Taking Policy Action Against Anti-Asian Racism

On Thursday May 20th, the Global Shapers Communities of Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa were pleased to host a panel during Asian Heritage Month: Taking Policy Action Against Anti-Asian Racism. Bringing together leaders from across Canada to discuss the impact of anti-Asian racism on our community, the panel reaffirmed what we as young leaders in our communities might do to drive positive change. The recorded session of the panel can be found here.

The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the pandemic started is extremely dangerous within our communities. Whether it’s microaggressive comments, mass shootings, or elderly folks getting punched and shoved — we can not sit complacent while watching our Asian brothers and sisters suffer like this. With May being Asian Heritage month, this project is a collaboration between partners coming together to host a series of livestream fundraisers to raise money for organizations that will advance anti-Asian racism policy, build educational capacity, and increase the visibility of Asian artists and changemakers in the community.

Our Theory of Change is to provide a low barrier to entry and educate on anti-Asian racism. We are bringing together our expertise collectively as artists, musicians, designers, community organizers, and policy analysts in order to meet allies, partners, and Asian-identifying folks where they are at in their anti-racism journey. The second installment of our fundraiser is titled Asian Artists Against Asian Hate. Registration for the event can be found here. We are pleased to spotlight Asian artists, performers, and businesses from across Canada. Join us for a fun evening of music, art, and DJ performances by Asian artists and allies! Donations and purchases for raffle tickets to win prize bundles are located on the Registration page with100% of the proceeds from the raffle donated to organizations (Act2EndRacism and Hua Foundation) working to combat Asian racism.

Without further adieu, our moderator is Annie Wang

and our esteemed panel with Teresa Woo-Paw, Amy Go, and Han Ru Zhou for the key highlights from our Taking Policy Action panel!

What is Anti-Asian racism and how is it different from other forms of racism?

Teresa: Racism includes ideas and practices that establish and maintain the racial superiority of one group over another. Anti-Asian racism comes via stereotypes and discrimination against Asians. It has also been manifested within a particular social identity and history. For me, it’s the Head Tax and the Yellow peril sentiment. The intersectionality of history and different events impact all of us differently. What differs is that Anti-Asian racism is omitted from all government policies. This remains something crucial we need to point out and address by creating policies.

Amy: When we talk about the anti-Asian attacks that are happening — which are primarily targeting those of East and South Asian descent — we need to remember that we cannot undermine the diversity of Asia as it hosts various nations, states, and cultures. Asians are not all the same. Particularly, in relation to anti-Asian racism is the discussion of the model minority myth and its consequent stereotypes that came from the United States. This myth pits minorities against other minority groups as when we are seen as a “model” for others, these stereotypes reinforce racism not only for Asians but also for other ethnic minorities. For instance, these stereotypes that we are submissive are untrue. Then there are the phrases of “Go back to China, go back to Asia, or go back to where we come from!” We are always seen as perpetual foreigners.

What can we say to folks who believe that racism is not as common in Canada or that Asian Canadians don’t really experience it?

Teresa: The past 12 months have pushed me to reflect and what I’ve dealt with and talked about in this short amount of time is something I have not done so to the same extent in my forty to forty-five years of social work and political background. When I was first elected as a student board trustee, I remember receiving a very long letter that had referred to me as the yellow peril. And in the span of that experience, there were many more stories. For those questioning this, it’s very clear. The evidence is here. Institutions have also acknowledged systemic racism and racism. But still, we know from research that 80% of people don’t end up reporting their experiences with racism. Therefore, how can we begin to dismantle those barriers to ensure others feel safe to voice their experiences and ensure we are on a journey towards having an equal society?

Han-Ru: For me, a necessary condition to consider engaging in such a conversation is if that person holds the false belief in good faith and has an open mind. If not, I’d ask myself if this is worth my time. We can’t be part of every fight. If I decide to engage, I’d start by inquiring about their posture: why does the person hold that belief? Based on what? What do they think about racism in general? The more information I have, the better I’ll know what to say, how to have a useful conversation.

Amy: So there are just many aggressive and brazen racist attacks in Canada and the US (as crimes or attacks are under-represented). We cannot take that pride in being Canadian and comparing just the numbers. Everyone single person has a story to tell. Whether it’s growing up in a big city or a small town. All of us can identify with these experiences of racism. Specifically, I want to speak to how Asian women were treated very differently in the professional workplace. They were seen as nannies or secretaries. And throughout generations and time, these microaggressions are taking a toll. This past year has been a triggering of a post-traumatic response. Everyone is scared for their seniors, their family members, their neighbours, and their friends. It has become a collective trauma that we are all experiencing.

Annie: These events have very much been horrifying and difficult but it’s also been a moment of self-reflection for myself and others. Historically, we may not have had the voice too, but now we do.

How should we be paying attention to intersectionality and allyship when it comes to addressing anti-Asian racism?

Han-Ru: This is a central part of the fight against racism and should be a unifying theme. Society puts people in categories: Asians, Blacks, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Muslims, refugees, etc. Sometimes there are people who’ve used them as a wedge by instrumentalizing one community against another. One example is the debate on affirmative action. Fortunately Canada has more comprehensive equality rights than US and our Constitution and laws expressly protect affirmative action programs.

However we still have a long way to go here as well. One problem is that many people have a narrow understanding of what equality is. For them, equality means you get something, I must get the same thing; if you don’t and I do because of my race, they think it’s discrimination; and that’s sometimes false. It’s always a matter of justification of the differential treatment.

Teresea: Intersectionality includes race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, citizenship, and more. In order to become better allies to ensure a more equal society, we really need to consider who holds power when it comes to those identities. What powers do we have? What are powers that we collectively don’t have? And how can we exercise our voice? So ultimately, it’s about asking the question: what are the powers that we do have or don’t have and how can we address or use that within our work?

Amy: This conversation leads us to our own privilege and to instigate further reflection upon it. In doing so, we need to work in solidarity with other communities to address things such as misogyny, stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, or addressing anti-Black racism. Even during the process of changes with the sex-ed programs in Ontario, many Asian Canadians were in the rallies. Therefore, as we tackle our own fears during this pandemic, we also have to recognize that historically, this is what Black men have always had to experience; the fear for their lives when walking the streets.

For Amy, what are some effective policy advocacy strategies you’ve seen to address Anti-Asian racism?

Grassroots organizing and reaching out to power. Our national anti-racism strategy 21/22 did not address anti-Asian racism. This past year has reaffirmed that anti-Asian racism exists. A lot of advocacy groups have put pressure and there’s a changing conversation nationally with organizations and government to start considering a definition of anti-Asian racism and acknowledging it.

Calling for desegregated data. There is a lack of data. Now, we are seeing more receptiveness with Stats Can and other institutions that are building data surrounding race-based desegregated data. This is a process that took many years but we are finally seeing this incremental change. We still have a long way to go but it is a step to advance that equity outcome that we are working towards.

Young people and their use of social media to advance understanding. Why do we need to advance policies to address systemic disparities? To answer these questions, we can and should use our voices and the platforms that we have. The problem with social media is that the engagement is so brief, but hopefully with more and more of us are doing this and advancing this understanding, this systemic nature of this racism will experience an impact as more and more of us learn more and take a voice. The hope is in the young people.

For Han-Ru, it can be challenging at times to see Asian Canadians in positions of leadership. How can we take action to change this reality as young professionals?

  1. Help each other. We can’t make it on our own. Research shows that those who help out more are more successful in their career and make better leaders (see Adam Grant, Give and Take).
  2. Help yourself. Reach out. I teach hundreds of students every year. I’m surprised how hardly anyone reaches out to me or my colleagues for anything (except just before exam time). But they’re lots of us out there who are more than happy to help.

For Teresa, can you speak to the rise in anti-Asian violence in Canada and what impacts you’ve seen over the past few years on Asian Canadians?

It feels like there is more attention paid this year to Asian Heritage Month in the wake of the rise in anti-Asian violence. How do we continue to maintain this momentum in celebrating the accomplishments and drawing light to the unique challenges faced by Asian Canadians?

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Canada’s recognition of Asian Heritage Month (AHM). AHM originated in the US in the 1970s and was proposed by a Congress member of Japanese descent. From the very beginning, the key objective of AHM was to examine policies that continue to impact Asian communities. While AHM is an amazing opportunity to reflect on our contributions and our heritage, it’s about what continues to impact us. I want to be a part of meaningful change to engage iconic institutions; to use AHM to engage institutions and claim our space. AHM is about community, connection, and social change. How do we keep the momentum, to continue to keep the conversation going and engaged? We also need to help people understand AHM — that it’s an opportunity to deepen our understanding and appreciation of Asian Canadians as builders and contributors to our country, Canada, and to recognize our resilience to overcome barriers and to share that Canada is an inclusive society.

What has been a key learning moment about anti-Asian racism that has validated yourself?

Teresa: What I’m seeing now has been a very difficult and inspirational process. It has taken a lot of time to get over the disbelief and denial and come to the acceptance that this is real. We are feeling frustrated and angry and channelling those emotions as energies into promoting change. There is a challenge of getting policies through. But we are at the cusp of pushing for some change. Race-based data is coming close. And we are urging governments to institutionalize AHM in a way that would have institutions, public service, education and other sectors to use this platform to talk about anti-Asian racism and discuss how we can be a more inclusive society.

Han-Ru: For quite some time, I’ve been pondering how I should best contribute. As a result, I might not have been as proactive as I should. But a couple of years ago I attended a talk given by Harvard Business School professor Laura Huang, which greatly inspired me. She published a book last year titled Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. The book discusses how to overcome challenges and biases and shares some of the author’s personal experiences as a daughter of Taiwan immigrants. I realized that if she was able to do all that great work and take an active part in the fight against racism, then there’s certainly something more I can do too.

Amy: My story is a family story. It’s one that is about my niece who began talking to me about the disparity of white privilege and the racialized community. She is a racialized doctor. She was so angry and she started to share her anger. Her story touched me a lot. What inspires me is seeing the younger voices and having young people share their stories. My niece, my sister, and I have given me so much hope. My niece used to not care so much about social issues but now, she is fighting for change. I used to feel so alone. When we were fighting for social justice, I felt so alone. But now, it gives me a lot of hope that there IS solidarity and camaraderie. There is more of us willing to do something. I look to the young people to work together. There is hope and there is change to come!

In the aftermath of this panel, what are actionable steps we, as a young people, can take?

Teresa: Start by building out capacity. We all can use different opportunities for civic engagement (for yourself, your membership, and your community) and then moving on to mobilizing the public and educating them. Why diversity is important and why is it a benefit for us all? With public support, we can then try policy change and institutional change. Those are sustainable changes. We can’t keep talking and not seeing change. We have to demand change and be a part of the change. You are taking civic action, you are engaging, and you are building civic capacity. And lastly, make a greater connection with the community to understand how things are truly hurting and impacting the people within the community. This will be a crucial part of your legacy and what you do decades out.

Annie: To ensure momentum going forward, we can and we really need to weave this into the fabric of our lives.

Amy: First, ask yourself what can be done aligned with your own interests. Change has to come everywhere (workplace, school, activities you’re engaged in). Look at those as opportunities… those that you have. What can you do to advance that change? Even starting at the very micro level is crucial to any change. Even in your own work, how can you advance an understanding of how oppression impacts different communities? Everything that we do has an element for improvement; it is an opportunity for advancing change. Can I build allyship in my workplace or in my classroom? Book club, music program? The most important framework we can apply in our daily lives and our actions is anti-racism and anti-oppression.

A collaboration spearheaded by the following organizations:

Threading Change is a youth-led not-for-profit organization envisioning a future where fashion is ethical and circular, rooted in justice with climate, gender, and racial equity at the forefront. We work at the intersections of consumer education and industry transformation through our tri-impact model of education, innovative storytelling, and policy research.

Triple C Collective is a DJ collective of techno DJs and artists from the Lower Mainland that strives to bring European techno and technoculture to Vancouver. Triple C Collective specializes in live events (pending the pandemic), studio recordings, capacity-building for DJs, and podcasting.

The Global Shapers Community is a network of inspiring young people under the age of 30 working together to address local, regional, and global challenges. With more than 13,000 members, the Global Shapers Community spans 430 city-based hubs in 150 countries.

The Asian Association of Medical Students UOttawa is an interest group that aims to raise awareness of the unique issues faced by both the East and South Asian communities on a local and national level through advocacy projects and educational events for all members of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine community.

Born out of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Global Shapers Community is a network of 378 city-based hubs in 160 countries working on local and global issues