ANTI-ASIAN RACISM UNDONE
Points of Departure: Opening Thoughts from the
Anti-Asian Racism Undone Programming Collective
Livestreamed on May 29th, 2021
Good afternoon. I'm Beverly Bain.
Min Sook Lee:
And I'm Min Sook Lee.
Welcome to Scholar Strike Canada Anti-Asian Racism Undone, a two-day event with activists, academics, and artists in conversation about the realities of the recent rise in anti-Asian racism and violence. Before we get started with our amazing program, let's start with the land acknowledgement. The land in the space we are meeting in is the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is now home to many diverse nations, Inuit and Métis. This area is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Treaty. The Dish With One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishnaabe, the Mississaugas, and the Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land, subsequent Indigenous nations and peoples in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect.
Our activism and organizing as Blacks, Asians and racialized peoples, and the violence we experience are intricately linked to the extensive and pervasive effects of colonialism, settler colonialism, genocide and slavery. As peoples situated on what the Haudenosaunee people of the longhouse called Turtle Island, we must understand our roles and responsibilities to the Indigenous peoples of this land. The clear links between colonization and slavery and all other forms of violence highlight the need for us to be in solidarity with Indigenous peoples’ struggle for sovereignity land and freedom.
At this moment, we need to announce and we need to state that we mourn with our Indigenous colleagues and with Indigenous communities, the missing and murdered 215 Indigenous children, an act of genocide, discovered a day ago, in a mass grave on the grounds of a former residential school in British Columbia, if we can just take a minute of silence to honor our Indigenous the Indigenous children whose lives have been taken, and to support our Indigenous allies and academics and communities.
Min Sook Lee:
Thank you, Beverly, for that land acknowledgement and also for recognizing the history and the ongoing struggles that we work in. We'd also like to take a moment to recognize the passing of Aziz Choudry, a brilliant scholar activist whose activism and writing was committed to supporting Indigenous, Palestinian, and anti-colonial struggles around the world. Through the years Aziz never stopped believing in ordinary people's capacity to build justice together. I am still in shock, having learned of Aziz’s passing just a few days ago, and I've been rereading some of his books which I've got, Learning Activism, Unfree Labor. Through the years - I was just reading one of his books, Learning Activism, and he wrote in this, “I still live inside a hope for a better world and other ways of doing things.” Aziz Choudry is no longer with us. But as an educator who supported the work of countless emergent scholar activists, he was ensuring that there would be hundreds like him who continue the struggle within that hope. We sent heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and political allies.
Now Scholar Strike Canada's Anti-Asian Racism Undone weekend program has been supported by many partners. And you can see the list of our partners on our website and in all of our promotional material. We've made the decision to decline funding support for anti-Asian Racism Undone from the University of Toronto, because we want to support the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ censure of the University of Toronto. And we also want to acknowledge that censure should be exercised according to the means of the participating individuals and organizations. The application of censure that negatively impacts those who are most precarious among us is not in the interest of the broader social justice goals, foundational to this act of censure. If you'd like more information about the CAUT censure of the University of Toronto, you can visit CensureUofT.ca. Or you can also see our panel on the censure issue, which we did on May 20, which is on our website, and there's a fulsome discussion with UT faculty and Dave Robinson, the executive director of CAUT.
I'd like to now invite the members of the Anti-Asian Racism Undone programming collective to the room to share some opening thoughts with you for this weekend. And I'm going to introduce you alphabetically one by one.
Robert Diaz is Associate Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Institute at University of Toronto. His research focuses on the experiences of sexual minorities, with particular attention to Filipino diasporic communities in the transpacific, Philippines, United States, and Canada. Welcome.
Richard Fung is a video artist, writer and Professor Emeritus at OCAD University. His work documents the experiences of queer Asians, and has explored gay Asian spectatorship of pornography, Chinese and Indo-Canadian historiography, police racism, refugee rights, justice in Israel/Palestine, Indo-Caribbean history and complexities in his Chinese Trinidadian family. Welcome Richard.
