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April 2021 Newsletter

“Racial violence is connected to the idea of who belongs and who doesn’t. Whose humanity is questioned in a moment of crisis. Who is scapegoated in a moment of crisis.” - Harsh Walia, author of Border & Rule

Jelana Bighorn holding 15 copies of Border & Rule by Harsha Walia. Pick up a book near you and join our book club! DETAILS COMING SOON!
EVERY MONTH IS STOP RACISM / ANTI-ASIAN HATE MONTH

By Karine Ng

As we approach Asian Heritage Month, let us take a moment to reflect on the causes and effects of the uptick of anti-Asian racism here and in all white settler-colonial states.

We cannot begin to delve into this topic without first anchoring our understanding in history and systems.  What comes before becomes the present; without intervention, history's trajectory into the future will only be predictable.  The rise of anti-Asian racism we have been witnessing recently is a continuation of racist colonial history of these lands and beyond.  Similar to adopting a long temporal view, a systemic lens must also be applied to any analysis of injustices to fully capture the problem. That is, we must ask: How have the law, policies and governments over the past centuries across the conquered lands of European empires shaped the present world?

Art by @hisuyen

The Model Minority Myth:

While many immigrants may pride themselves in their resilience through hardships and discrimination, one must acknowledge that the resilience can also be damaging, if it does not evolve into resistance.  To survive and overcome immediate difficulties, “putting your head down and work hard” and “not rocking the boat” are often necessary for survival.  However, dwelling in the psychology of static resilience can be a slippery slope towards reifying the model minority myth (MMM).  

 

Assuming the role of a model minority is an act of self-segregation from the struggles of Indigenous, Black and other People of Colour, it also undermines the solidarity with all marginalized peoples. To be fair, the imposition of the MMM on Asian settlers by white supremacy is a technology to subjugate them to the colonial desire; the relations of power constitute an integral part of this imposition, skewed unfavourably towards those whose claim to power has been suppressed through the colonial theft of land, bodies and labour.  Indeed, the MMM is just another tool in the divide-and-conquer toolbox of the colonizer.






The perception that Asians as a social group will not rise up in resistance also has its roots in the racist MMM.  This erroneous and harmful perception leads to Asians being targeted for racist attacks, with the assumption that they will remain silent.  As teachers, our assumptions about Asian students and colleagues must also be challenged.  There is a strong history of Asian resistance throughout the colonial history of so-called Canada, yet it is not taught and is largely absent from the public consciousness.  For example, the invisibility of Chinese Canadian history is harmful to youth of Chinese descent who do not see themselves reflected in the curriculum beyond the legacy and pathos of indentured labour. 

 

Labour and immigration policies like the Temporary Foreign Worker program are responsible for the 21st century’s version of indentured labour, only the contemporary twist is largely feminized.  Segregated labour creates unequal status and working conditions for many female Asian workers who fear speaking out will result in gendered violence, the loss of jobs or work permits.  The acquiescence and subscription to the MMM are the desired outcomes of such policies.  As we welcome the children of these workers into our classrooms every day, we have the responsibility to consider how our preconceptions of them and their families are influenced by governmental decisions, and what our role is as educators and citizens in a democratic society.

 

We simply cannot ignore the intersection of race and class.  Class consciousness is paramount to analyse how race is complicated by wealth and economic status.  When we picture an international student in the K-12 system, what do we see?  Do we assume that they are well-to-do, wealthy?  What feelings surface from that assumption?  The reality is many parents of international students are themselves struggling to provide for their children’s education in Canada.  Conditions resulting from neoliberal policies with global reach are rooted in capitalism - a violent and extractive economic system.  Along with socio-econo-political turmoil, environmental crises, and the colonial legacies in the students’ home countries, these policies contribute to the systemic factors that ultimately lead to the emigration of families traveling overseas for survival, work and education.

 

Lastly, one wonders where aggrieved students and teachers may go to for support when they experience racism in schools.  Affordable mental health services leave much to be desired, let alone the extremely scarce access to adequately trained anti-racist counsellors.  The MMM can place an overwhelming amount of stress on Asian students to perform.  Add to that the stigma (tied to mental health issues) and inequitable access to health services (e.g. language barriers, counsellors who can relate to their experiences), students suffer in silence and isolation. 


To end on a forward-looking note, here is a challenge for us all as educators to put foot to pedal, transforming our thoughts into actions:

Teaching Poetry for Social Justice

By Denise Ferreira

This past month, I attended a Rethinking Schools webinar event entitled, ‘Rhythm and Resistance: A Conversation About Teaching and Writing Poetry.’ The event was hosted by ELA teacher Linda Christensen and featured writer Renee Watson, who writes YA fiction that centers Black characters and experiences.

This year has definitely taken a toll on so many of us – both teachers and students alike. On the day of this workshop, I was feeling particularly tired. At the end of a full-day of teaching online, I was screen-tired, and brain- and heart-tired, too. But I logged in anyway, hoping that the session would live up to its title.




