Today, is the International Day for the Elimination of Racism …
Four days ago, on March 17, a white gunman shot dead eight people at a massage parlour in Atlanta. Seven of those murdered were Asian-American women.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of hate crimes have been reported against Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians. In Canada, hate crimes against visible minorities have tripled with most of these crimes targeting Asian-Canadians. Racist violence, racist harassment, racist vandalism, and spitting in the faces of Asian-Canadians are just some of the crimes that have been reported since the pandemic began.
It would be nice to think that anti-Asian racism in Canada was a COVID-19 related phenomenon. It isn’t.
Anti-Asian racism took root in Canada in the late 19th century. Like the U.S., Canada was gripped by the Yellow Peril, a racist fear that the Mongoloid hordes of Asia would flood the west coast. This racist fear encouraged an anti-Asian immigration policy. In 1885, the Canadian government imposed head taxes on Chinese immigrants. In 1923, it passed a law which banned Chinese immigration to Canada completely until 1947.
Anti-Asian racism also has a long history in North American media. Racist stereotyping of Asians in popular culture included the character of Fu Manchu (pictured above), a fictional Chinese villain who was splattered across comic strips, films, television, and novels during the first half the 20th century. During World War II, news media in B.C. portrayed Japanese-Canadians as threats to Canada’s security, imploring the government to remove Japanese-Canadians from the west coast into internment camps. In more recent years, the “Chinese” have been blamed for soaring property prices in Vancouver.
Anti-Asian racism in Canada is nothing new. It needs to be understood in its historical context for it to be meaningfully challenged.