Monika Kin Gagnon writes on art, culture and politics and is Professor of Communication Studies, Concordia University. She is author of Other Conundrums: Race, Culture and Canadian Art; co-author with Richard Fung and 13 artists/writers of 13 Conversations about Art and Cultural Race Politics/Territoires et Trajectoires.
Shellie Zhang is a multidisciplinary artist. She explores how integration, diversity and assimilation is implemented and negotiated, and how manifestations of these ideas relate to lived experiences. Zhang is interested in how culture is learned and sustained, and how the objects and iconographies of culture are remembered and preserved.
Welcome to the AARU programming collective. Good morning, everyone. It's great to see you in the morning. Usually our programming meetings are at night, late at night. So our programming choices have been quite deliberate. We have focused on culture representation, worker rights solidarities, abolition and education. And in some ways, they're continuing conversations that each of us have been having for some time, haven't they? Monica, did you want to begin?
Monika Kin Gagnon:
Thank you, Min Sook, oh, my screen disappeared. And I also want to thank Beverly as well. So my name is Monica and I send greetings to all of you from Tiohtià:ke or Montreal, which is the traditional unceded territory -
Min Sook Lee:
Monica, there's something about your microphone. I wonder whether it's your paper that's muffling the microphone because it's hard for me to hear you.
Monika Kin Gagnon:
Sorry, I'm so nervous I wrote everything up. Is that better? So I do want to thank all my co-organizers here, you've been amazing, and also the participants over the next couple of days. And the individuals who are helping behind the scenes to make this happen, Rajean, who’s there, I also want to acknowledge my colleague, Dr. Alice Jim, who is helping to sponsor this event through her research center EAHR Media, Ethnocultural Art Histories Research at Concordia University.
So when I was first invited to begin contributing to this event, Min Sook, Robert, and Richard had begun composing a manifesto. And this was to articulate the commitments and the context that was shaping this event. So it served as a kind of a backdrop. It was quite long, and it went through many iterations and additions and fine tuning. But it eventually evolved into the simpler Points of Departure that you can find on the About page for this event on the Scholar Strike website. As points of departure, as opposed to a manifesto, we're hoping that this weekend of conversations and contributions is going to be a catalyst for all of you and also for all of us.
In particular, I wanted to highlight one of the points that resonates particularly for me as a person of mixed race descent, and who is positioned and perceived in quite different ways depending on the context that I'm in. So this particular point begins like this. Anti-Asian racism in Canada and Asia is rooted in white supremacy, linked to the enslavement of Africans, and to European settler colonialism in Canada and elsewhere. And then it goes on to read: “To effectively counter anti-Asian racism, we reject racial hierarchies that serve colonial and capitalist interests, and invest in a profound transformation of society.” So this point here is an impetus to disrupt the proliferating discourses of Asian hate, and Asian racial essentialism, which Richard will speak to in a moment, and alternatively recognize how anti-Asian racism is part of a more general white supremacy and structures that systemically devalue and dehumanize Black and Indigenous lives, and people of color, including Asians, against which coalitions and solidarities between us can be an antidote.
In recent weeks, during Asian Heritage Month, we've seen how challenging it is to disrupt public discourses of Asian and Asian Canadian identity with PSAs and public statements and hashtags that seem to internalize the racism and tropes that create ‘the Asian’ as a singular and simplistic category. And as Beverly just said, in this past week, we've heard the horrific deeply sad news of a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children that was revealed near a former interior BC residential school in Tk'emlúps te Secwepemc territory. This is part of a historical legacy of colonization, which we must equally be responsible and responsive to, and we send condolences, strength and solidarity to those affected by this recent news, and residential school history. And we support Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society and their call to actions from the federal government.
