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.

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Tim Wise is my white blog-friend.

In Reading Comprehension 101: Text, Subtext and the Politics of Misinterpretation, Tim Wise writes (emphasis mine):

In other words, putting aside the inherent absurdity of this interpretation — I am white after all, as are my kids, as is my wife, as is my momma, all my immediate family and my best friend too — some who read the piece believe against all logic and in the face of plain English (however aggressive the piece may be), that I have announced, excitedly, the coming of a glorious race war and the end of white people.

Normally, when a white person asserts that she is “not racist” because she has a black friend or he has an Asian wife, it is considered an invalid argument, because knowing a person of colour does not grant immunity from being racist. Here, Tim Wise argues that he is not anti-white, because he is white, his wife is white, his best friend is white, etc.

I would normally consider this bad form, since making this argument may give some people the impression that the tired “black friend” defense is acceptable. However, some readers of my blog have constantly accused me of being “racist against white people”, so I will try to follow Tim Wise’s lead and invoke whiteness as a defense against accusations of being anti-white.

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Together, womyn of colour struggle with shadeism.

This well-done, Canadian documentary (20 minutes) on shadeism and light-skin privilege features the stories of young womyn of colour from Toronto:

Nayani Thiyagarajah narrates:

Four women, four stories, all connected to my own. We represent the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and South Asia. We represent Grenada, Venezuela, Trinidad, Angola, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. We represent Canada. Really, we represent an international narrative of sorts, a collective Herstory of womyn of colour. These are my friends, womyn I talk to, spend time with, and share with. And we all share the issue of shadeism from within each of our own cultures. Because of this, I knew it was important for us to come together, to talk about where shadeism comes from, how it affects us, and how we can possibly move forward together.

Link: Shadeism documentary (via Racialicious)

The Hidden Job Market – Whiteness Has Its Privileges

© Copyright 2010 by Joseph Worrell. Reproduced with permission on Restructure!.

In February 2006, The Canadian Labour Congress presented a disturbing study on Canadian workers. The report maintained that Canadian-born visible minorities faced the highest barriers to steady, well-paying jobs of any group in the country.

Post 911 Arab-West Asians came in first with a 14% unemployment rate, Blacks at 11.5% and Latin Americans at 10.5%. Aboriginal Canadians also failed to reap many job rewards but statistics curiously grouped them with unemployed Euro-Canadians.

The Labour Congress’ study caused a bit of quandary, except among those who are already “in the know” about the dilemma.

Leslie Cheung, of Simon Fraser University, declared the report could not disavow “workplace inequality with education disparities because non-White Canadians are better educated as a whole than native-born Whites and immigrants”. The Labour Congress predicts the situation to worsen as huge numbers of non-White young people enter the job market.

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Commercials conflate whiteness with modernity.

In Romanticizing Ancient Chinese Wisdom at Sociological Images, Lisa Wade writes:

This 40-second commercial for HSBC bank, sent in by Michelle F., is an excellent example of the way that non-white and non-Western people are often portrayed as more deeply cultural, connected to the past, and closer to nature than their white, Western counterparts. Sometimes this is done in order to demonize a culture as “barbaric,” other times it is used to infantilize them as “primitive.” In this case, it romanticizes.

[…]

Running on both English and Chinese language channels, the commercial contrasts the wise Chinese man with the young, white man. The music, the boats, their clothing and hats, and their fishing methods all suggest that the Chinese are more connected to their own long-standing (ancient?) cultural traditions, ones that offered them an intimate and cooperative relationship to nature. Simultaneously, it erases Chinese modernity, fixing China somewhere back in time.

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Black Coolness is higher-status than Asian Dorkiness.

''Power to the people. Black power to black people. Yellow power to yellow people.''The Racialicious post, Talking About The Things We Do To Each Other, is an important intra-POC conversation about tensions between black people and (East) Asian people (or rather between non-Asian black people and non-black Asian people). This is an incredibly complex topic, and I will have to respond to this issue through multiple posts.

Firstly, however, I must strongly disagree with Thea Lim’s characterization of East Asians:

I had a long convo with my friend L about this last week, where he said that East Asian students always gravitate towards white students, whereas African American students will usually stick together. The more we talked about it, the more I realised that he thought East Asian students do that because they aspire to whiteness, and because they can – economic privilege or light skin privilege allows them to do so. I was surprised to realise that he didn’t get it – East Asian students gravitate towards white students as a means of protection from the particular kind of racism that East Asians experience; where they are always made to feel as if they are from somewhere else.

Not only does this not apply to me as a (non-black) Chinese Canadian, but this whole situation does not apply to the schools I attended growing up. Perhaps it is a class difference and/or regional demographic difference, but the situation that Thea describes would be impossible at the public schools I attended.

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