How to Survive Anti-Asian Racism? Community Is Key
Going for walks has usually been a lifeline for me during the pandemic.
Hearing the chirping of songbirds or faint conversations through nearby windows reminds me that my neighbourhood is still full of life, a relief after contorting my own to fit within my home for over a year. It shows me that the world still turns, and I still enjoy being a part of it.
Except when I’m reminded that I can’t. On a recent walk, I heard someone spit in my direction — far enough not to feel it, but loud enough to hurt. When I looked up, a man — bearded and white, I noticed, because his face was unmasked — greeted me with a sneer.
I kept walking, but overheard his companions asking him why he spat at me. “Just for walking too loudly,” he said.
Anti-Asian racism has generally increased globally since last year, fuelled by growing xenophobia amid the spread of COVID-19. And Vancouver was recently labelled the “anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America.”
Worsened anti-Asian racism in Vancouver has the community feeling especially concerned, and wondering: how can we keep ourselves safe?
Heiky Kwan, a community activist and advocate, says finding the answer is a collective responsibility. Investing in education and bystander intervention workshops empower the people who want to help, she says, and prepares them to safely and effectively respond to racism.
“When I was on the receiving end of a hateful incident, it was more important that those around me came to my aid,” she says.
Kwan prefers to focus on this community-based approach to safety rather than encouraging police involvement. Involving the police “might cause undue harm to other vulnerable communities,” she says.
Kimberley Wong, the race and equity program manager at the Hua Foundation, agrees. She says policing, especially for those who are substance users or unhoused, can marginalize people further — particularly Black and Indigenous people who are overrepresented in police databases due to facing more street checks than other groups. Her work at the foundation, a youth non-profit that advances social change through cultural heritage, focuses on building community partnerships and developing public programming and tools to advance racial equity.
But Wong acknowledges that it’s not easy to agree on an ideal strategy for community safety and others feel differently.
Navigating these discussions is part of her other role as co-chair of the Legacy Stewardship Group, which represents over 40 groups in Vancouver’s Chinatown, including clan associations, non-profit organizations and businesses.
Some in the community do want to rely on policing as a solution, and they want more officers available to patrol the area, she says.
Yuriko Iga, a business owner in Chinatown since 2003, says a police presence makes her feel safer “because I often have to leave my business at late hours.”
But Iga, a second generation Japanese-Canadian and owner of the BLIM arts and crafts store, is also thankful that, so far, she has never experienced “anything life-threatening” enough to make her call the police.
Anti-Asian racism — mainly slurs and “go back to your country” type comments — has always been prevalent here, she says, so it doesn’t feel especially different now. “You just get desensitized to it after a while.”
Instead of enduring racism, Danny Quon would rather talk about it with his community and ask what safety means to them.