Category Archives: Racism, Discrimination, and the Law in Vancouver – An Exploratory Blog

This sub-blog will explore the elephant in the room, racism and discrimination, as it pertains to the City of Vancouver and Legal Developments in the Larger Canadian context. Follow me as I learn this area of the law and reflect on our city’s past, present, and future!

‘I Don’t Get to Call Myself An Ally’ – But I Can Aim Towards Becoming One

Tomorrow, for the first time I am speaking on the topics of decolonization and intersectionality. I don’t think I have ever been as nervous for a talk. It is a topic I have been engaged in for the past several months, but it still feels to me a new term. However, there is some value into speaking to the newness and humility. That is why I eventually put my name forward and agreed to speak.

It has been a long time coming. A year ago, I don’t think I could have spoke on this topic let along would I have put my hands up to even volunteer. The pathway to learning about colonialism, decolonization, intersectionality, racism, and discrimination in our society has been a difficult one. It has forced me to confront my own current role (and definitely my past roles) in perpetuating my privilege and my power in not only my ‘colonial work’ but in the way I may have approached community service. I lose sleep now in ways that I did not before – because I am exposing myself to my own shortcomings and the painful truths I conveniently avoided in years past.

I am glad that it is slowly stripping away an ego that I think the process of being a lawyer almost inherently instills. I feel more humbled and I thank the learning I am doing and the social activists I am meeting for transforming me.

This process has highlighted mistakes I have made in the past in this regard.

For example, I donated money to a local organization on behalf of my law firm thinking I was doing good while simultaneously shirking a previous responsibility I had to that organization, as a volunteer. I realize that I was donating to cover up my own guilt and that goes against the very principles of decolonization that I am now learning about.

A second mistake I made was for a long time this law blog had an Indigenous logo that a non-Indigenous friend designed over. That appropriation of culture was entirely inappropriate. Even now, I am aware my logo is Indigenous and I am not – something I need to be extremely careful about as I consider the direction my blog goes and the societal/policy issues we engage with. I think that by engaging an Indigenous artist Diamond Point, we’ve made a step in the right direction but Indigenous recognition – much like, can very easily turn into lip service with no corresponding action.

All this to say – I don’t get to become an ally – just by reading a few pieces and attending a few workshops, giving a few talks, writing a few tweets, and making a few donations. Becoming an ally requires an investment in time, but more importantly a humility that this is a fight I care about but a fight that ultimately I need to support my Indigenous brothers and sisters in. I need to advocate but more importantly listen and be present when listening.

I had a colleague tweet in reply, not so long ago to a post of mine, that I also needed to show sensitivity when talking about things such as the residential school experience or the experiences of Indigenous women, as the very bringing up of these themes could be triggering to them.

As lawyers, we love to talk, to write, to share. It almost seems like the test for good advocacy is whether you have been to Court recently, what level of Court,  what policy issues, and what media opportunities. The first two months of this year gave me some incredible platforms but frankly I did not do enough to use those platforms to shift conversation or give light to underrepresented and more deserving voices, especially Indigenous voices. Indigenous issues are still so peripheralized and othered in mainstream media – through a lens that more often than not dehumanizes.

We seem more engaged with global events that have little effect on us, but that generate clicks and false outrage, than we do with local suffering that we are all collectively responsible for as settlers on stolen land – which should generate real outrage. It is as if those problems are our Government’s and that ‘reconciliation’ has solved all problems. From what I am seen and heard, it hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface.

When it comes to tomorrow’s talk on decolonization and intersectionality – I plan to share with these young impressionable minds of the amazing RADIUS program I am speaking to – my journey and my stumbles.

I also very much aspire to this idea that decolonization cannot be a metaphor for general social change, social justice, and anti-colonialism/oppression. If we water down decolonization, or worse yet, forget decolonization needs to come hand-in hand with indigenization (and not just of mind and rhetoric) – we may do more harm than good. I am also aware that this process will involve ceding of power, privilege, and land. Anything else, and it turns again into rhetoric and feel good excuses for our continued settler privilege and justifications for modified colonal appetites. We also need to come to global understandings of indigenizing that also doesn’t allow for the term to become homogenization.

Canadian indigenization – and where it comes from is historically grounded by systemic and full-scale wrongdoing that sought to wipe out Indigenous culture. Indigenization in another context, for example a country that believes in protecting and preserving one’s indigenous roots at the expense of newcomers or racial intermixing, can become problematic and the basis of racial/ethnic supremacy.

