Abstract: "She Drew a Straight Line across My Eyes": Asian Canadian Youth Perspective on Anti-Asian Racism (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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"She Drew a Straight Line across My Eyes": Asian Canadian Youth Perspective on Anti-Asian Racism

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Lin Fang, PhD, Associate professor, University of Toronto, ON, Canada
Maria Al-Raes, MA, Research Assistant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Kimberly Chan, BA, Research Assistant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Eumela Nuesca, Research Assistant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Vivian Leung, MA, PhD Candidate, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: The surge of anti-Asian racism incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a poignant reminder of the long history of prejudice and hate against Asians. While youth may be one of the populations particularly vulnerable to negative mental health impacts caused by COVID, Asian youth also need to face with the stress and impact related to anti-Asian racism, the "shadow pandemic". A recent report by the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter and Project 1970 (2022) indicated that incidents of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in Canada have increased by 286% among children and adolescents. Guided by Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, the study aims to: 1) explore how Asian youth understand anti-Asian racism while navigating the impact of the pandemic; and 2) gain insight on what contribute to anti-Asian racism from youth perspective.

Methods: This is a community-based, arts-informed research. In collaboration with a community mental health agency and youth advisory committee, we conducted photo stories (32 multimedia submissions) and focus group and individual interviews with 36 Asian youth aged 12-25 years [12-15 years old (n=6), 16-18 years old (n=12), 19-25 years old (n=18)]. Drawing on constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006), we followed an inductive, iterative, and concurrent process of data collection, coding, conceptualization and theorization, transcribed all interviews and field notes, and undertook line-by-line open coding.

Results: Findings from focus groups with youth indicate that Asian youth experience anti-Asian racism as early as elementary school and continue to frequently encounter with racism into early adulthood in the form of racist comments, jokes, and discrimination. Anti-Asian racism is "sneaky" and invisible in its presentation, often taking the form of "casual racism" where subtle, intentional or unintentional remarks or behaviors that convey bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. COVID-19 plays a catalyst role in surfacing and exposing anti-Asian racism, as participants described experiencing and witnessing more overt and explicitly violent incidents of anti-Asian racism since the beginning of the pandemic. Youth suggested that White supremacy is the overarching cause of anti-Asian racism. As well, proximity to whiteness, which is related to colourism and the privileges Asians have, was named as another contributing factor. Model minority myth serves the purpose of invalidating and invisibilizing Asian’s experience with racism while "drawing a wedge between the Asian community and also Black and indigenous communities". Some participants observed that immigration status and the accompanying immigrant mentality of "keep your head down and just keep working" also complicate the Asian community's capacity to take action against anti-Asian racism. As a result, a dismissive attitude festers both within the broader society and within the Asian communities, whereby racist incidents against Asians are left unnoticed or disregarded, thus allowing anti-Asian racism to perpetuate unchecked.

Conclusion: From youth perspective, anti-Asian racism in the Canadian context is often as insidious, invisible, and become invalided. There is an urgency to continue the conversation about anti-Asian racism and bring greater attention to the impact of anti-Asian racism on Asian Canadians.