Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” is xenophobic; Margaret Wente’s defence is obfuscation.

In Too Brazen: Maclean’s, Margaret Wente, and the Canadian media’s inarticulacy about race, Jeet Heer writes:

The problems with the Maclean’s article are many and systematic. I’ve already discussed them here and here. Briefly, the article leaves a bad aftertaste because:

1. The word “Asian” is used in a very broad way to encompass both foreign-born exchange students (who are in Canada temporarily) and Canadians who have ancestors in countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. By this usage, David Suzuki, Olivia Chow, Adrienne Clarkson, and Sook-Yin Lee are all notable Asians, rather than notable Canadians or notable Asian-Canadians. Moreover the distinct problems faced by exchange students (linguistic hurdles, social isolation) are quite different from the experiences of Asian-Canadians. How could Chinese-Canadian kids who read the article not feel like foreigners in their native land?

2. The article stereotypes both white Canadian students and “Asian” students. White Canadians students are portrayed as privileged preppies who are more interested in partying and drinking than studying. “Asian” students are portrayed as socially dysfunctional nerds who lack any sense of fun, virtual robots who are programmed by their parents to study.

As someone who has done a little teaching and spent far too much time in school, I have to say these two stereotypes are violently at odds with the real diversity of personality types that you find on Canadian campuses, among students of all different races and backgrounds. It’s notable that the Maclean’s article completely erases the existence of working class white Canadian students, many of whom face the same educational problems of balancing work and studying that often bedevil immigrant students. Also ignored is the fact that many “white” students in Canada also come from immigrant backgrounds, notably from Southern and Eastern Europe.

By highlighting race and ignoring class, Maclean’s makes it harder to see the commonalities that many students of diverse backgrounds share. Throughout the article, it is assumed that the experience of upper–middle class white kids is normative — and that every other experience (whether working class white Canadian or “Asian”) has to be defined against that norm.

3. Finally, Maclean’s frames the problem as one that is caused by the mere presence of “Asians” on campus, rather than by the social and cultural barriers that divide students. For example, in the rankings issue’s table of contents, Maclean’s has this headline: “Asian advantage?” The question mark is a typical example of Maclean’s trying to cover an inflammatory statement by qualifying it. However, if you read the article, it becomes clear that the only “advantage” that “Asians” have is that many of them study “hard,” which is what all students should do. The idea that doing homework is an “advantage” is built on the assumption that whites are entitled to university spaces whether they study or not, simply on the basis of their whiteness — or perhaps because they are real Canadians, unlike the “Asians” who happen to live here.

If the Maclean’s article is troublingly xenophobic, then Margaret Wente’s defence is a classic case of obfuscation.

[…]

Of course, the “Asian campus” is only a problem if you believe that Asian-Canadians are not real Canadians. In the United States, there are people like Sarah Palin who make a distinction between “real Americans” (i.e., animal-killing Alaskans) and Americans who are somehow less real (i.e., liberals, New Yorkers, vegetarians). The subtext of both “‘Too Asian?’” and Wente’s defence of it is a similar distinction between Canadians whose presence in universities is natural and those Canadians who, even if they were born in Canada, are seen as alien intruders.

In her column, Wente wrote that “nobody is talking about quotas.” This is flatly untrue. Maclean’s raised the issue of anti-Asian quotas in the United States and offered this slippery statement: “Canadian universities, apart from highly competitive professional programs and faculties, don’t quiz applicants the same way, and rely entirely on transcripts. Likely that is a good thing. And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.”

I don’t know how this passage can be read as anything except a claim that meritocracy is a provisional (or “likely”) good thing, which might need to be abandoned since it leads to a putatively bad result — i.e., “a concentration of Asian students.” Maclean’s did not advocate quotas, but it has opened the door to the possibility that they might be needed, a likelihood that feels all the more urgent in an article full of scary stories about universities being overstuffed with “Asian” kids.

Read the whole thing. Jeet Heer also addresses the underrepresentation of other racial groups in Canadian universities.

Link: Too Brazen by Jeet Heer (via Knowing Coves)

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Canada’s Maclean’s has a whiteness problem.

“‘Too Asian’?” was not the first racist Maclean’s article lamenting the quantity of racialized people displacing white people and white power.

