures, embracing our multi-generational cultures, create situations where young and old mix with prolonged close contact. Stigmatization, particularly of those who need to go into isolation or infect others, creates more hesitancy around testing when symptomatic. 

The next few months pose a difficult journey for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the time for action is now. Our health care providers, communication experts, cultural and religious leaders, and the community as a whole need to embrace this challenge. 

Our values teach us the ethics of protecting our communities, and in this pandemic, protecting our most vulnerable members is a part of that. We need to examine our day-to-day activities, and provide support for one another, but in a safe way where non-essential contact is minimized. 

Indoor gatherings of individuals outside of our direct household must be temporarily stopped in order to limit spread — particularly with large celebrations, such as Diwali, upcoming. 

We need to be creative with outdoor spaces, trying to allow for some in person interaction while minimizing risk. 

We need to create virtual support networks to provide the stability and welfare of our community. 

We need to reach those suffering mental health and other consequences of the pandemic. 

Finally, we need to create culturally and linguistically appropriate materials to disseminate amongst our hardest to reach, encouraging distancing, hand hygiene, masking, self evaluation for symptoms, how to access testing, and holistic support for those who test positive. 

From a societal standpoint — a recognition of this minority community that has been hit particularly hard is paramount. Partnering with our local public health units and trying to engage our community leaders is essential for creating a position of trust. Understanding the cultural contexts that are unique to our population, such as multi-generational families, public-facing occupations, poor English literacy, and densely populated communities, allow for individualized planning that benefits society as a whole. 

The next few months pose a difficult journey for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the time for action is now. Our health care providers, communication experts, cultural and religious leaders, and the community as a whole need to embrace this challenge. 

Creating campaigns discouraging large gatherings around festive events, rites of passage, and religious ceremonies, with local cultural leaders will help to prevent scenarios involving sustained indoor spread. Encouraging healthy workplaces, particularly reinforcing indoor masking and avoidance of prolonged close contact is paramount. 

The successes of these campaigns will not only benefit the South Asian population, but given how interwoven we are, the larger community will also prosper. The financial and human resource needs should be prioritized for the greater good of our society.

Many of our community made incredible sacrifices leaving their homes across the globe to reestablish themselves in Canada for the promise of a better life. We are fortunate in Canada to live in a society where our customs and traditions can be practiced freely, and we can contribute to the growth and success of our nation in all sectors. 

The time has come for us to recognize that collaboration with internal and external stakeholders in the South Asian community will lead to more sustainable outcomes for COVID-19 transmission, and the health of our community. 

Dr. Zain Chagla is an infectious diseases physician, St Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton and associate professor at McMaster University.Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti is an infectious diseases physician in Mississauga and a lecturer at the University of Toronto.Dr. Tajinder Kaura is an emergency medicine physician at the William Osler Health System and a clinical assistant professor (Adj) at McMaster University.


When Caste Discrimination Comes To The United States : NPR

The challenges of culture and tradition changes. Not aware of any similar studies in Canada (this one has the main methodological flaw that responses are voluntary rather than systematically collected and analyzed):

At over three thousand years old, caste hierarchy is one of the oldest forms of social stratification in the world: the community you’re born into in places like India, Pakistan and Nepal has designated where you can work, who you can marry, and what your reputation is in life. Even today in South Asia, caste conflict and discrimination remain a potent force in everyday life. In the United States, though, caste tends to be a relatively muted topic.

But a new survey, “Caste in the United States,” finds that caste discrimination is playing out in the United States as well — a finding that raises questions around how South Asian Americans understand themselves and their history.

The survey, which is the first of its kind, was commissioned by Equality Labs, a South Asian American human rights startup, and includes the experiences of about 1200 people who volunteered their answers.

The report on the survey’s results said that two-thirds of members of the lowest caste, called Dalits, said they have faced workplace discrimination due to their caste. Forty-one percent have experienced discrimination in education because of it. And a quarter of Dalits say they’ve faced physical assault — all in the United States.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan is the executive director of Equality Labs and co-authored the report. She said increased immigration from South Asia — including more and more people from lower castes — fuel this discrimination.

The South Asian American population was the fastest-growing major ethnic group in the US between 2000 and 2010. Today, India alone routinely attractsthe majority of skilled worker visas the US allots to foreign nationals, accounts for the highest number of undocumented Asians, and is one of the top countrieswhere new immigrants hail from.

This survey provides data for what many in the community already know: any time there’s a dominant population of South Asians — whether they’re living in Silicon Valley or New Jersey, or working at an office or a restaurant — caste biases emerge. It could be anything from refusing to date or marry someone from a lower caste, to being on the receiving end of a casteist slur, to being made to sit separately because of your perceived “untouchability.”

“We have people who responded who were in the assembly lines for a Campbell soup factory in Central Valley, as well as people who work for Google, Facebook and the other big tech companies,” Soundararajan said, naming workplaces that employ large numbers of South Asians.

