Doubling down on Canadian nationalism won’t end anti-Asian hate

In response to the mass shooting in Georgia that killed six Asian women two weeks ago, “Stop anti-Asian hate” rallies have sprouted up across the United States and Canada, culminating with a cross-national day of rallies last weekend. In the Lower Mainland, hundreds rallied in downtown Vancouver and Coquitlam. 

The organizers draped both rallies in Canadian nationalism in an attempt to cast anti-Asian racism as an aberration, rather than constitutive of Canadian nationhood. In Vancouver, organizers held huge banners behind the stage that read “Proud to be Asian. We build Canada together” and “Racism has no place in Canada.” In the Coquitlam rally, which also chanted the slogan “we build this nation together!”, two large Canadian flags formed the backdrop to the stage, and the crowd was sprinkled with miniature flags, presumably supplied by the organizers. 

The fetishistic faith in the Canadian flag, a symbol of white supremacy, settler-colonialism, and imperialism, as a shield to repel racism is at best ineffectual and at worst a bid by middle class and bourgeois Chinese-Canadians to win a seat at the genocidal table alongside white settlers. The slogan “we build Canada together” clearly imagines white Canadians as its audience, appealing to racist white people to recognize Asian people’s humanity as dependent on their contributions to nation-building, which reinscribes a boundary of inclusion and exclusion that cannot protect Asians who are poor, working class, non-status and temporary migrant workers, sex workers, and otherwise unable to ascend into Canadian civil society because their experiences of racism are inextricable from their racialized and gendered exploitation and citizenship status. 

At the Coquitlam rally, organizers approached me and asked me to stop handing out leaflets that argued that anti-Asian misogyny is an expression of Canadian state power. They said that I was “distracting from our message against anti-Asian racism.” Perplexed, I asked why they felt that way, given that the leaflet directly addressed the economic roots of anti-Asian racism. They could not answer me. I explained that I think Canadian nationalism is reprehensible and that people should make up their own minds as to whether or not an anti-imperialist analysis “distracts” from the point of the event. The organizers would not elaborate on their thinking and instead followed me around in a small mob, yelling at people to not look at the leaflet and briefly chanting “we don’t like you!” in Mandarin. So much for championing Canadian democracy.

To call for an end to racism while championing the West’s war to “contain” China’s economic and political rise is not just inconsistent: it fuels sinophobia.

Later a Hong Kong immigrant took to the stage and lamented how racism had “migrated” to Canada from the United States, repeating the racist myth that anti-Asian racism is external to Canada. He called for an end to racism in order to “make Canada wonderful and great again.” In exceptionalizing anti-Asian racism as simply American, he rewrote the history of anti-Asian racism as outside and alien to Canada, as if the hate crimes that sparked the rally are random, unfortunate accidents and not part of a methodology of Canadian empire. Anti-Asian policies were fundamental to Canada’s Confederation and anti-Asian hatred was necessary for white British settlers to stake exclusive claims over Indigenous territories in present-day British Columbia, pushing the frontier of Canadian colonialism as far west as it can go.  

As expressions of settler class interests, anti-Asian and especially anti-Chinese racism can only be ended through anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperial struggle. To call for an end to racism while championing the West’s war to “contain” China’s economic and political rise is not just inconsistent: it fuels sinophobia. 

But it is not an inconsistent position coming from Chinese-Canadians who benefit from Canadian settler-colonialism and therefore identify with the nation and want to climb the rungs of a multicultural ladder. Yet there is always a price of admission: in demonstrating their loyalties to a country increasingly rattling its war sabre against an enemy nation, these Chinese-Canadians turn their backs on Indigenous nations suffering from genocide and resource extraction by Canada, as well as a multinational working class whose exploitation has made Canada one of the richest countries on earth.

During the massive outcry from Canadian and US civil society over rising Asian hate crimes there was another high profile attack on an elderly Asian woman in New York recently, which at least two onlookers witnessed but did not intervene in. While these random attacks are particularly reprehensible and should be protested, they cannot be ended by doubling down on Asian nationalism, which is inextricably bound up in settler-colonial occupation and imperialist aggression. Without recognizing the national and imperial roots of race and racism, anti-racism reinforces white supremacy by misdiagnosing it as a problem of mistaken attitudes that can be reformed away with the waving of enough Canadian flags.

Chinese-Canadian nationalism recasts anti-Asian hate as a misidentification of Asians as outside the nation, seeking to correct that by emphatically doubling down on a loyalty to Canadian imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism. In an already jingoistic climate that targets Chinese people who are profiled as traitors to Canada, this strategy actively perpetuates sinophobia while attempting to jettison a small, classed portion of “respectable” Chinese people out of the crosshairs of white supremacy. But if anti-Asian hate is a “virus,” then the Canadian nation is its host and the destruction of one necessitates the destruction of the other.

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