In 2006, Maclean’s published “The future belongs to Islam” by Mark Steyn, who assumed that Muslims all over the world were primarily focused on a shared goal of imposing Islamic law globally, and tried to bring to everyone’s attention that the birth rates of Muslim-majority countries were higher than the birth rates of European countries. Steyn also pointed out that although “Africa” has a high birth rate, it is “riddled with AIDS” and “as we saw in Rwanda, [Africans’] primary identity is tribal”. Steyn then invoked a white colonialist narrative by describing Muslim-majority areas as “Indian territory”, “lawless fringes of the map”, and “badlands” that needed to be “brought within the bounds of the ordered world”. He waxed nostalgically about “the old Indian territory”, when “no one had to worry about the Sioux riding down Fifth Avenue”, “the white man settled the Indian territory”, and “the Injuns had bows and arrows and the cavalry had rifles.” His complaint was that “today’s Indian territory”—i.e., Muslim-majority countries (!)—now have nuclear weapons, and “the fellow from the badlands” can now ride planes and travel quickly. Later, Steyn recounted a story in which some youths in Belgium assaulted a bus passenger, alleging that it was not at all surprising that the youths were “of Moroccan origin”.

In other words, Maclean’s has already published an extremely racist (and Islamophobic) article in the past. Four years later in 2010, Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” article expresses the same fears about an “Asian invasion” and dismay at the increasing numbers of racialized people in relation to white people within a given population. Not only is Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” a repeat of the W5 “Campus Giveaway” program in 1979 that griped about Asians taking up space in Canadian universities, but it is also a repeat of Maclean’s 2006 article that bemoaned the changing of demographics from white to racialized.

Read the rest of this entry »

White people dislike Asian people attending Canadian universities.

Maclean’s thinks that top Canadian universities are “too Asian”. I didn’t even know how to begin to address the many ways the article fails, but wildunicornherd sums it up pretty well:

The best universities are “too Asian”? How about you’re too racist.

I just love this bit:

To quell the influx of Jewish students, Ivy League schools abandoned their meritocratic admissions processes in favour of one that focused on the details of an applicant’s private life—questions about race, religion, even about the maiden name of an applicant’s mother. Schools also began looking at such intangibles as character, personality and leadership potential. Canadian universities, apart from highly competitive professional programs and faculties, don’t quiz applicants the same way, and rely entirely on transcripts. Likely that is a good thing. And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.

Emphasis mine. Like, “we” realized that racism is wrong so we abandoned the policies that kept out the Jews…which meant we were forced to let in the Asians! God damn you, political correctness! Because we have nothing to fear from a lot of Jews (who are all white Europeans, of course), but a majority of Asians (who may not even be born in Canada! who may *clutches pearls* speak Mandarin!) is a problem that needs to be fixed.

I also love how Asian students associating mainly with other Asian students is a HUGE PROBLEM HOW CAN WE STOP THIS but White students who go to Western because there’s too many icky Chinese at U of T is understandable, y’know?

And by “love” I mean SMASH WITH RAGE.

More coherent commentary from Angry Asian Man.

The article also continually creates a false dichotomy between East Asian students and Canadian-born students (i.e., the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype), as if all East Asians are immigrants, and all Canadian-born Canadians are white:

Sweet’s latest study, “Post-high school pathways of immigrant youth,” released last month, found that more than 70 per cent of students in the Toronto District School Board who immigrated from East Asia went on to university, compared to 52 per cent of Europeans, the next highest group, and 12 per cent of Caribbean, the lowest. This is in contrast to English-speaking Toronto students born in Canada—of which just 42 per cent confirmed admission to university.

Hey, I’m an English-speaking Toronto student born in Canada! Shouldn’t I be applauded for being of the 42 per cent minority of my group—English-speaking Toronto students born in Canada—who attended university? Oh snap, I’m Asian instead of white, so I’m the wrong kind, the kind they don’t want attending university.

Seriously, if you think that my race makes me not fully Canadian, or if you think my race means that I must have the same personality as others who happen to share my race, or if you think that white Canadians are more deserving of Canadian privileges than other Canadians, then you are racist.

Update 2010/11/12: Maysie addresses more reasons why the Maclean’s article fails.