But because most Americans don’t understand caste dynamics, it’s hard for people to speak up about it, or bring discrimination cases to court. That includes many people living of South Asian ancestry as well.

Anupama Rao is a historian and anthropologist at Barnard College who studies caste. She said for years, many of the so-called “model minority” of South Asians, who have earned the status of being “good immigrants” in the U.S., came from upper-caste families.

“Many of them, once they are upwardly mobile in the United States, tend to be extremely cagey sometimes, but most often I think embarrassed, to think of themselves as the beneficiaries of caste privilege,” she said.

And when being from a privileged caste obscures what this discrimination looks like — because it isn’t a part of you or your family’s experience — caste itself can become invisible. This is especially true in a new country like the U.S., where immigrant groups of all kinds must navigate their place in an American racial and class hierarchy.

What makes caste discrimination even harder to combat in this new context is that some lower caste people hide their identity as well — 52 percent of Dalits surveyed worry about being “outted” as lower caste.

And the issue is polarizing.

Suhag Shukla is the executive director of the advocacy group the Hindu American Foundation. She said it’s important to get rid of caste prejudice, but that this new survey unfairly essentializes and villainizes Hinduism. It’s one of the most complex arguments surrounding caste; as the survey notes, caste first appeared in Hindu scriptures. It now pervades all religions of South Asia.

“The single most problematic issue with this survey is that it traffics in the most dangerous and false tropes about Hinduism,” she said.

“So instead of demanding an honest conversation about caste and privilege, or its contested relevance among South Asian kids of the third and fourth generation who are now coming of age that are all brown regardless of caste, this report kind of alienates Hindus by scapegoating them,” Shukla said. Caste discrimination isn’t on the radar for many South Asian kids of later generations, she added. What they’re worried about is the discrimination they face for being brown in America. Hate crimes against Muslims and South Asians are at their highest levels since the year after 9/11.

Yet others — both Hindu and non-Hindu — see this defense as helping to preserve the caste system itself. It may not be exactly the same as it functions in South Asia, but a denial of accountability, they say, maintains a hierarchy of privilege.

Last month, over a hundred people packed into the auditorium of the First Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to talk about what the survey found. It was a special kind of Black Lives Matter event: an evening with Dalits.

Dr. Cornel West was part of the panel introducing the topic to the crowd, which included both South Asians and non-South Asians. He emphasized the parallels between the struggles of Black Americans and those of South Asians on the lowest rungs of the caste system.

“We will not be crushed! And we will struggle for love and justice, not hatred and revenge! Love and justice,” West roared to the crowd.

There has been a long history of Dalit and Black leaders finding common ground in their struggles. The Black Panthers in Oakland, for example, inspired the formation of another resistance group, the Dalit Panthers, in Mumbai. And Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, often recognized as the most renowned Dalit leader of the 20th century, and an architect of India’s constitution, exchanged letters with W.E.B. Du Bois in the 1940s, after seeing the similarities between the plight of India’s Dalits and African Americans in the US. This history was front and center at the event that evening in Cambridge.

“Let us never forget Ambedkar!” West insisted, as applause rung through the room. “And the spirit of W.E.B. Du Bois is here as well!”

Thenmozhi Soundararajan pointed out the shared experiences of those in the room.

“Places like this, where oppressed people are starting to build their connections, this is freedom,” she said.

via When Caste Discrimination Comes To The United States : Code Switch : NPR

B.C.’s South Asians helped hand eight ridings to the NDP

The power of ethnic voting based upon issues that affect the community:

A range of negative factors, which some might call a perfect storm, hurt B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark and sharply swung South Asian voters to John Horgan’s New Democratic Party in the May 9 election.

The B.C. Liberals lost all eight Metro Vancouver ridings with large South Asian populations, with political observers saying the governing party failed to connect with voters on both regional issues and worries specific to South Asians.

South Asians felt particularly betrayed by the B.C. Liberals’ approach to the trucking and taxi industries in which South Asians are predominant, said Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal and prominent radio host Harjit Singh Gill.
Most of Metro Vancouver’s more than 260,000 South Asians also showed little interest in the B.C. Green party, which means that, unlike in many predominantly white urban ridings, the potential NDP vote was not siphoned off to the third-party Greens.

In north Surrey and north Delta, where South Asians often account for 50 to 80 per cent of the population in neighbourhoods, the NDP on May 9th took four ridings away from the B.C. Liberals (including the defeat of two cabinet ministers) and held on to three others.

The NDP’s George Chow also won Vancouver-Fraserview, which has a sizable South Asian population, defeating Liberal Attorney General Suzanne Anton.

In addition to issues of special concern to South Asians, Gill and Purewal made clear South Asians were miffed with the B.C. Liberals because of three key conflicts that cut across ethnic lines.

