How to Be an Ally to the Asian Canadian Community

There's been a surge of anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the country. Here's what you can do to help.

As videos of horrific attacks targeting Asian American and Canadian elders permeate the news and social media, it has brought much-needed attention to the rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hate, fed by the stigmatizing language like “China virus” and “kung flu” used repeatedly by U.S. government leaders since March 2020, has not subsided over time. Eighty-four-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee of San Francisco died of his injuries after being violently shoved to the ground on January 28. His attack is part of a disturbing pattern of crimes against Asian Americans and Canadians, who have been assaulted, spat on, slashed, robbed, and more.

In Canada, over 800 incidents of hate crimes against people of Asian descent were recorded by Fight COVID racism. In Vancouver alone, anti-Asian hate crimes were up 717 percent.  In the U.S., 3,000 incidents were recorded between March and December 2020 by Stop AAPI Hate, a national reporting center that tracks these incidents of hate and discrimination. It’s clear that something more needs to be done…but what?

“One way we can help combat anti-Asian racism is educating our family, friends, neighbours, and community members to know that anti-Asian rhetoric is harmful,” says Linda Ng, national president of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. “The way we talk about COVID-19, its origins, who can be susceptible to it, who’s fighting it on the front lines, and the vaccine need to be anti-xenophobic.”

Ng believes that when government officials and community leaders referred to the virus by stigmatizing names, it fueled hate crimes and xenophobia against the Asian community. Many took this as a call to action that manifested itself as bullying, targeting, and visibly shunning anyone who looked Asian. “By not using this language,” she adds, “we acknowledge that words have power, and we’re choosing not to indirectly harm others.” But that’s just the first step in combating the problem. Here’s how you can become a true ally to the Asian American community.

(Related: Why 2020 Might Have Been the Wake-Up Call We Needed)

Listen, believe, validate, and help report incidents

Being a good ally requires listening with empathy and compassion. This may seem simple, but it’s essential. Check in with Asian Canadian friends, colleagues, and neighbours to offer support. If they are comfortable enough sharing their experiences of racism with you, it means you have gained a level of trust. Build on it by validating their injustice and pain, and offer to help report incidents, if necessary. Use Fight COVID Racism to report incidents of anti-Asian microaggressions, bullying, harassment, hate speech, or violence. There are also educational resources available on the website.

Avoid microaggressions and victim-blaming

When it comes to dealing with racist incidents, many may fall into the trap of perpetrating microaggressions and victim-blaming. Facing the ugliness of racism is difficult, and it is easy to fall into denial, or become defensive and deflect. Thoughts such as, “Why were they out there by themselves in the first place?” or “They should leave this country for their own good,” and also, “Other communities have it worse than Asian Canadians,” are all examples of defensive deflection. The inclination to silver-line racist incidents or try to explain them as something other than what they are is harmful and should be avoided if you want to be a supportive ally.

(Related: How To Find the Right BIPOC Therapist for You)

Speak out in solidarity

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), was running errands when she heard someone express anti-Asian sentiments. Choimorrow was disappointed that no one else in the store spoke up, which compelled her to step forward. “I felt very vulnerable standing up against hate aimed at people who look like me, but I felt that I had to,” she shares. “I wish someone had stood up with me. But no one did.”

Racism is not just a problem for Asian people or Black people, nor is it unique to the immigrant experience. The weight of reform for justice and equity should not lay solely on those who experience everyday racism and discrimination. We must all use our voices to speak out in solidarity and to organize for a more equitable future. Learn about how you can respond to hate with this toolkit created by a group of Asian Canadian leaders and Ryerson University in Toronto, or this toolkit by the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice. Also, the Toronto District School Board has this guidebook for addressing anti-Asian hate both virtually and in-person.

Take bystander intervention training

Most of us are wired to avoid conflict. Anxiety and fear are natural reactions when confronted with racist behavior, even as a bystander. Taking bystander intervention training can prepare us to react safely and in a supportive manner if we witness bias and harassment. Hollaback! offers free trainings online based on its program of 5Ds: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct.

