This week’s murders of predominantly Asian American women in a US comes amid increased examples of anti-Asian sentiment in action, and therefore rising fears in Asian communities.
White this surge is frightening and disheartening and shows us the reality of hate in it’s many forms, it is not new. And comes from the roots of devaluing people based on skin colour and culture: white supremacy, and racism.
The current surge is related to the pandemic – as is fuelled by media, politicians and fear.
But what allows these ideas and sentiments to flourish? What plants the seeds that become acts of hate?
And the belief that some people have less value than others. Because of skin colour and culture.
This is not new – there is history that documents these sentiments, specific to people of Asian descent.
History and Anti-Asian Sentiment
Here are a few relevant pieces of North American history:
- In Canada and the USA, the railway was built by workers who came to North America from China specifically for this purpose. Thousands died.
- Immigrants from China helped to build the Canadian and US economies – building the railroad, working on farms, in the logging industry and opening businesses. Regardless, immigrants from China were met with hostility and racism.
- After the railways were complete, both Canada and the USA passed laws to curb immigration from China – The Chinese Exclusion Act (USA 1882) and Chinese Immigration Act (Canada, 1885). Both included a fee for immigration called a “head tax”
- Japanese Canadians were also the targets of racism and hate during WWII, culminating in the seizing of businesses and property and the removal of people of Japanese descent from their homes and placing them in Japanese Internment Camps in the USA and Canada
Racism is Systemic
These examples show the systemic nature of racism – that ultimately laws and policies are created by beliefs and thoughts about worth and value (and fear). Once systemic, this racism becomes even more a part of a country’s narrative, and is given space to continue and grow – both overtly and covertly.
History is important because it speaks to Othering, Xenophobia, racism and ultimately white supremacy in action.
The hate and violence being experienced by Asian Canadians and Asian Americans currently related to the pandemic is a current example with the same roots.
We know, however, that people of Asian descent are not just experiencing hate and violence at the hands and mouths of people who are white. While racism is tied to power, to systems, and to white supremacy, racial discrimination is not. Racial discrimination is the same sentiment, the same othering, but without the systems of power supporting it. Racial discrimination can happen to anyone – and can therefore happen within communities of colour (towards other people of colour or towards people who are white).
The difference is not in the sentiment or the beliefs, the difference is that racial discrimination (unlike racism) does not have the systems that uphold and support the sentiment and beliefs. This changes the context, which ultimately adds to the experience.
This may be a difficult concept to grasp, but consider the impact of a personal act of prejudice and hate due to “race” (racial discrimination) within a whole system and structure that supports it, and you’ll begin to see and feel the extra weight that racism (or any ism) carries – a weight and context that one cannot escape.
As you go about your day, I challenge you to pay attention to how racial discrimination and racism manifest themselves in action. Speak up and step in when you can. And notice the silence and inaction as well – these are fuelled by beliefs that some people have less value than others.
Copyright 2021 Annemarie Shrouder