ActiveHistory.ca repost – White Supremacy, Political Violence, and Community: The Questions We Ask, from 1907 to 2017

The editors of ActiveHistory.ca are currently enjoying our annual end of summer hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.  Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post by Laura Ishiguro and Laura Madokoro was originally featured on September 7, 2017.

Building damaged during Vancouver riot of 1907 – 130 Powell Street. UBC Archives, JCPC_ 36_017

In recent weeks, we have seen white supremacist rallies in cities across North America, from Charlottesville to Quebec City. On each occasion, anti-fascist and anti-racist activists, along with other community members, have confronted these rallies with large and diverse counter-demonstrations, largely shutting them down, overwhelming them, or rendering them caricatures of their original plans.  On 19 August, Vancouver was the site of one such confrontation. A planned anti-Islam rally at Vancouver’s City Hall mostly failed to materialize alongside a counter-protest of approximately 4000 people, organized by an ad hoc group, Stand Up To Racism Metro Vancouver.

As historians of migration and settler colonialism, we are reminded that these events – often represented as exceptional, new, or surprising – highlight much wider and older tensions in Canada. In particular, as we consider the recent events and their political stakes in Vancouver, we are struck by their resonance with something that happened in the city exactly 110 years ago today.

On Saturday 7 September 1907, Vancouver was gripped by one of the largest race riots in Canadian history. This event started with a large gathering of people who also marched on City Hall, in that case behind a banner that said: “Stand for a White Canada.”[1] After listening to fiery speeches against Asian immigration, a significant number then headed to Chinese and Japanese neighbourhoods in the city, where they wreaked extensive property damage, physical violence, and terror.

In thinking about the recent Stand Up To Racism event alongside the 1907 parade and riot, we could tell a story about how much has changed in a city now willing to turn out in numbers to drown out calls for a “White Canada.” But we could equally tell a story about how little has changed in a settler colonial city still organized around inequality and rage, including ongoing anti-Asian racism. Both of these arguments would be important and well supported with evidence, but here we want to reflect on a different issue. What questions does the 1907 event raise for us, and how do these relate to the questions we might ask – or more pointedly, often fail to ask – of the present?

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