(Related: 13 Books About Race to Read to Your Kids)

Organizations that support the Asian Canadian community

Another key way to support Asian Canadians during this time of anti-Asian hate is by donating to and amplifying the causes. Consider these national organizations that support the community:

  • Canadian and Southeast Asian Legal Centre, which provides free legal services for non-English speakers in the Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian communities in Ontario.
  • Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter (CCNC), which runs the site Fight COVID Racism. CCNC also hosts a number of resources in both English and Chinese.
  • Elimin8hate, a project created by the organizers of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and Project 1907 (a grassroots group made up of Asian  women) which works to empower Asian Canadians to report incidents of racism, consolidate resources and use the data collected for change in Canada.
  • Fight COVID racism, a platform that allows members of the Asian Canadian community to report incidents of racism. It also hosts a number of resources.

There are also many worthy regional initiatives, including several Chinatown-specific organizations, like Friends of Chinatown, which works to fight gentrification in downtown Toronto’s Chinatown and raise funds for workers at various businesses affected by the pandemic. There are also online communities like Local 88, a Montreal-based Facebook group that highlights local Asian-owned businesses and encourages people to shop there.

Support Asian-owned businesses

Look around your neighbourhood. Chances are, small Asian-owned local businesses are some of the hardest-hit in the community. Many restaurants, nail salons, and other service-orientated businesses that were forced to close or limit their business capacity during the pandemic suffered through added hardships of harassment, shattered windows, and racist vandalism. Support Asian-owned businesses often, and buy directly from these businesses instead of through third-party services whenever possible to guarantee that the proceeds actually go to the business owners and their employees.

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Learn about the Asian Canadian and American experience

If your perception of the Asian Canadian and American communities is based primarily on assumptions and media representation, make an effort to consume more accurate representation, with work created by Asian Canadians and Americans.

First, learn about the history of Asian immigrants to Canada—and the legacy of racism. Start by reading up on policies like the Chinese Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Japanese Canadian Internment during World War II. Like anti-Asian racism today, these policies were based on “yellow peril,” a form of xenophobia that imagines immigrants from Asia to be disease carriers.

Some books to start with include Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People by Helen Zia, China Boy by Gus Lee, All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng,  Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, Being Chinese in Canada: The Struggle for Identity, Redress, and Belonging by William Ging Wee Dere, Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui, How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa, Ru by Kim Thúy, and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. Please make the important distinction between works by Asian Canadian and American writers versus translated works by Asian writers from abroad.

In film, check out this year’s hit, the award-winning Minari, based on writer and director Lee Isaac Chung’s own life on a farm in 1980s Arkansas; it’s as American a story as they come. Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe, written by Ali Wong and Randall Park, and Never Have I Ever, a series created by Mindy Kaling, offer some lighthearted, fictional but authentically refreshing representation on the Asian American experience. And you also shouldn’t miss the superbly educational PBS documentary Asian Americans or the National Film Board’s In the Shadow of Gold Mountain.

If podcasts are more your style, Still Processing features two fascinating episodes on anti-Asian racism. On This American Life, watch the episode about writer and director Lulu Wang, whose story was later made into the excellent film The Farewell, a poignant and intimate portrait of an Asian American woman and her Chinese family. The Toronto Star’s This Matters’ episode about yellow peril also looks deeper at anti-Asian racism in Canada both historically and during COVID-19. Ready for edgier, more unfiltered content on what’s happening in Asian America? Check out They Call Us Bruce by hosts Jeff Yang and Phil Yu.

A time to unite against hate

Asian Canadians and Pacific Islanders are not only an instrumental part of Canadian history, economy, and culture—they are also the fastest-growing racial group in the country. The time is long overdue to free these communities from the perpetual foreigner image and model minority myth that have plagued them unfairly for far too long. If we all stand together and become allies in the movement toward equality, things can finally change.

Now that you know about anti-Asian hate in Canada, read about the forces that shape healthcare for Black women in Canada.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest