Op-ed: How businesses can include Asian-Canadians in their anti-racism work

Anti-racism sign
Stock image, for illustrative purposes only.

By Kara Eusebio

Last week’s tragedy outside Atlanta, in which a gunman killed eight people – six of which were East Asian women – at several spas brought to light the growing anti-Asian violence and sentiment in the United States.

To Asian-Canadians, the violence is nothing new, with some referring to the alarming spike in anti-Asian violence and hate as a “shadow pandemic.” According to the Canadian Project 1907, Canadians reported more anti-Asian racist incidents per Asian capita than the U.S. in 2020. Here in Ottawa, police report anti-Asian hate crimes are up 600 per cent.

But despite these clear indicators of a major problem with anti-Asian racism, Asian-Canadians have been largely absent from the anti-racism conversation throughout the pandemic.

Many of my friends and coworkers were surprised to hear the statistics I’ve just shared and shocked to hear that on numerous occasions during the pandemic, I have been followed and been the target of racial slurs as an East Asian woman.

Why is this a surprise to so many people?

Asian-Canadians are stereotyped in Canada very similarly to how we are seen in the United States – the silent, submissive “model minority.” Asian men are seen as docile and weak leaders while Asian women are seen as hypersexualized “Tiger Moms.” We are often seen as foreign and told that we do not belong here.

Asian-Canadians do not face the level of violence and discrimination that Black and Indigenous individuals do on a daily basis. But being Asian in Canada right now means being frightened, othered and scared. 

During COVID-19, I have been forced to adjust my daily routine. I will often wear a hat, mask and sunglasses during outings to try and mask the fact that I’m an Asian woman in an attempt to avoid racist violence. My guess is that your Asian-Canadian coworkers and staff have done the same.

Over the last week, colleagues and friends have asked me over and over what they can do better in their workplaces to address anti-Asian racism. Here are a few actions you can take today:

Support Asian-owned businesses

Asian-owned businesses have taken a significant hit during the pandemic. In early March 2020, Mayor Jim Watson visited Chinatown to reassure citizens that the neighbourhood was as safe as any other in Ottawa and dispel misconceptions around the COVID-19 outbreak.

Even at the time, Asian-owned businesses were reporting massive losses in revenue. It is important to remember that while some Asian-Canadians own restaurants and dry-cleaning companies, many others own law firms, run startups and gyms, and create jewelry and art. They need our support too.  

Include Asians in your anti-racism efforts

Does your organization have an anti-racism strategy? Are you making donations or taking action to combat racism in Canada? Too often, Asian-Canadians aren't included in broader discussions of anti-racism against minority groups.

Make sure that your organization is including Asian-Canadians in your discussions and speaking specifically about the violence faced by Asian-Canadians. Call out the anti-Asian racism that is occurring in Canada to your team. Consider giving your employees explicit permission to use sick days for mental health leave. Understand that your Asian-Canadian staff may be struggling to be as productive as usual while experiencing racial trauma.

Understand how harmful stereotypes against Asian-Canadians, even those that appear “positive,” have insidious effects. Think about how you can ensure that your workplace is free of anti-Asian bias and get help from a third-party consultant if you haven’t already.

Make bystander training and practical action a part of your company training

Bystanders can have a significant impact on helping and empowering individuals experiencing street harassment and violence. Nearly all of the hate incidents reported by Asian-Canadians took place in public areas. Hollaback! offers free bystander training and also provides private training for individual businesses. 

Share resources with your team

Canadian organizations that can help individuals understand how to report incidents of racist violence and provide education on the anti-Asian violence occurring in Canada today include Elimin8Hate, Project 1907, Act2EndRacism, Fight COVID-19 Racism, and FaceRace.

Kara Eusebio is the senior manager of strategic partnerships at Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards, as well as the curator/head of the Ottawa Hub of the Global Shapers Community, and a 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient