You are on page 1of 6

Running head: MICROAGGRESSIONS AND ASIAN CANADIANS

Microaggressions and Asian Canadians


Han-Jun Yoon
Simon Fraser University
Sociology 150 D105
TA: Zoey Sanderson

MICROAGGRESSIONS AND ASIAN CANADIANS

Youre not like the rest of your kind, are you? A Caucasian man uttered those words to
me around a year ago in a ski resort bar close to Mission, BC. What do you mean by my
kind? I asked him. Oh you know, the rest of you guys. Other Asians. Your English is pretty
good after all. This was not the first time it happened, and it would not be the last time I would
hear these statements. Do you speak English, is another common statement I hear not
infrequently. Simply because I have smaller eyes and copper skin, certain people assume I have
no knowledge of English; some people assume that I am not CanadianIn the field of sociology,
these statements are known as microaggressions. The term was pioneered by Charles Pierce in
1970 to describe the insults experienced by African-Americans on a regular and daily basis.
Rather than being overt displays of racism or prejudice, microaggressions exist below the
conscious awareness of the dominant culture. In laymans terms, the person stating the
microaggression is not even aware he or she is being insulting. Much like displays of overt
racism, such as painting Swastikas on a synagogue, microaggressions can reinforce
discrimination in both social institutions and other social worlds.
Before continuing on with this paper, it should be noted that microaggression and
discrimination towards those of Asian descent will be primarily analyzed. This is simply because
I, the author, am Korean. In Canada, individuals of Asian Canadians (especially Chinese,
Japanese, and Korean) face microaggressions, which reinforce discrimination in social
institutions. Before continuing on with this paper, the discrimination should be defined first. As
stated by Steckley and Letts in their textbook, discrimination includes acts by which individuals
are treated differently rewarded or punished based on their group membership. The history of
discrimination against the Asian community in Canada has been deeply embedded within this
otherwise great nation. Whether it was the poor treatment of Chinese railway workers in BC, the
Chinese head tax, the Vancouver race riot in Chinatown, or the internment of Japanese Canadians

MICROAGGRESSIONS AND ASIAN CANADIANS

during the Second World War, institutional and overt racism towards those of Asian descent has
been ever present in this country. Gradually, along with the adoption of multiculturalism under
the first Trudeau administration, overt racism and institutional discrimination towards Asian
Canadians did slowly decrease. That being said, discrimination in society towards Asian
Canadians such as myself do exist and are reinforced by microaggressions.
The most common form of microaggression experienced by Asian Canadians involve
questioning whether or not said person(s) is actually Canadian. Its often statements such as I
didnt realize youre Canadian, or better yet, Im so glad youre actually from here which
cause harm. These microaggressions reinforce the vertical mosaic, rather than promote the
cultural mosaic touted by the federal government. The vertical mosaic, a term coined by John
Porter, is a hierarchy of Canadian culture, in which White Anglo Saxon Protestants are on the
top, Francophone Canadians are just below, other visible minorities are below Francophones, and
indigenous peoples are on the bottom (Steckley and Letts, 2013, p. 219). Microaggressions such
as those listed above serve to reinforce the position of Asian Canadians, in that they are not truly
Canadian, unlike white Anglo Saxon Protestants and French Canadians/Francophones. This
labelling and thought process makes it easier to discriminate against Asians and Asian
Canadians, as it is easier to harass and discriminate against non-Canadian citizens.
One of the most truly sinister aspects of microaggressions is that it reinforces the false
idea that racial inequality is no longer an issue. Microaggressions such as Asians are the new
whites not only imply that white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are superior; those statements ignore
and discredit the very real discrimination faced by visible minority groups (Sue et al., 2009, p.
76). In one study conducted on employers in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, it was found that
those with English or French sounding names on a resume were 25 to 35 percent more likely to
get called back for a job interview as opposed to those with ethnic Chinese, Indian, or Greek last

MICROAGGRESSIONS AND ASIAN CANADIANS

names (Immen, 2011). Micro aggressions such as the example listed above completely gloss over
the reality that ethnic minorities, even Asian-Canadians, have a significant disadvantage in the
work force as a result of discrimination.
The discrimination originating from microaggression is not only institutional. There are
many examples in Canada of smiling/friendly racism, in which the underlying sentiment is
hidden behind the guise of being friendly (Steckley and Letts, 2013, p. 206). There is to this day,
the stereotype that all Asians are incredibly gifted at mathematics and are quite smart. This leads
many different forms of discriminations. One form commonly encountered by the author of this
paper is being approached for help with any sort of math equation. But arent you supposed to
be good at math? I and many other Asian-Canadians are subjected to slight microaggressions
such as these. This can, and has, lead to unrealistic expectations of Asians being mathematical
prodigies.
From an intersectional perspective, gender interacts with race to create different forms of
discrimination (Steckley and Letts, 2013, p. 221). In particular, Asian women in Canada
experience a form of discrimination different from the treatment experienced by Asian males. In
particular, Asian women are seen as being exotic sex objects, as illustrated by Asian fetishes
expressed in microaggressions of mainly white males (Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, and Torino,
2009, p. 76). As stated by one Korean American woman in Sue et al.s study, White men believe
that Asian women are great girlfriends, wait hand on foot on men, and dont back-talk or give
them shit. Asian women have beautiful skin and are just sexy and have silky hair (2009, p. 76).
By far one of the most frequent microaggressions experienced by Asian-Canadians, and
non-Canadian Asians, are is the lack of acknowledgement of interethnic differences (Sue et. al,
2009, p. 76). The most common microaggression which effectively sums up this sort of
sentiment is being asked Are you Chinese? The individual perpetrating this form of
microaggression generally makes the assumption that all peoples of Asian descent are the same,

MICROAGGRESSIONS AND ASIAN CANADIANS

look the same, and act the same. The perpetrator ignores the cultural and ethnic differences
between different Asian cultures. This leads to incidences in which Korean or Japanese
Canadians are treated the same way Chinese Canadians are. Needless to say, being considered
the same or treated the same way as a different ethnic group is incredibly insulting for those on
the receiving end of a microaggression. This form of discrimination also results in many different
ethnic groups from different nations being treated harshly for the actions of one particular
country. In the case of the Japanese Internment during the Second World War, Korean and
Chinese Canadians were also interned alongside Japanese Canadians since Canada was at war
with the Empire of Japan.
Canada, despite touting itself as a multicultural nation that celebrates ethnic and cultural
differences, is still dominated by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Francophone Canadians.
Microaggressions are not only symptomatic of this vertical mosaic, but also reinforce
discrimination towards ethnic groups. Though this paper primarily observed the effects of
discrimination and microaggressions towards those of Asian descent, other cultures and
ethnicities suffer as well, if not more so.
References
Immen, W. (2011, November 17). How an ethnic-sounding name may affect the job hunt.
The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-onbusiness/careers/how-an-ethnic-sounding-name-may-affect-the-jobhunt/article555082/
Steckley, J., & Letts, G. K. (2013). Elements of Sociology: A Critical Canadian
Introduction (3rd ed.). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.
Sue, D.W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A.I., Nadal, K.L., & Torino, G.C. (2009). Racial
microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Asian American Journal of
Psychology, 1. 88-101

MICROAGGRESSIONS AND ASIAN CANADIANS