I'll be facilitating the first panel at 1pm entitled Pulse of the Moment, which checks the cross-country pulse and wellbeing of communities from the East to the West coast, demonstrating the complex and distinctive experiences of Asian Canadians, and of communities across this country. And now I'd like to pass it over to Shellie. Thank you.
Thanks so much, Monica. Hi, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. My name is Shellie and I'm an artist and arts worker. I'm a first generation settler on this land, having moved back and forth in various parts of China, the US in my early life before finally crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and then spending a large portion of my life here.
And so what I'd like to think, for us to ruminate on this particular afternoon as a point of departure, is to consider refusal. And by refusal I mean a few things. Firstly, I consider a refusal, as a refusal to let Asian lives be scapegoated for COVID-19 as white supremacy, sexism, and imperialism continue to present our lives as disposable to justify the violence inflicted on us. Thinking from D’Arcy Island in the early 20th century, where Chinese men with leprosy were forcibly placed on an island to await deportation or death, to San Francisco where Chinatown spaces for destroyed under suspicion of smallpox and malaria, and to the more recent SARS outbreak when we see the same rhetoric of blame and disease being circulated, these are long-standing and dehumanizing modes of racism shapeshifting into new forms.
I think of political candidates such as Andrew Yang calling for more policing and visible patriotism as a solution, as Canadian MPs such as Derek Sloan accuse Teresa Tam of working for the Chinese government. And I hope for a refusal to accept the lies that hard work and demonstrations of nationhood will eventually grant us a seat at some coveted table. Diversity and multiculturalism can fall prey to essentialist ways of being, and what is really needed are ways of being where humanity isn't conditional. I'm also reflecting on refusal as refusal to, like Monica and Beverly mentioned, let us be weaponized against communities we stand in solidarity with and forge alliances with. and I think of Mari Matsuda’s piece “We Will Not Be Used,” where she asks Asian Americans to think about the ways in which our communities are particularly susceptible to playing the worst version of the racial bourgeois evil at the expense of Black, brown and Indigenous communities. When I see highly produced PSAs focusing on awareness that anti-Asian racism exists, or that the shape of one's eyes is no excuse for violence, I think, haven't we known this for centuries, has our rhetoric not moved beyond this yet? These presentations feel like they're two steps backwards sometimes. And I hope for a refusal to accept conditional belonging, by believing that our collective liberation lies in offerings of representation that are made palpable, because what good is representation and visibility without safety and permanence?
In 2016, Bell Hooks talked about the need to restore feminism as a political movement, and that the challenge to patriarchy is political, not a lifestyle or identity. I've been thinking about this and the need to restore Asian as a political movement, not just a lifestyle or identity. And in Canada, so-called Canada where we're so often compared to the US, and cited as the better half and reminded to be grateful. I'll segue into my last point of departure, which is a refusal to let the scope of our existence, imagination and dreams be limited. Listening, chatting and talking with the committee here over the past month has been a real joy amidst Asian Heritage Month and the observations of the limitations in that. And so I'm really excited to leap off our collective points of departure. And thank you for everyone, for joining us this weekend. And I will throw it off to Richard.
Thanks, Shellie. And I want to start also by thanking my wonderful co-organizers. It's been a joy. And it's given motivation to actually do work as a way of thinking through and responding to this moment. I also want to thank Beverly and Min Sook for starting this platform, which has been so important in raising so many issues, more recently the issue around justice in Palestine, and the CAUT and the response to discrimination at the U of T law school.
I think that this moment calls for critical thinking. To this end I've been struck by the ubiquity of the slogan “anti-Asian hate.” Framing anti-Asian racism as arising from hate troubles me for the following four reasons. First, the dictionary definition of hate is “intense or passionate dislike.” I'm sure that there are people who passionately dislike Asians, and the last president of the United States clearly attempted to whip up anti-Chinese sentiment. I'd argue, however, that in Canada, people with an intense dislike of Asians are a minority. The rising though still relatively small number of violent acts against those perceived as Chinese produce alarm. And if they happen to you, can be traumatic. I still remember the last time someone in Toronto hurled mock Chinese at me, and how destabilizing it was. And that was actually decades ago. But while I'm alert to racism, I always am, fear is not productive. And I'm frankly not scared of my fellow Torontonians.