The workshop did exactly that. Renee Watson began by sharing her own experiences as a young black woman who loved books and poetry and writing; she knew she loved stories, that she wanted to write, and that she wanted to share a part of her identity with the world. Linda was her high school English teacher, and Watson described how, through a community of story-telling, poetry writing, and connection that Linda had created in her classroom, she found, to quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop has written, both “mirrors” and “sliding glass doors” – a way to see herself and move into a community of readers and writers. Watson began exploring poetry writing as a way to tell her story, and also see and know herself.

During the session, both Watson and Christensen shared a variety of texts and writing activities that may inspire students in our classrooms. These texts focused on joyous and profound BIPOC experiences, which are important facets of framing BIPOC identities. The activities focused on guiding students in sharing their stories, their lived experiences, and their identities through poetry, a powerful pathway for the finding of voice in our ELA classrooms. Watson and Christensen showed how poetry can be a form of confrontation against the stereotyping of Black and Brown identities and experiences; further, poetry can be a way for students and our classroom communities to become more empowered. Watson and Christensen showed poetry, and the rhythm we find in it, as resistance.

One such inspirational and powerful text was CJ Suitt’s ‘In the Aftermath’. This piece illustrates a concrete time before and an imagined time after our current pandemic, and how, through it, we can perhaps see the beauty and strength of a possible future. To check out this spoken word text, click here.

Another text shared was Paul Flores’ ‘Brown Dreams’; it presents the American Dream as a false myth, and the importance of education in making dreams happen; mostly, the text helps us see that brown and black children deserve the opportunity to FIND the ‘Dream’, not just aspire to it. To hear it, click here.

Another text that Watson shared was one of her own pieces, entitled, ‘This Body.’ This poem celebrates Brown and Black girls, and it does so by presenting a list of definitions (dictionary and real-world) of body part ‘nouns’ (such as ‘skin’, ‘hair’, and ‘hips’). This text pulls us in, to see the beauty of black and brown bodies – that there is love, confidence, strength and joy found there. Watson writes, “Do not be afraid of all your powers. / You will not fit in/most places. / Do not bend, squeeze, contort yourself. / Be big, brown girl /…Brown girl, be.” To read the full text, click here

One activity that Watson shared with us was connected to this text. Using this piece as a mentor text, Watson showed how students could select an object that is tied to their identity in some way, and then construct a list of nouns connected to that object; students can first begin ‘dictionary-defining’ these nouns, and then start to dig deeper into what those nouns CAN and DO mean – beyond the superficial - by drawing out their real-world, figurative meanings. This way, students are playing and understanding language, but also making meaning through and in their own identities.

Watson and Christensen highlighted the importance of student voice – that the communities we build in our classrooms and world must be built on truth-telling. Honesty. Courage. Self-love. And safe space. And, in these spaces, students can find their identities as writers.

At session’s end, I felt energized. Ultimately, this session renewed the joy that language and story bring to students and reinforced the need to do that even more explicitly for BIPOC students. To shine a light on the wonder, joy and strength in the pieces written by BIPOC writers is a responsibility we all have, as educators. As a white educator, this is a crucial responsibility; most importantly, making space for student storytelling through poetry is also a wonderful path to take WITH students – for it is a way of resisting oppression within and beyond our classroom walls. This is one way to teach for and find justice.

To watch the full recording of the workshop, Click here.

To learn about Linda Christensen’s poetry-writing workshopping, through the Zinn Education Project, click here and here and here.  

To check out the book, Rhythm & Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice, click here

Watson is the author of Piecing Me Together, Watch Us Rise, and Love is a Revolution. To check out her writing, click here.

Rethinking Schools is an organization that brings critical voices into the conversation about public schools; they also publish social justice educational materials and work alongside Teaching for Change through the Zinn Education Project. Rethinking Schools also provides free webinars and workshops for teachers throughout the year. To learn more about the org, click here and here.
UPCOMING EVENTS

Register for May 1 event HERE.
 

Register for May 8 event HERE.
 
Full Press Release can be found here.
Media can contact meenakshi@pivotlegal.org for Zoom login details.

ACLA in BC is hosting an exciting event on Wednesday, May 26, 7-8:30 pm:  "Asian Canadian Artists Against Racism: An Evening of Resistance”.  Since its re-launch in BC in November 2020, interest in issues related to rising anti-Asian racism and its effects on working-class Asian Canadians has been surging within the community.  The event aims to reach all but especially Asian workers and communities through the enjoyment of politically-engaged artworks by Asian Canadian artists based in BC.

ACLA is a grassroots organization composed of labour activists of Asian descent from Ontario and BC.  Our overarching goal is to mobilize and activate workers to organize around labour and social justice issues within their unions and workplaces.  For recent actions and events, please visit our website.

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