09/27/2012 02:00 EDT | Updated 11/27/2012 05:12 EST

From The Shock Of 'Too Asian' To Thoughtful Dialogue

Today we are launching our new book: "Too Asian?": Racism, Privilege, and Post-Secondary Education. This collection of essays grew out of the dialogue and frustration that many of us had concerning the Macleans magazine feature titled: "Too Asian?"

I don't really want to talk about the book itself in this post, but rather, I want to voice something that might actually be somewhat missing in the book. In a book that tries to be thoughtful and critically engaged sometimes the shock of the article is missing. So, in this sense, I simply want to explore and expand on the initial shock that many of us had when we first laid eyes on the 2010 article. I want to voice my shock.

It is shocking that in this day and age, in Canada, that a major news magazine could be so racist as to run an article titled: "Too Asian?" It described certain universities as being too "Asian." Too Asian as in obviously not Canadian enough, or regular enough, or normal enough. Always to be "too" much of something alien to Canada.

"Asian" as in too unfortunate for those regular Canadians who might want to go to that university because Asians work too hard and make it too hard for non-Asians to compete. Too Asian in the sense of the university having too many students who weren't really Canadian, and in this sense, ruining it for everyone else.

Too Asian in the sense that certain universities were somehow stolen from regular Canadians and colonized by those who were just too hard-working and too studious to be real Canadians. Too Asian in the sense of there being recent immigrants who are not really "Canadian" enough and thus stealing the entitlement to university that earlier migrants (i.e. real Canadians who aren't Too Immigrant) naturally merit.

Too Asian means being "racially" or physically different and hence unable to be really like a normal Canadian person. The logic is binary, circular and insidious: Asian students are not normal, they are Asian.

It isn't surprising that systemic forms of racism and privilege still exist in our society. Many of us know that a western occidental subject position prevails in most parts of the world. And many would agree that even in multicultural Canada the default subject position is still an invisible white identity. Privilege, entitlement, and normalcy are exactly the gifts afforded to a white identity.

The very fact that I can write "white" without having to explain that I don't mean "white" as in white paint, or that "white" doesn't really refer to any specific racial type speaks volumes about how invisible privilege and racialization are indeed in full operation in our daily lives. White is what everything else is measured against.


So, it isn't surprising that Macleans might be a pole-bearer of this type of invisible or hidden privilege that exists in society. Rather, what is shocking is that overtly racist positions (e.g. naming universities as "too Asian") could and would present themselves in the clear open like that. It is shocking that a major news magazine would think that it would be all right to author and editorially endorse news reporting that actively paints students and university spaces as Asian and non-Asian.

Why would a major news magazine not be invested in being deeply anti-racist and intellectually critical? Why would a major news magazine not be engaged in a critical and serious reporting that would seek to unpack and deconstruct such binary and false notions of race and identity? This is what is shocking.

It is shocking that a major news magazine would involve itself in exploiting existing hegemonic, overt, and normalized notions of race and privilege. It is shocking that it would exactly that: to be overtly racist, and to use that racism as a way to sell their product. Their product is news, but it is also racism.

Using the invisibility of privilege that was present in the Macleans article we organized a group of diverse voices to bear on the issue of race, racism and higher education. Our book is a multifaceted collection of essays that anyone interested in race and racism would be interested in reading.

The articles are thoughtful and critical investigations into the everyday existence of race and privilege in the classroom. So if you're interested in reading about how many have responded to the Macleans article, then you should definitely check out the book, edited by me, RJ Gilmour, Davina Bhandar and Jeet Heer.