I think the position we come from and the model we develop in Canada will be very unique and we have to be careful to reconcile that with other world views and with the world view of newcomers. Introducing Indigenous issues and history to newcomers will become a major priority of mine, once I go through my own learning process.

On the topic of intersectionality, we need to also develop a Canadian model that takes into account Indigenous women, as a foundation for our BIPOC perspective. Indigenous and two-spirited women have had their identities marginalized and it is routed in the aforementioned colonial policies. Decolonizing will help highlight and tackle intersection issues.

Parallel, and simultaneously, we need (and I am grateful we are starting to see) the rise of powerful women entering newsrooms, media, politics, law, and other area of influence to highlight the structural, political, and representative intersectionality that marginalized and minority women find themselves in as a result of the narrowed patriarchal lens which creates male-dominated viewpoints or allows on some women in on our major conversations.

Our Canadian understanding and study of this concept is so behind, that on major issues – such as Karen Wang and recently, Jody Wilson-Raybould, – no one even brings it up. This gap in analysis (coupled with the consistent racelessness and neoliberal ‘multiculturalism’ espoused by those in positions of power) wipes out the experience of women of colour. This is unacceptable and as a man of colour, I bare my share of the blame for not tackling our own community stereotypes here.

To conclude, where I started, I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues, but I am not an ally (yet). I don’t get that label easily. I may never get it. I need to be listener, a repenter, and learner, a more humbled down human being. I need to use my voice and rather than sit silently while I watch the narrative be shifted, use my voice and privileges to shift the narrative to places where we need it to go.

Some of you will be sick and tired of me writing about race, taking as comedian Aamer Rahman wrote about “white person this, white person that.” On this point, I want to share the recent writing of Sandra Inutiq in her piece Dear Qallunaat. The headline says it best.

‘Recognize and admit your power and privilege and the fact you are benefiting from racist systems’

Even as a non-White settler, I have benefit from it too and I need to be more aware of this. Similar and parallel systems that made my ancestors Han Chinese and scholars in China from (my late father’s side) relative affluence and education made me benefit there too.

It’s time to strip away ego, recognize and admit privilege, and cede power and land back to our Indigenous brothers and sisters. In the process, I trust that the empowerment and deconstruction of barriers for BIPOCs will naturally occur. Canada will be a more equitable, equal, and truly diverse place.

With peace and love.

Will

Opinion: We Need to Start Writing a Chinese Canadian Narrative for Ourselves

Vancouver,_Chinese_new_year_parade,_2005

A survey of recent media reports from Vancouver and increasingly from Toronto show a worry trend of the reviving and recycling of historical “yellow peril” arguments that many of us hoped t21st century Canada had largely left behind. One of the central reasons for this revived narrative the very real affordability crisis affecting Canadian metropolitan cities. Few can deny that foreign money, and with that money from China, as one of the world’s dominant foreign powers, undeniably factors into to some debatable extent.

 

However, rather than focus our collective attention on foreign money and acknowledge the global/cross-border nature of the phenomenon, reductive arguments have instead led to the “public shaming” of bad apple wealthy Chinese investors, bad apple Chinese-Canadian businesses, and even, very unfortunately, Chinese-Canadian politicians who have all been treated as a threat to Canadian culture. In many cases and accounts, the Chinese is dropped and all Asian-Canadians are lumped into the same brewing pot of public discontent.

 

The challenge with many of these accounts of China is that it simplifies what is probably the most complex country and complex sets of histories, politics, and migration patterns on the face of the modern world today.

 

Chinese-Canadians arrived in Canada through different waves from different geographical locations, coming with ultimately different purposes. In the late 1800’s, we came to assist the building of this country with our bare hands to take jobs that no one else wanted – building the railroad to our eventual subjugation through anti-Chinese sentiment and legislation imposed on us in the early to mid-1900s. Later, once the anti-Asiatic immigration policies were let go, we came for opportunities – often men before wives, to find a new beginning and a new-found respect. We started coming not only from one province in China but different provinces. Later, we came to escape sensitive political environments in the diaspora at a time of domestic uncertainty – referring to China during the period of cultural revolution and later Tiananmen.

 

Today, albeit often with a little more money and a few more options, the vast majority of Chinese immigrants still carry with them the dream of providing for a safer and more stable environment for their families and children. Yet somehow the timing of their arrival has reignited in us a discontent, anger, and frustration. I would argue that this frustration is not with them as a group but mostly with ourselves and escaping our own cycles of discontent with being unable to achieve a comparable level of financial freedom. The Maslow foundation of a roof over our heads (representing security and health) appears slipping from us but available from them. We know that this is an oversimplification but the pure visceral experience of wealthy and successful Asians creates a corresponding dissatisfaction.

 

But let’s step a minute here and think about what this all means for the Chinese community in Vancouver as an organic whole when we espouse and promote such narratives.
I believe these narratives that are being imposed on us are having unmeasured and untold effects on our community’s cohesion. Asian-Canadians of all generations and nationalities are struggling to align themselves where the debate pits us against our family, friends, and often times even against ourselves and our fleeting and challenging attempts to balance our cultural hertiage. Some of us are taking this opportunity to band together – to form advocacy networks within our professions and for our causes. These groups provide us the opportunity to bring together like-minded individuals with shared experiences to promote our resilience.

 

Others, and sadly often newcomers, international students, and those without financial resources, feel shut out of dialogue and ultimately the scapegoat for the public. Many feel discriminated against in the labour market – interviewees interested only in their connections to wealth and clientele and not their potential to do good and do better. Others do not know where to start in integration and end up starting their own businesses, many times far too early and without the mentorship of well-established businesses to guide them through the rules and regulations of doing business. To those observing from afar this creates more examples and narratives which create continuing cycle of public distrust, misunderstanding, and feelings of non-acceptance.

 

Others will leave Canada altogether and abandon their Canadian residency to return to their home countries in Asia. I am sure, for some observers, this is only desired outcome but it is one that I believe ultimately represents a two-way failure in integrating new Canadians.

 

Where does that leave our “Chinese-Canadian” community? Ultimately Fractured.

 

Each time a story comes out about a wrong-doing of a Chinese individual, business, or community we cringe a little. We make excuses – “they must be a newcomer’, “they don’t represent us”, “they are disgracing us”, but ultimately we feel as though our already weak skin is dented. We build our own shields. Step away from politics. We keep silent, we stay subservient and ultimately we internalize our feelings into our own hatred towards our brethren. We adopt the majority mob mentality and later on become instruments of their narratives for as long as they need us, which usually is not a very long time.

 

There are other negative effects. Indirectly, we are seeing, particularly in the labour market, an unwritten expectation that being Chinese you must be fluent in the language and you must have wealthy connections as your value add. The stories of Canadian businesses, under the leadership of individuals who are not Asian, eager to take advantage of foreign capital has been underreported compared to the shaming of companies with Asian leadership. The experiences of local politicians of Asian-Canadian descent suggest you will be scrutinized – which itself serves to dissuade many of us from stepping into an important arena for change.

 

From my perspective and truthfully the way I see it, there is no Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or other generational difference that needs to have any relevance in the Canadian diaspora. I believe that by entering the borders of Canada we should recognize we are coming to new home one that can heal fractured lines and see commonality where others only see and impose conflict. I believe we have a duty and responsibility to pay tribute to those Chinese who were the first-wave of immigrants, speaking dialects we may not be able to understand, but ultimately served as our pioneers. I believe that by entering Canada you subject yourselves fully to the laws of our great nation, and that harmful practices or understandings should be left behind.

 

If we can put aside our differences and see the funds of some of the wealthier immigrant compatriots not as a burden on our society, but as a resource that can be re-invested into our own social services, I think the picture would look different. If we can harness the resources and entrepreneurship of the young Chinese (Korean, Japanese, Mexican, you name it) international students and direct their energies into partnering with struggling Canadian businesses, non-profits, and encourage them to take leadership roles – are we really threatened? I would suggest we are enhanced as a country.

 

If this is indeed what we want – we need to put aside our visceral observations that there are appear to be more individuals with black hair, brown eyes, and tanned skin  (which there will inevitably be as we create new inter-cultural relationships and offspring) and instead view all of them as newcomers to our Canadian mosaic with the capacity to help nation-build.

 

Those harmful narratives looking simply at an individual’s country of origin and numbers simply do little but promulgate hate and fear in a time where less of both would do a whole lot of good for our country.