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Opinion: To my fellow Asians — support Black Lives Matter

Our solidarity is essential to eradicating anti-Blackness in Canada

Opinion: To my fellow Asians — support Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd was all too familiar — a Black man killed by a white police officer. How many times have we seen this exact same scenario?

Like so many others, growing up, I wanted to believe in an America without racism. I was in awe of Black excellence — from listening to Black artists like Beyoncé and Usher, to watching Serena and Venus Williams dominate women’s tennis. I live right outside Detroit — the birthplace of the legendary Motown Records. Surely the mainstream success of Black individuals suggested that we had largely moved on from systemic racism?

But the success of a select few doesn’t negate the suffering of the majority. One 2019 study found that Black men in the United States are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. More shockingly, another study found that white officers in the US are significantly more likely to use guns in predominantly Black neighbourhoods than Black officers.

As residents of Canada, we have to recognize that this systemic racism isn’t limited to the US. We can no longer superficially proclaim Canada to be a ‘racial and multiethnic haven’; it never has been — anti-Blackness is embedded in both Canada’s institutions and history at every level. 

Within the U of T community, three Black women students penned a brilliant open letter to Trinity College for for its anti-Black racism against Black students — racism the three writers personally experienced. In Toronto, a city boasting the motto “Diversity Our Strength,” a Black individual is 20 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white individual. Our own prime minister can’t even count how many times he has done blackface. 

As a person of Chinese descent, I can confirm that anti-Blackness isn’t unique to white culture; it runs rampant in Asian circles as well. In Asia, skin-whitening procedures are commonplace, as pale complexions are indicative of higher social class. 

In Japan, blackface is widely employed by comedians and entertainers. In India, people from the south are ridiculed for having darker skin. An Asian fraternity at New York University was recently suspended after screenshots of a group conversation in which members made derogatory comments about Black people were leaked. I used to teach English in China, and students often mocked certain individuals for being “too dark,” claiming that they practically “looked African.”

Black-Asian solidarity is a tricky topic — this relationship is one characterized by apathy at best, and hostility at worst. And while Asians in Canada also experience, and have experienced, racism — see the Chinese Immigration Acts of 1885 and 1923 and the recent rise in anti-Asian racism due to COVID-19’s Chinese origins — we don’t understand or feel the full dimensions of the racism that Black people face.

More often than not, Asians are praised as the ‘model minority’ — a myth which has served as evidence for the ability of racialized people to advance socioeconomically while bypassing the institutional barriers that inhibit and discriminate against Black people and other minorities.

You might be wondering after all this, “How exactly can I get involved?” Protesting is certainly one way to go, but showing solidarity doesn’t necessarily mean showing up to every single Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest. It’s also natural to feel reluctant to go near massive crowds in the midst of a pandemic. But there are still a lot of other ways you can support BLM.

The first step is to educate yourself on systemic racism by reading books and articles, watching documentaries, and listening to Black voices. Books on anti-racism have been topping bestseller lists lately, so there’s no shortage of excellent reading material. Netflix has made 13th, an Oscar-nominated documentary that details the plight of Black people, from slavery to mass incarceration, and is available for free on YouTube. Additionally, The Varsity has released articles recommending music, movies, and books on anti-Black racism to help. 

Next, donate to local Black organizations and nonprofits. Research the causes you feel passionate about. For instance, Visions of Science is a Toronto-based nonprofit that’s looking to engage underprivileged and under-represented minorities in STEM; this suits someone like me who loves doing STEM outreach. The Black Legal Action Centre provides free legal counselling to lower-income Black households. You can even donate to the Canadian branch of BLM.

Consider amplifying Black voices by supporting local Black-owned businesses and listening to Black artists. But it’s also important to note that you should do so out of genuine interest and avoid tokenism, which does more harm than good.

Additionally, call out anti-Blackness whenever and wherever you see it. It is vital that we don’t simply act as bystanders. This includes interactions with your own family members. Try to involve them in meaningful, educational conversations about racism and racial bias.

