A hard look in the mirror: addressing anti-Black racism as a Pan-Asian   

A hard look in the mirror: addressing anti-Black racism as a Pan-Asian   

By Sandeep Tatla

From boardrooms to kitchen tables, conversations around raceand specifically anti-Black racism, are happening across the country. As Pan-Asians, many of us have felt the sting of racism. In recent months, we have seen a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes connected to COVID-19 misinformation. We know racism’s insidious nature and how it shows up when you least expect it and scars that it leaves behind.   

We hold our breath in anticipation. Finally, will things change this time?   

For many of us, we see ourselves on the side of the oppressed. In fact, we get grouped together. The term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) is a term that has gained greater traction recently, especially here in Canada. And the reality is, as Asians, we do face systemic racism, but we also play a role in perpetuating and maintaining racial/White privilege. We need to take a hard look in the mirror and recognize the role we play in maintaining Black oppression.    

For us to stand in solidarity and act to eradicate anti-Black racism, we need to look deep into our cultural norms and deeplyheld biases that unmistakably perpetuate anti-Blackness. Whites are being called upon to address their White privilege. As Pan-Asians, we must acknowledge that we too hold privilege in the racial hierarchy.  We benefit from the “model minority” bias in this hierarchy – we are held up as high achievers and hard working – and many of us have been able to scale to higher socio-economic success. 
Many of us are quick to attribute our success to our own efforts, working twice as hard as our White colleagues, and/or to our hard-working immigrant parents, who toiled and sacrificed for a better future for their families. While this reality may be true for many, what some fail to consider is that Blacks also work hard but face different systemic challenges. A look at some basic statistics underscores a stark reality:  

In a recent panel discussion, “Brown complicity in White Supremacy,” Herveen Singh, a Canadian education administration professor at Zayed University in Dubai, said: “Essentially, the model minority myth was created to take attention away from the enslavement of Black people and replace it with ‘you’re just not working hard enough,’ not taking into account the hundreds of years of slavery, the eugenics project, that firmly puts White people at the top of the hierarchy” and then she goes on to say that Blacks are “are firmly at the bottom of this racial hierarchy.” Adding that brown people are usually placed “somewhere in the middle.”   

We’d be putting our heads in the sand not to recognize how deep anti-Blackness runs in many Asian cultures and communities. Perhaps it is a colonial “hang-over,” but we have deeply ingrained biases towards “Whiteness”.  According to a World Health Organization survey, nearly 40 percent of women polled in countries such as China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea said they used skin whitening products regularly. In India, 60 percent of the skincare market consisted of skin whitening products. In recent months, India’s multibillion skin lightening industry and the Bollywood actors who endorse it have come under fire, shedding light on a cultural bias that equates light skin to superiority. I recently reckoned with my own bias as I watched my daughter’s skin darken over the summer from playing outside. I hear the tape play in my head of my mother telling me to keep out of the sun, or I’d get “too” dark. My need to keep her out of the sun is almost instinctual; I have to tell myself it’s okay that her skin is darkening. 

We must recognize the role we play in perpetuating anti-Blackness and actively work to dismantle and eradicate it. Ibram X. Kendi, a leading Anti-racism scholar and author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” shares “One either allows racial inequalities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequalities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space for not racist.“   

A few things Pan-Asians can do to move towards dismantling anti-Black racism include:  

  1. Learn. Don’t assume you understand the Black experience and can speak to it because you are a person of colour. We are at a moment in time when knowledge on anti-Black racism is abundant. Take the time to learn about the history and systemic nature of the current realities of Black Canadians.   
  2. Reckon with your own internalized race bias. Understand the role you play in perpetuating anti-Blackness. Remember, having a Black friend, colleague, or partner doesn’t make you immune from anti-Black racism. Understand the deep-rooted anti-Blackness in our communities A good place to start to learn about your biases is to take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test.  
  3. Call out anti-Black racism. Call out racist behaviour in our communities. Get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations about racial hierarchies in our Asian cultures.  
  4. Engage. Reach out to your Black colleagues to create more professional networks. Black Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a great place to start. They provide an excellent opportunity to understand a Black colleague’s experiences and how you can show up as a more meaningful ally.  
  5. Use your privilege. If you have been successful and have ascended corporate and social-economic ladders, pay it forward. Use your voice and privilege to challenge the status quo, push for more anti-Black racism actions in your organizations, and make space at the table for Black colleagues and listen to what they have to say   

Let’s not hold our breath too long for things to change. As a community looking within, change must also begin with us.  


About the author: Sandeep Tatla is a member of the Chief Inclusion Officer Forum for Ascend Canada. The Chief Inclusion Officer Forum is a multi-industry group of volunteers, many of whom lead inclusion initiatives for their respective companies.  Sandeep serves at the Vice President, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility at PointClickCare.  

Sandeep recently moderated a panel about “How to stand up to racism in the workplace” at the Ascend Canada Annual Conference.