Henry Yu: Maclean's Must Answer for Racial Profiling

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Henry Yu is a professor of history at the University of British Columbia.]

In the weeks since the Maclean's article ' Too Asian'? was published, there have been a lot of opinions expressed. As a historian, I would like to point out some problems of just having an opinion without understanding what has led to some of the emotional reactions to the article, especially among those who have grown up in Canada.

The problem was not just the simplistic racial profiling which served as the inflammatory lead. More disturbing to many was that in a seasoned newsroom at Canada's self-proclaimed only national news magazine, no one had the good sense to ponder whether publishing an article designed to incite racial profiling of Asians was a good idea. Judging by the continued insistence on the part of Maclean's that their story was good journalism and that they have nothing for which they need to apologize, their editors and publishers remain unclear about just what they did wrong.

So what is going on? These are not unintelligent people. The problem is that there are so few people in their newsroom (and indeed among many of our English-language daily newsrooms) who might through personal experience understand what it is like to grow up Asian-Canadian, and indeed to be a visible minority or an indigenous person in Canada. Like the misguided student quoted at length who kept insisting that she was "not a racist" even while expressing racist opinions, those people who have spent their lives enjoying the privilege of not having to think about their race often do not understand why non-whites are so "sensitive." It is one of the signal benefits of our racial hierarchy that being white is the norm and everyone else has to deal with being Asian, or native, or black. What an amazing privilege indeed to just be able to live....

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