Second, by reducing racism to hostile feelings, hate misses a more important systemic racism. And by systemic I mean that racist outcomes are not the result of individual intentions, but from normal ways of doing things, like the 2017 university study that found the job applicants with Chinese, Indian and Pakistani names were less likely to receive interviews than candidates with English names, even when those candidates had superior Canadian qualifications, and I doubt that those hiring committee members actually saw themselves as “hating Asians.”
Third, hate suggests animosity, but racist stereotypes and dynamics can inform even our most intimate friendships and love relationships. And even as a child, I noticed the coexistence of prejudice and love in my multiracial Chinese Trinidadian family, so we need a much more robust understanding. Finally, hate can slip into the logic of hate speech and hate crimes. It justifies state surveillance and policing at a time and progressives are calling for defunding the police for abolition. Police and incarceration disproportionately target Black, Indigenous, mentally disabled, poor, homeless, trans and gender non-conforming people, as well as sex workers, undocumented migrants, refugees. More policing leads to more injustice.
In my remaining minutes, here are six factors I think we need to consider. Very quickly because we know this is part of an ongoing conversation. First, the history of anti-Asian racism in Canada, going back to the 19th century, like the political discourse and government measures to contain Chinese labor and settlement in British Columbia, to prevent would-be Indian immigrants on the Komagata Maru from landing in Vancouver. Like the dispossession and internment and the displacement of Japanese Canadians. Second, we need to appreciate the continuity and disjunctures from this earlier moment. The rise of Asian economies and the threats they pose for a declining West inform how the region and the people associated with it are viewed, particularly the economic and geopolitical competition with China. Other parts of Asia are seen as pools of cheap labor. Third, it's important to recognize the differences among us. There's enormous income inequality among Asians in North America, both between and within ethnic groups. Under neoliberal capitalism, economic disparity is growing. And what does it tell us those targeted for assault are mostly women and elderly people? Fourth, we need to attend to the local. The social and political context in Vancouver is different from Toronto, and Toronto is different from Montreal. The experience in cities is different from in rural areas, and I'm glad Monica is going to follow this up with her panel. And then fifth, we need to understand how white supremacy functions, and form solidarities against all forms of racism, colonialism, imperialism, and ethnic nationalism, and towards social justice. Finally, I think we need to learn about and to learn from our histories of resistance. And now I'll pass it on to Min Sook.
Min Sook Lee:
Thank you, Richard. I love hearing this, because I actually haven't heard your thoughts. This is all fresh news to me, is really quite - to me, it's inspiring. But it's also really thoughtful, it points to all the different places that we’re coming from, but working together in a collective to speak to this moment. And I really appreciate the complexities but the diversities of what we're bringing to the table. And I do see our points of departure for me as taking this moment into another, hopefully more radical one, premised on systemic and structural change. You know, because of the sheer intensity of the racism and violence directed towards people who are seen as Asian, we are having this conversation right now, right. Not just in activist spaces, but in mainstream venues where university presidents, state leaders, and celebrities are now rushing to lead the conversation. And I think what happens then in this instance, is they flood the channels with their message and they divert attention from naming the underlying issues, and they kind of embalm everything, they persist in subverting, silencing and sanitizing our histories of resistance. So, the state-sanctioned messages that focus on the nebulous idea of hatred, that individualizes pain and offers a kind of counseling tone, right? Like, sorry for your trauma, are you okay? Right? Aspirational messages of hope, of pride these kind of empty feel goodisms that demand belonging without critiquing what we're claiming to belong to? We're not supposed to then see how the violence we experienced is historical and systemic, and structural.
