This post by Avvy Go is part of the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.
It would be wrong to think of anti-Asian racism in general and anti-Chinese racism in particular, as something that only happens during COVID-19, or that only occurs on an individual level.
Like all forms of racism, anti-Asian racism has a long history in Canada. It is deeply embedded in our institutions, laws and policies.
Despite their long history in Canada, and their contributions to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and Canadian society, Chinese Canadians were subjected to over 60 years of legislated racism in the form of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act and other discriminatory laws. After having been in Canada for over 150 years, Chinese Canadians are still perceived as foreigners.
Even the idea that Chinese brings diseases to Canada is nothing new. This stereotype started long before the coronavirus was known to us. The 1885 Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration described Chinatowns as “hotbed[s] of diseases”. The portrayal of Chinese Canadians and other East Asian Canadians as “yellow peril” resurfaced again in 2003 during the SARS crisis.
Racism is structural and systemic in nature. It is also the toughest to overcome because we Canadians want to think of ourselves as open and welcoming. We have a hard time accepting the fact that when it comes to racial inequality, we are no better than our neighbours to the south.
Acknowledging systemic racism and understanding what it does and looks like is the first step toward effective advocacy for racial justice and ultimately reconciliation.
COVID-19 exacerbates pre-existing racism and discrimination. We have all heard about the devastating impact of COVID on migrant workers, and the higher infection rates among certain racialized groups (in particular, amongst Black, Indigenous and South Asian communities). Another area where the pandemic widens racial gaps is in employment.
The Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey released in August, 2020 showed that there have been unprecedented increases in unemployment due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown, particularly among racialized communities. The rates of joblessness are significantly above average for South Asian, Arab, and Black communities. The Report also found that South Asian and Chinese Canadians experienced much higher increases in unemployment from July 2019 to July 2020, compared to other groups.
At the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC), we started to see the impact of COVID-19 in January of this year, before Canada had its first reported case of the coronavirus, before WHO declared a global pandemic, and before the COVID-19 was given its name. Continue reading