The Social Justice Institute Statement on Anti-Asian Racism

 

WHY WE NEED COLLECTIVE, INSTITUTIONAL AND

COMMUNITY-BASED RESPONSES TO ANTI-ASIAN RACISM

 

We at the UBC Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice Institute (GRSJ) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, collectively grieve alongside family and friends of the eight people, majority Asian American women, killed at three different Asian-operated spas in Northern Georgia. 

Contrary to ongoing police investigations, we view the killings as hate- and race-inspired, gender-specific, targeting Asian women, imbricated within a racial capitalist structure that views Asian women as disposable bodies. Racist violent events such as this are not an exclusive American phenomenon confined to the U.S. border. They are not just the acts of one sick, deranged man, but symptomatic of our larger social problems with deep historical and structural roots affecting not just Asian peoples, but also Indigenous, Black, and other Peoples of Color, in the US, Canada and around the world.

The tragedy came at a particularly terrifying time and already difficult historical moment for Asian communities in Canada and the global Asian diaspora. Anti-Asian hate crimes — from violent attacks to verbal harassment — have increased exponentially across Canada in 2020. As of March 19, live data from Fight COVID Racism, registered 957 reported incidents of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in Canada. In Metro Vancouver alone, such crimes have risen by 717% since the pandemic began. 

The Vancouver region is home to the highest concentrations of Asian communities and businesses, including women and racialized bodies working in the intimate labour economy such as long-term care homes, day cares, spas, and massage parlours. Our cities offer constant reminders of Asian Canadian women’s erotization, sexualized exoticization and hypersexualization – from flipping the personal ads in many local newspapers to billboard ads along the highways.

This isn’t just about #AntiAsianHate. We stress anti-Asian racism cannot be taken in isolation. What occurred has resulted from larger structures that exploit and make Asian women vulnerable, along with other communities of working poor, precarious migrants, women service workers and sex workers of color. We reject anti-sex trafficking legislations that have only made migrant sex workers more vulnerable to racist border controls, regimes of criminalization, and violence. We join groups local and international that stand for the decriminalization and de-stigmatization of migration and sex work to increase sex workers’ safety, security, and sovereignty in Canada and across the globe. 

Long before populist anti-democratic leaders, inspired by hate and racism, blamed Asian peoples for the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians around the world, including Asian Canadians, have been frequently scapegoated for stubborn systemic issues. Still, they bear the social and policy consequences of structural racism, misogyny, colonialism, bigotry, xenophobia, white patriarchal supremacy, and profit-motivated porn and sex industries, capitalism, and imperialism. 

Canada has counterpart exclusionary immigration histories and policies against Asians, parallel to the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It has been complicit and a reliable ally of the United States in various imperial wars in the Asian region, from the Second World War that led to the large-scale internment of Japanese Canadians, to the Korean War and the wars in Southeast Asia during the Cold War era, to the post-911 surveillance of Muslim Asians. Canadian soldiers and men have gone to war in Asia, killed, and consumed the intimate labours of gendered Asian bodies.  Canada has imported Asian women’s laboring bodies to do dirty, dangerous, difficult and daring work in Canadian homes, hospitals, clinics, airports, offices, spas, parlours, hotels, restaurants and businesses within and outside the rest, recreation and tourism industries.  

Our collective histories of imperial violence have resulted in various ways of making “Asian women” intelligible through particular modes of documenting violation and vulnerability. Our media saturation of the “hypersexual” Asian woman figure have foreclosed other ways of seeing and representing Asian femininity, beyond those reproduced in films like Full Metal Jacket, operas like Madame Butterfly, and musicals like Miss Saigon

As we mourn, angry, and heartbroken by these murders and hate crimes in the United States, Canada and around the world, we match our grief with strong resolve that our teaching, research and public engagement communities at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver are not only indignant and vigilant, but also truly able to contribute to good analyses and responsive action, changes and interventions in our society so that such tragic events never happen again.

We call on all Municipalities in Metro Vancouver to work with us – feminist, Black, Indigenous, Asian-Canadian scholars, and other scholars of color  – to help us move away from active policing measures and towards community-based efforts for health, safety, and well-being of our residents, particularly girl children, teenage girls, women, trans peoples, the poor and the most vulnerable in our societies.

We call on all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, schools, universities, faith-based organizations, and the international development and human rights community to work together to address our systemic problems of poverty, marginalization, social inequality, and oppression by developing policies and programs imbued with empathy, care, and compassion. 

We ask fellow UBC academics and students to support grassroots abolitionist organizations fighting anti-Asian and anti-immigrant gendered violence. Locally, we ask for support of SWAN (Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network) Vancouver, PACE Society, and WISH Drop-In Centre Society (see a comprehensive list of local organizations here), particularly Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network) and Red Canary Song.  

We call on our Indigenous, Black and People of Color friends and LGBTQI2+allies to stand with all Asian peoples around the world in our common struggles against injustice, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and gender-based violence.

When silent, our institutions become implicitly complicit with these crimes. In these exceptional times demanding our collective reckoning, inaction is not an option.