An Open Letter to Stephanie Findlay, Nicholas Köhler, and MacLean’s Magazine:

 As a Chinese-Canadian student, I personally find your article “Too Asian?” (Nov. 10, 2010) insulting and ridiculous. As a citizen of a multicultural nation, I find your article disturbing. While your source may hide behind pseudonyms such as Alexandra, you cannot hide your racist prejudices so evidently clear despite your best attempts to express them implicitly rather than explicitly. Through various fallacies and inferences, the writers and editors of this article propagate a racist, fear-mongering, and white nationalist agenda against students of Asian descent.

Let us begin with the photographs selected by MacLean’s displayed prominently at the top of the article’s online version. One shows a young Chinese man waving the flag of the People’s Republic of China. Why is it necessary to show the flag of the PRC? Does the PRC represent Asia? China is only a part of Asia. The actual context of the photo is not clear as captions are purposefully left out.

For many people, flags are immediately seen as important national symbols. Given the article’s repeated assertions of a divide between Asians and whites, this photo is intended to illicit a fearful response from readers: a Chinese student triumphantly waves a foreign flag on Canadian soil. This photo is meant to be seen as a symbol of foreign Asian triumph over local white students. In essence, it carries the connotation of national confrontation and conquest seen in the famous photos of Joe Rosenthal at Iwo Jima and Yevgeny Khaldei at the Reichstag. It is not difficult to pick up on MacLean’s suggestion of Asians staking their claim on white Canadian universities.

The second photo of a group of Asian students fully gowned up for a graduation ceremony is another attempt to make readers visualize the Asian horde. As seasoned journalists, you may be aware that Asians often share similar last names. Thus, Asian graduates will of course congregate near each other when lining up for their diplomas. It is definitely not representative of the entire student demographic. However, you clearly chose this photo to illustrate the article’s claims: Asians are taking over universities in their group which excludes their “more fun-loving peers” (i.e. white students).

Of course, the photos chosen by MacLean’s are only accessories to a poorly written article which utterly fails to understand that Asia happens to have more than one country. In particular, China is mentioned the most. You lump Asians together as one big group despite the fact Asia is a diverse continent with different cultures. While you attempted to deflect potential criticism by suggesting that Asians do not necessarily “form any sort of monolithic presence on Canadian campuses,” you immediately proceeded to only list Chinese student clubs and interview Chinese students. Chinese students are not the spokespeople for Asia.

Moreover, all the statistics you have used are based on flawed analysis which any critical thinker can identify. The statistics used lump all Asians together without breaking them down into separate ethnicities. I am willing to bet that the yellow peril you are attempting to create will look less impressive at UBC the moment you separate Chinese, Korean, and Japanese students instead of combining them into 43% of the student population. Unless you are completely unthinking, I can only surmise that you chose to use these misrepresentative stats because it will emphasize the Asian versus white dichotomy. This is the ultimate goal of your article.

Countless racist and unscientific stereotypes support this goal. At the core of these stereotypes is that Asians are hard workers with no social life. First, not all Asians work hard. This is the same for any ethnic group. There will always be lazy people and hard workers, smart people and dumb people, and racists and non-racists within all ethnic compositions. I cannot, for example, label all white people to be racist after reading something racists wrote. It is wrong and unethical. Thus, why would you pigeonhole all Asians because some Asians display specific traits? Are you not aware that hard work, intelligence, and sociability are not racial traits?

It is unfortunate I needed to indicate the flaws of stereotyping to published journalists. Should you, as writers, editors, and publisher, not have the ethical and intellectual capability to not stereotype entire ethnic groups? Instead, you willingly perpetuate these stereotypes. At the same time, you manage to make hard work, an admirable quality, into a negative quality that allows Asians to marginalize supposedly well-rounded white students.

You claim that this assertion “is a fact born out by hard data.” I challenge you to list them. Where are the statistics? Is this even quantifiable? Or is it time for you to admit that you are stereotyping Asians in a racist manner? Instead, you rely on supposed “authorities.” Yet, your so-called expert witnesses merely reiterate racist stereotypes without listing hard data. Worst among your experts is Diane Bondy. She states:

“Asian parents do their homework….Asians get more support from their parents financially and academically….The kids were getting 98 per cent but they didn’t have other skills….Their parents would come in and write in the resumé letters that they were in clubs. But the kids weren’t able to do anything in those clubs because they were academically focused.”

The entirety of Bondy’s generalizations is based on one thing: race. Asians do this. Asians do that. You select her racist (but in your view, expert) testimony in order to suggest that Asians have an unfair advantage over whites. It is truly distressing that MacLean’s and the writers of this article make no distinction between individuals and ethnicity. For instance, it is clearly implied that Asians cheat to succeed by having mommy and daddy do their homework. Ah, if only my mother wrote my essays about the Marian Reforms to Canada’s 1939 declaration of war to the historiography of Edward Gibbon! In addition to insulting every honest Asian student, your accusations carry malicious intentions. Intelligent and ethical journalists, and all people I hope, should know when racist stereotypes are used. If you decide to use them—and clearly you are not merely presenting “the other side” but using Bondy to support your article—then it must be done for a purpose. The purpose, here, is to subtly incite anger towards Asian students by telling whites that the reason they could not get into universities is because Asians cheat their way to the top using piles of Asian money. This is hate speech not journalism.

While you embrace stereotypes, you simply dismiss dissenting views as people who are “in a state of denial.” For example, you ignore president of UoT David Taylor’s view that you are talking about “a false stereotype.” Simply claiming your opponent is wrong does not make your argument right. However, given your constant use of racist ideas and faulty reasoning, it is not surprising you ignore the basics of argumentation.

Initially, I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, it seems you are also stereotyping whites as happy-go-lucky, let’s-party, lazy students. This is a racist stereotype. However, racists tend to think in stereotypes anyway. In this case, you elevate these “qualities” as desirable qualities. You assert that academic achievement and social life are mutually exclusive, and white students are at a disadvantage. You utterly ignore the fact that ALL students of ALL ethnicities can be hardworking, lazy, overachievers, social stars, etc. etc. The purpose of your article is to divide students into Asians and whites. I wonder what happened to students of African, Aboriginal, Middle Eastern, etc. backgrounds. Do they not matter in our campuses? What constitutes Asian? Given this nature of this article, I shudder to think about your answers.

Your implied dissatisfaction of the merit system is perhaps the most hypocritical point of all. You dare not openly criticize it, but, upon mentioning the meritocracy of universities, you added: “And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.” The tone is meant to be negative. The merit system of Canadian universities was established by generations of white, male intelligentsia. This group is still the dominant “gatekeepers” of Canada’s universities. Initially, a racist Canadian society ensured coloured peoples were economically and thus academically marginalized. Now that our country is an enlightened one which embraces equality and multiculturalism, people of any background can compete fairly to attain a higher education. Before, when racism prevailed, coloured people were considered too stupid to enter universities. Different gatekeeping mechanisms ensured Asians and other minorities could not attain a higher education. Now, people such as yourself complain when Asians are able to compete in a system established by whites.

We all must prioritize our goals in life. Some people choose to concentrate on their studies because, after all, universities are a place of study. You attempt to create fear by suggesting white students are losing their spots in the nation’s best schools to Asians who, according to you, are the hardest workers. By implying our merit system favours Asians, you are advocating a white nationalist agenda that wants to keep all coloured peoples out of Canadian universities. If the merit system can no longer keep the yellow folks out, it is time to find other ways to help white students.

As such, you finally advocate assimilation. You state that Canada’s universities are divided into “ethnic ghettos.” By using the word “ghetto,” you are expressing all the negative connotations associated with that word when describing Asians who socialize amongst themselves. Why is that a bad thing? In fact, so what? Why shouldn’t people sharing similar cultural backgrounds take the time to engage in their own culture (which may mean anything from just chatting to celebrating events) together? Indeed, this actually suggests a rich social life, which you claim is missing, available to Asian students if they choose to partake in it.  

Moreover, you only attack Asian students for socializing within their own ethnic groups. By this logic, your world is one where whites also socialize only with other whites. Why not criticize them too? Is it wrong because Asians are doing it? Is it OK for whites to do it? Why should Asians approach the likes of Alexandra?

In the real world, people of any ethnic group, whites included, socialize amongst themselves and with others. Mingling does go on. However, your suggestion of “mingle” is a sinister one. Let us replace “mingle” in your article with this word: assimilation. After all, you believe it is wrong for Asians to hang out with each other and practice their own culture. Your article has repeatedly asserted that Asian traits are detrimental to the university environment. You declare that these “ghettos” must be “pried” open. Only by “mingling” with white students, in your view, can this problem be solved. You believe in assimilating Asians into white student culture in order to level the playing fields of the merit system.

Of course, you are writing about an Asian versus white divide that supposedly exists. In the real world, it does not. However, you decided to create one. You are essentially rebranding the age old racist line “they took our jobs!” into “they took our schools!” While seemingly suggesting a desire for integration—a questionable suggestion as it implies assimilation—you are claiming Asians, as an ethnic group, are hurting white interests. Your views are racist and only help the white nationalist agenda instead of protecting our multicultural nation. By publishing Findlay’s and Köhler’s article, MacLean’s has shown very poor judgment.

Fortunately, I am also optimistic after reading your article. Having browsed through many online comments, I saw many other Canadians and foreigners criticize your article. These commentaries rightly identify the racism expressed in “Too Asian?” It is hopeful to know that many Canadians still demonstrate intelligence and morals when confronted by racists.

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