So I'm concerned about the deflection, the diversion, and the distraction that ensures things mostly remain the same. You know, I'm concerned about the appropriate of the energy of a movement, you know, the appropriation that kind of wrings life out of it. And I think we know too much to remain still. In the past year alone, we've just seen too much reality. The hypocrisy of celebrating essential workers at the outset of the pandemic, most who are racialized, and then denying them paid sick leave, a livable wage, or basic things like public transit that's accessible, affordable and convenient, right? And we've seen vaccines, space, and resources hoarded by the wealthy, leaving the poor and homeless with little or no protection from the virus. And at the same time, banks and multinational corporations like Amazon have boosted their profits during the pandemic.
Now, what's clear is racism is violence rooted in white supremacy, and racism and capitalism are two sides of the same dirty coin. So in this moment, we're here one year after the murder of George Floyd by police, we have witnessed a massive global uprising led by Black activists. And many Blacks racialized and Indigenous people here in Canada had been killed by police during the pandemic - last year, including D’Andre Taylor (*correction: D'Andre Campbell), Chantel Moore, Ejaz Choudry, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet who died in the presence of police. We're here in a moment of violence, in the aftermath, just months after the shooting of Asians in Atlanta, the ongoing attacks on Asians here in Canada. And as was spoken a few times today, we need to speak to continuously the discovery of a mass grave of Indigenous children's bodies in Kamloops, beneath one of Canada's largest residential schools. That's evidence of the ongoing genocide, racism sustained by systems of white supremacy and capitalism that this nation is built upon. So there's organizing in this moment, of course there's organizing, how can there not be, right? And yet, when people organize, they are met by policing. And what we're witnessing is an increased escalation of policing and surveillance during the pandemic. This is a public health crisis. But in places like our campuses, that I teach in, this public health crisis is being treated as though it's a security crisis. So we're seeing more policing, and more securitization.
So I think we know this is a moment and an opportunity where we can fight back in grief, rage, and hope. And I think social change happens when ordinary people get together, share their experiences, and come up with strategies to fight back. And you really only need at least one experience of what it feels like to take back power, to exercise it, to use it, to learn how it's done. It's the teaching of resistance that I'd like to be part of in this moment, to ensure our stories of resistance have not been erased, forgotten or neutralized. And I don't believe the world we live in should remain undisturbed. I don't think this is as good as it gets. We need to support revolutionary re-thinks because otherwise things will be the same as it ever was, with tweaks, additions to a house that fundamentally remains the master’s house, where we are house servants, guest workers and ornaments. So to me, this is an organizing moment, and we're here for it. It's time to use creative strategies that challenge power. Robert.
Robert, thanks, Min Sook. As you can see, to be around people of this magnitude, and thinking, and being, and caring, is actually something that has been incredibly, incredibly meaningful to me. Thank you, Beverly and Min Sook for beginning our conversation, beginning our point of departure. You know, also, as people started talking about their entry points to this event, you realize our manifesto comes together, and they want to use the word Min Sook began us with, which is deliberate. But actually, the two words are deliberate - it's deliberate, and deliberate. Right? It means to think together to come together to understand, to dialogue, to debate, to be together.
For me I'm just gonna start with a story. And I want to kind of think through all of the words that came up to me as folks are really thinking about the intentionality of this event. I moved to the states when I was 17. And I was an undocumented immigrant. I didn't get into any university in the US then, except UC Riverside, University California, Riverside gave me a chance. And so I came in. At that time there was a lot of laws in California, that was almost considering allowing undocumented immigrants to go to school and pay resident - they can't be eligible for anything else, but they can pay resident tuition. And so then I was able to go, and it was also at the same time that affirmative action was under threat in California. And so then there was group - so, UC Riverside was majority Chicano, Black students, Asian students, Filipino students coming together, many of them are undocumented, like Filipino kind of students.