Like many others in Surrey, they said, South Asians were ticked with the B.C. Liberals for placing tolls on the Port Mann and proposed future bridges, about thousands of Surrey students making do with school portables and by the Liberals’ abandoned promise to build a second hospital in Surrey.

“South Asians felt betrayed by the people they had sent to Victoria,” said Gill, host of a popular Punjabi- and English-language radio talk show at 1550 AM.

Gill maintained his more than 100,000 listeners saw the B.C. Liberals as “becoming very arrogant” and under the influence of would-be Punjabi “kingmakers;” insiders whom he said had manoeuvred to have their favourites acclaimed as candidates, without nomination battles.

Gill focused several radio programs on the party’s failure to help thousands of Metro Vancouver truck drivers.

The United Truckers Association (UTA), whose membership is predominantly South Asian, publicly hammered the B.C. Liberals for abandoning truck drivers. “They’re going through a very hard time now,” Gill said. Many truckers had gone on strike and “are being exploited by their owners.”

Purewal, who attended UTA meetings as an observer, estimated 80 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s truck and taxi drivers are South Asians.

Surrey itself, he said, is home to more than 7,000 truck drivers.

The B.C. Liberals’ promise in March to support the arrival of Uber, the ride-hailing service, also aggravated many South Asian taxi drivers, said Gill and Purewal.

Source: B.C.’s South Asians helped hand eight ridings to the NDP | Vancouver Sun

How political correctness erodes support for multiculturalism | CanIndia NEWS

From CanIndia News, Pradip Rodrigues on the culture of silence within the Canadian South Asian community, drawing uncomfortable parallels with the UK’s Rotherham scandal (Sexual exploitation: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil):

Political correctness is  a mortal enemy of multiculturalism and is responsible for leeching away support for it. In Canada the South Asian community, both Indian and Pakistani are grappling with issues of domestic violence, spousal abuse, elder abuse, a growing drug and gang problem. Yet you hardly hear about these sort of things in the media, there are no statements put out by politicians, there are no leaders with plans to deal with these issues.

When it comes to our view of women, South Asians here share a lot of similarities with a section of Pakistani Muslim men in Britain.The sheer scale of domestic abuse that occurs behind closed doors should be a scandal. But yet we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge it or discuss it openly.

And when a case of domestic abuse results in death of a woman or a case of honor killings make front page news, the community commentators who are invited on air to discuss it on national media use it as an opportunity to do damage control and deflect attention away from the community.

For instance following one horrific case of honor killing a couple of years ago, the South Asian head of a women’s organization refused to admit that honor killing and violence against women was an issue affecting a particular ethnic community. The guest on that radio program insisted that honor killing was no different from the problem of violence against women where the perpetrators and victims come from every segment of society.

I met her months later and asked her privately why she always took such a defensive position. According to her, mainstream interviewers are always looking to sensationalize news and bring down the community. She believed like so many in positions of authority in Rotherham, UK that it was the crime that should be discussed not the ethnicity.

…Few community leaders can be counted upon to be brave enough to stand up and draw attention to a problem facing the community without being brought down by the very community he or she loves and is trying to save. While no one wants to provide a stick to racists who will use it to beat up the community, it is time community members pick up their own stick and do the needful before someone else comes and does it for us.

How political correctness erodes support for multiculturalism | CanIndia NEWS.

Desperately Seeking Normalcy – Stem Cell Donors – New Canadian Media – NCM

These kinds of campaigns that personalize the issue are likely more effective than impersonal campaigns. And engaging the key communities is key to address the shortage.

As my experience attests, a stem cell transplant is no picnic with considerable risk, but does offer more time to those patients who can benefit from it:

“I think people are just so afraid of the process,” adds Nishaat. “They really feel like you’re taking something from them that cannot be replaced. When you look at minorities, even religiously speaking, the whole notion of organ donation is a major issue. So when it comes to bone marrow or stem cells, I think some of that falls into the same category. In terms of the mentality.”

The cultural stigma is so strong that some discourage their family from accepting donated organs even if a match is found. In one case, a Stanford professor had found a match for a South Asian couple’s 20-something son, but the young man’s parents convinced him at the last minute to refuse the donation.

South Asians 4 Life is one group partnering up with CBS in trying to combat the deep-rooted stigma through awareness campaigns. According to their website, 5,000 South Asians have registered with the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. As of 2011, there were nearly 1.6 million South Asians living in Canada, the largest visible minority group in the country StatsCan. At the time of this article, 28 Canadian patients of South Asian descent were also reportedly waiting for a match.

“People actually have the opportunity to change the numbers,” says Munsif. “To make a positive impact. If they knew about it and if they thought or understood it could happen to their loved ones, they would have no hesitation to do it.”

Munsif says various community centres in the GTA have been “very supportive and extremely accommodating,” of their cause, by holding bone marrow donor drives more than two years ago in Nishaat’s name. From there he realized there were many misconceptions about signing up to be a donor.

Desperately Seeking Normalcy – New Canadian Media – NCM.