Anti-Asian Racism in Canada: Historical, Social, Economic, Cultural, and Political Processes I

Tuesday May 17 11:00 am to 12:30 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Virtual Platform

Session Code: RAE4A
Session Format: Regular Session
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Race and Ethnicity
Session Categories: Regular Session

Since the global outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, assaults on individuals of Asian descent have increased dramatically in Canada and other western countries. The rise of anti-Asian racism and the experiences of racism by Asians during the pandemic are rooted in historical and institutional structures that are xenophobic and exclusionary. These two sessions bring together papers which explore the historical, social, economic, cultural, and political processes which inform and are informed by anti-Asian racism, as well as the impact of anti-Asian racism on Asians and Asian communities using diverse theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. Tags: Race and Ethnicity

Organizers: Guida Man, York University, Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel and University of Ottawa; Chair: Guida Man, York University


Suzanne Lenon, University of Lethbridge

Racial Geographies of Public Health: Histories of Anti-Chinese Racism in Lethbridge, Alberta

In 1910, the small prairie city of Lethbridge, Alberta passed a municipal bylaw that contained a nuisance section targeting laundries in the name of public health. It came into effect January 1, 1911 and confined Chinese laundries to a roughly three-square block zone that came to be called the “Restricted Area”. In this paper, I discuss some of the entangled relationships between race, public health, and municipal governance in the context of a white settler prairie city. I begin by situating the bylaw’s nuisance section within the broader legislative and social context of anti-Chinese sentiment of the time, often expressed through the trope of “yellow peril” that purportedly threatened the health and vitality of an emerging white settler nation-state. I then turn to the local context and, drawing upon archival newspaper coverage, I trace the ways that this nuisance section was in fact the outcome of long-standing efforts by white-settler residents and municipal leaders to geographically restrict where Chinese-owned businesses, especially laundries, could operate. It had the effect of intensifying the already racialized spatial arrangements in the city’s downtown core, creating what became known (is known today) as Chinatown. The nuisance section shored up racialized socio-economic hierarchies even as it appears as race neutral, one that wove racial difference into its practice. Moreover, Chinese business owners were being restricted within city limits while the people of the Blackfoot Confederacy, on whose territory Lethbridge sits, were simultaneously being relegated to increasingly smaller reserves in the name of capital accumulation. The bylaw was repealed in 1916; however, the paper also reflects on its resonances with the current context of Covid-19: While the bylaw is a small example from the Canadian hinterland, it is an exemplar of the larger story of the articulation of anti-Asian/anti-Chinese racism through public health measures.

Secil Ertorer, Canisius College

Anti-Asian Racism in the Covid-19 Era: Surveys from the USA

In this paper, following Powell (1997), I explore “what race does” to people in the COVID-19 era. The use of anti-Chinese rhetoric such as the “Chinese virus,” and “Chinese eating mice” by some government leaders have reportedly encouraged anti-Asian xenophobia and attacks against people of Asian descent around the world (Human Rights Watch, 2020). As several academic and civil society groups have reported, the COVID-19 pandemic has made people who are perceived as “Asian” more vulnerable to harassment, racism, and discrimination. In this vein, this study explores COVID19-induced xenophobia and racism in the United States where the former president publicly used the term “Chinese virus” and there is no coordinated governmental response aimed at protecting people of Asian descent from people who are influenced by this rhetoric. The quantitative analysis of a survey with Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States (n=333) reveals that there has been a significant increase in anti-Asian racism after the COVID-19. Study participants have experienced or witnessed some form of harassment or racism in relation to the coronavirus. While inappropriate jokes, slurs, derogatory language are found to be common everyday racism, vandalization of property, denial of housing or a job, and physical attack are the most severe forms of discrimination faced by the participants of the study. Asians who identify as biracial with a mix of European and Asian descent reported a significantly lower number of incidents than all other Asian ethnic groups in the study. Experiences of racism were correlated with mental health. Furthermore, these experiences have a negative effect on victims’ sense of belonging to the American society, which is likely to create more divisions and segregation within the American society.

Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel; Karl Yan, Zhejiang University

The Nexus of Geopolitics, Pandemics and Racism: Rethinking Anti-Asian Racism during COVID-19

Why is there rising racism in Canada against Asian Canadians, particularly against Chinese Canadians, during the COVID-19 Pandemic? What factors contribute to it? What are the relationships among pandemics, geopolitics, and anti-Asian racism? This paper sheds light on these questions by advancing a novel theoretical approach, combining variables at both international and domestic levels as well as both top-down and bottom-up processes. This goes beyond the conventional theories of international relations that take top-down approaches, which often neglect the issues of race and migration and bottom-up processes. Conversely, it also complements conventional migration studies and sociology theories that take bottom-up approaches, which often ignore geopolitics at the international level. Using the within-case process tracing, we scrutinize the interaction of pandemics, geopolitics, and anti-Asian racism in the Canadian context across several different historical and contemporary periods. In particular, we examine how the discourse of the COVID-19, the Sino-American rivalry, and the global resurgence of nationalism at the international level, especially in the US, can “travel” to and affect Canadian society. Finally, we address several critical conceptual confusions and misperceptions of Chinese Canadians in the public discourse in Canada. In sum, we show how these international factors interact with Canadian domestic conditions and historical context, creating contemporary misperceptions between people and contributing to the rising Anti-Asian Racism in Canada.