And so there was one meeting, because George Bush had just won the presidency. And so he was visiting California. And people were like, oh, let's get together and throw eggs at him, or whatever is kind of like the meat of the conversation. And I said to them, I'm not sure I'm ready to throw eggs, because I'm worried I'll be deported, I said, to the people in the room. And I remember a friend of mine, he was Chicano and also undocumented, he said you know, that's fine. Because you're in the room. You're here to have a conversation. When I think about what the last thing Min Sook said, it was refusal to sanitize right? I think of that moment as a kind of way to think about care differently, and to think about risk differently. We have to think about, what do we put in line? What do we put out there? What do we think about when we are actually creating these kinds of collectives and social movements?
I think about Richard talking about the systemic. The systemic there is a process that really is about both settler colonial processes that deny and gives citizenship, right, and practices that actually in many ways sanitize and make that moment less complex than it is. It's not just about refusal, it's not just about any of these other things, it's not just about hate, it's actually about care, it's about the kind of solidarity, it's about a kind of framework. So thinking about what Shellie talked about, which is all those conditional things, conditional freedoms, conditional humanities, conditional joy, conditional collectives - maybe we have to think about who conditions those things. How do we get here? How do we get to this point? If we're going to move ahead to a point of departure, maybe we have to reshape not only the dreams, but actually call on the things that condition what those dreams look like, what those dreams are made of, and also what those dreams mean to the people who make them. And thinking about the kind of critique that Monica gave of singularity, I think we need abundance. We need an abundance of approaches to the state, and abundance of approaches to being together. I think of all of the mentors and community members that I'm with. Part of being together is also having pleasure and joy, and being together and realizing that, it's actually when the state victimizes us and uses a particular version of us as a victim, that it wins. That actually in many ways, we have to figure out ways of being together.
To the end of our manifesto we say, we need to understand ways of dreaming for ourselves and for each other. and that means actually a kind of intimacy, a kind of empathy, a kind of acknowledgement of privilege, a kind of acknowledgement of our different relations to power, a kind of acknowledgement around the different ways we can speak, and those of us cannot. And the kind of acknowledgement about the ways that there are people who will never be in the room, but we have to echo, and we have to recite, and we have to cite, and we have to think about. And so as we embark on this point of departure in this possible journey, I'd like us to be present in all the ways that that can look like, mean, feel. Because it is a moment of deliberation. But it is a deliberate action, to be there to be together and to move in certain directions. And I think that's where I'm coming from. And from a real space of - not in the way that Asian, Canadian Asian North American gratitude is used by the state as a thing to thankfulness, that's actually not true. There's a thankfulness that is about responsibility. It's about commitment, and I commit with the people that I'm with in this space, and that I'm listening to today, to do what I can. This has done the good work, look at the dreamers now, right. I couldn't throw an egg, but now they're in their space, demanding - look at what's happened. So it can happen. So now we have to be deliberate as we deliberate. Thank you.
Min Sook Lee:
Thanks so much, Robert. So I think that's a really good foundational start for our weekend program. And we're going to conclude this opening part. We're going to come back at 1 o’clock EST with Monica - Monica, do you just want to give a highlight as to who's going to be speaking with you at one o'clock?
Monika Kin Gagnon:
Sure, I can do that. We're going to have seven participants and speakers that are coming from Halifax to Vancouver. We have Lu Xu from Halifax, we have Mei Chiu from Montreal, we have Angie Wong and Jayal Chung that are coming from Thunder Bay, Ontario, not Toronto. We have Maribeth Tabanera who's coming from Winnipeg, and we have jaqs. I'm sorry, I don't have the list in front of me but jaqs is coming from Calgary. And then Kirsten Emiko McAllister from Vancouver. And we've been on zoom together for the last two weeks. So we hope we've got all our time zones calibrated properly and we look forward to seeing everybody in 25 minutes.
Min Sook Lee:
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