By Justine Namara and Arsheen Kaur, Skills for Change
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in the incidents of Anti-Asian racism across Canada and around the world affecting the mental, social and economic well-being of Asian communities. But Anti-Asian racism faced and lived by Asian communities everyday is not a recent phenomenon, it has its roots in Canada’s social, political and institutional history and continues to surface in society and the workplace leaving social and psychological impacts on Asian communities.
At the recent Spotlight Series, moderated by Skills for Change’s CEO, Surranna Sandy, expert leaders from the academic, private and public sectors reflected on the experiences of racism in Asian communities, addressing anti-Asian racism in a holistic way, the need for policy approaches, and how we can come together to fight Anti-Asian racism. The panelists shared their perspectives of battling Anti-Asian racism on a daily basis and echoed the need for immediate policy reforms to create a safe and equitable Canada.
Reflecting on experiences of Anti-Asian racism
Addressing the undercurrents of Anti-Asian racism in the Canadian society and workplace, Victor Tung, U.S. Chief Technology and Operations Officer, Technology and Operations, BMO Financial Group said, “As the incidents of Anti-Asian racism started to exacerbate during the COVID-19 pandemic, the worsening scenario and media attention made it more perturbing to see and accept the increasing counts of racism,” Victor Tung noted. “As leaders, we must understand that combatting racism demands action every day and at every level involving educating ourselves and the community, and calling out our unconscious biases in the broader community.” He noted that Anti-Asian racism manifests itself differently across countries. “In Canada, it is by the way of microaggressions causing anxiety and discomfort. By speaking up and calling out the biases, we can begin our journey of instigating systemic change in the society.”
Mohammed Hashim, Executive Director, Canadian Race Relations Foundation relayed experiences of Anti-Asian racism, identified existing gaps to combat instances of racism and religion-based discrimination and provided insights on racism’s impact on individuals and society. “The term Asian presents a wide range and a mixture of identities, commonalities and unique experiences underlining the fact that Asia cannot be bulked together and that different communities will need supports.” With current discussions of legislation to curb hate crimes and media attention on the recent hate motivated crimes, he added, “we desperately need to see legislative tools to curb online hate, and to reduce the level of vitriol online and rebalance towards civil discourse”. Mohammed Hashim further expounded that, “As part of Canada’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan, stringent policy approaches to confront Anti-Asian racism must be prioritized, as the pandemic has such fuelled such sentiment. Asian Canadians, like all Canadians deserve the right to live in safety, free from discrimination.”
Highlighting initiatives to support Asian communities amid the ongoing racist attacks, Julie Kim, Founder, Go Be Safe, said, “The slew of violence and racist attacks, and my personal experiences inspired me to create the Go Be Safe initiative. It offers safe ride shares and helps pay cab fares for Asian/Pacific Islander communities in Toronto and Vancouver.” Julie Kim further expounded on Anti-Asian racism in Canada, “Since anti-Asian racism has not been a very popular topic in discussion forums in the last few years, it is now time that Canada recognizes the Anti-Asian racism triggered crimes are making Asian communities feel unsafe. As responsible individuals, it’s important we make ourselves aware and respond to any kind of racist attacks around us.”
Providing insights on Anti-Asian racism experiences, uncovering the ‘model minority’ myth, and noting an increase in anxiety and depression among targeted Asian communities, Dr. Kenneth Fung, Staff Psychiatrist and Clinical Director, at the Asian Initiative in Mental Health Program of the Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network, and Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, said, “Anti-Asian racism, embedded in our system, dates back to the founding of Canada. Across the world, many countries have allowed anti-Asian racism to penetrate the system through denial, ignorance, and stereotyping. The ‘model minority’ myth, promoting Anti-Asian bias by stereotyping them as industrious and submissive workers and brushing off existing inequities and disparities, contributes to the invisibility of Anti-Asian racism and discrimination,” Dr. Fung noted. “Families and communities facing incidents of hatred and violence tend to draw on traditional Asian way of tackling the crises through maintaining silence, peace, and harmony. As research points towards an increase in anxiety, depression, and sleep problems among the targeted Asian communities, the deteriorating mental health has emerged as a serious concern, worsening since the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to build safe spaces for the communities where they can voice their experiences, support each other, and stand united against racism and discrimination.”
Deconstructing the challenges and addressing Anti-Asian racism
Mohammed Hashim underscored the need for policy change to address race-based and religion-based hate crimes and highlighted existing gaps in policies in Canada. He said, “The absence of any significant policy reforms has, in a way, allowed the discrimination and hate crimes to increase and cause anxiety and fear in communities,” Mohammed Hashim noted. “Strong legislation around online hate and will set precedence and add much-needed accountability. The law enforcement agencies need to hold the perpetrators accountable and criminally responsible. At the municipal level, formation of diversity and inclusion committees and collaboration with local agencies will ensure societal understanding, support and empathy around race-based and religion-based crimes.”
In response to the affected mental health due to the ongoing Anti-Asian racism and to overcome the stigma attached to mental health treatment, Dr. Kenneth Fung highlighted, “We need to put the focus towards individuals and communities facing racism and discrimination, address their distress and pain and provide mental health supports including interventions and services against stigma to uplift individuals and communities from psychological trauma. It also includes promoting institutional, systemic, and societal changes, including mobilizing the communities; acknowledging the degree of racism, hurt, and disparities; setting up diversity offices in institutions; and making equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies and enforcing them.”
Julie Kim and Victor Tung echoed similar sentiments with the latter adding, “We need a proactive approach emphasizing on responsibility and accountability at an individual level, community level and corporate level which involves speaking up, raising awareness and reporting.”
Concluding the engaging discussion, Surranna Sandy, CEO of Skills for Change, highlighted the pertinence of this discussion on Anti-Asian racism, breaking the stereotyping and stigmatization of Asian Canadians, countering the misinformation and unconscious biases attached to the Asian communities and rethinking policy approaches at every level to combat the ongoing racial injustices and violence to build an inclusive and fair Canada.
For over 38 years, Skills for Change has supported the integration and well-being of immigrants and refugees in Canada. For more information, please visit www.skillsforchange.org, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
The Spotlight Series recordings are available at skillsforchange.org/spotlight-series/.
For more information about the Spotlight Series, please contact Justine Namara, Associate Director, Programs and Strategic Initiatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.