On Tuesday March 17, 2021 a white gunman walked into three massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia and killed eight people, most of them Asian women. On March 18, 2021, a thirty-nine year old man was attacking people of Asian descent in San Francisco, starting with an 83 year old Chinese man. The attacker’s second victim was 76 year old Xiao Zhen Xie, who grabbed the first stick she found and fought back, resulting in her attacker having to be brought to the hospital on a stretcher.
Outrage exploded online in response, and hashtags like #StopAsianHate and #stopwhiteterrorism began trending. As an Asian Canadian, an artist, and an activist, I simply rolled my eyes and sighed.
Though the Chinese have been in North America since before Confederation, Asian Canadians are no strangers to racism. I’ve been fetishized when online dating due to misguided notions of Asian women as exotic and submissive. I have white relatives who refer to Filipinos – my and my mother’s people- as “the help”. Stereotypes about the alleged dangers of MSG, the exotic foods we eat, and myths about Asian bodies continue to exist among whites, even while they appropriate our fashions, our cooking methods and our fighting styles.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. It’s not just violent assaults like what happened in Atlanta and San Francisco. It’s the vandalism of Montreal’s Chinatown. It’s white vegans like Bryan Adams blaming Asian meat eating for the spread of the virus. It’s politicians calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”. It’s harassment in the streets. It’s the refusal to support Asian businesses. For those of us who are mixed, like myself, it’s the refusal to accept “Canadian” as an answer when asked what we are. Whatever form it takes, it’s a pathetic attempt by whites to terrorize people and remind us of a truth we are well-aware of:
That no matter what we do, no matter how long we’ve been in Canada, no matter how well we speak English and French, no matter how much money we put into the economy, we will never be acknowledged as Canadians because we’re not white or white-passing.
It must be said that those attacking Asians are weak, pathetic, and stupid. They are weak and pathetic because those committing anti-Asian hate crimes are largely targeting women and the elderly, probably thinking they’d be an easy mark.
They are stupid because they cannot tell the difference between the Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese etc., and are particularly dumb because they think that myself and the rest of the community will be polite in the face of all the abuse. The fact that an elderly Chinese woman with no grasp of English was able to put her attacker in the hospital is proof we won’t go quietly. When I saw that article I smiled because I know my mother and late grandmother would have responded in the exact same way: by fighting back.
It is reassuring that most responses to the hate crimes have been outraged and supportive, but it’s not enough. If you don’t speak out against hate crimes, you are complicit in perpetuating them, and you leave us, Canadians and Americans, to fight alone.
Speak out if you hear someone using anti-Asian slurs or speaking of Filipino immigrants as a commodity that can be bought and sold. Call out cultural appropriation and whitewashing when you see or hear it, and support organizations like the Center for Research Action on Race Relations that promote racial equality and combat racism in Canada.
That said: if you are fine with all of the harassment and assault and you truly believe Asians are to blame for this pandemic, do us a favour. Put down the soy sauce, the Sriraracha, sesame oil, and the Sushi. Quit the martial arts class you’re taking, give away your Bruce Lee movies and posters, and avoid our markets. You do not get to profit off the contributions of Asians in North America if you won’t treat us with the same dignity you expect from others.
We’re better off without you, and we’re not going anywhere.
Featured Image: Screengrab from WXIA Atlanta