Letters for Black Lives is an open letter project targeted toward older-generation Asian family members that conveys the need for Asian solidarity, and they’ve released translated versions. Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj also released a video targeting the Asian community in a desperate call-to-action, with subtitles available in 29 languages. 

Finally, we need to engage in purposeful, creative, and sustainable ways to fight against systemic racism. We must go beyond ‘woke’ social media posts and long-winded talks about race. Innovate and discover ways in which your own personal talents, hobbies, and interests can support Black lives.

I am personally inspired by Helen Tran, a Vietnamese-American chemist and incoming U of T professor who has dedicated herself to doing community-based outreach to promote women and underprivileged minorities within chemistry.

This string of BLM protests already promises to be different, as visible changes are already happening. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, the city council has already pledged to rebuild the city’s police department. Two members of Toronto’s city council recently proposed reducing police funding by 10 per cent to redirect toward community services, following widespread Black activist calls for defunding.

BLM protests have broken out all in countries across the world — including both Japan and Korea, Asian nations that are mostly ethnically homogeneous but also grapple with anti-Blackness.

The Asian community can no longer persist in its long-standing attitude of passivity, silence, and apathy. The world is uprising in support of Black lives and we all must do the same.

Benjamin Ding is a fourth-year chemistry, mathematics, and biology student at Victoria College.

Health care workers report anxiety, moral distress, unclear work delegation, preliminary COVID-19 research finds

Frontline mental health investigations supported by U of T's action fund for pandemic

Health care workers report anxiety, moral distress, unclear work delegation, preliminary COVID-19 research finds

This spring, U of T created the almost-$9 million Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund to support high-impact research that helps fight COVID-19 and its economic and societal consequences. Funded projects range from attempts to develop new diagnostic tools for the disease to controlling outbreaks in long-term care homes.

The Varsity interviewed two recipients of the fund: Dr. Rima Styra, who is a part of the psychiatry department at the Faculty of Medicine and a Clinician Investigator at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, and Dr. Elizabeth Peter from the Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. Both are studying the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of frontline health care workers.

Styra’s ongoing research focuses on hospital-based health care workers and evaluates “the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” on them as well as the “risk factors that may place [health care workers] at higher risk of negative effects on their mental health.” The study consists of a cross-sectional online survey containing multiple choice and short answer questions conducted in several hospitals, and the participants are from both high-risk units — like emergency departments and COVID-19 units — and low-risk units. 

“The challenge of online research compared to in-person research is that there is not as great an opportunity to allow the participant to elaborate on their responses or for the researcher to ask further questions to dig deeper,” Styra wrote.

Although the researchers have not started to analyze their data yet, Styra wrote that the feelings of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress experienced by Canadian health professionals are similar to those expressed by their Chinese counterparts.

Peter’s team is studying the mental health impact of COVID-19 on nurses. According to Peter, nurses are currently experiencing significant moral distress, “which is the experience of not being able to do the right thing as result of constraining circumstances.” Her study aims to identify strategies that can reduce this moral stress. 

The team, consisting of four researchers including Peter, is interviewing nurses via Microsoft Teams. Although it is harder to establish rapport with the participants, Peter appreciates being able to reach nurses across Canada without having to travel anywhere.

According to Peter, the preliminary findings are that many nurses have been redirected to work in areas they are not used to, leading to concerns that they might not be “able to provide the best care possible.” Nurses also worry that they might be unable to protect their own health and well-being and that they may infect someone at home.

The uncertainty of working amidst the pandemic is also taking a toll on nurses. Even though they try to support patients themselves and use technology to connect patients to their families, many nurses are distressed when they witness someone die of COVID-19 alone.

Many nurses value the support of their coworkers and public recognition, and some seek help from professionals to help them deal with the aforementioned stress. “The creation of predictable and consistent work responsibilities would be very helpful along with the inclusion of frontline nurses in the decision-making regarding the delivery of health care services,” Peter wrote.