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"Too Asian?" too racist for a magazine like Maclean's?

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Whatever intention Maclean's had in publishing "Too Asian?" by Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler, the story in the November 10 issue jeopardizes the magazine's reputation of producing "strong investigative reporting" by publishing careless writing that tries to pass off inaccurate stereotypes as "facts." Findlay and Kohler might as well cite Gilmore Girls' Lane Kim and Harold & Kumar's Harold Lee while they try to stimulate a dilemma by transplanting a hot American debate into a Canadian context:

"The dilemma is this: Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so. Privately, however, many in the education community worry that universities risk becoming too skewed one way, changing campus life – a debate that's been more or less out in the open in the U.S. for years but remains muted here."

At the end of the article, I was still uncertain about what the dilemma is in Canada. That the writers think Canadian universities operate as "pure meritocracies" is admirable. If both U of T President David Naylor and UBC President Stephen Toope are not concerned about the percentage of Asian students at their universities, why should Maclean's readers be?

So, what's the problem?

The problem is that Maclean's is trying to spin a non-issue into a debate about race for the sake of selling a extra few issues and luring extra clicks to keep their online traffic up. It's reckless from a journalistic standpoint to publish an article that overgeneralizes and typecasts an entire race of people. This kind of writing belongs in a tabloid, not in a magazine that touts its highly acclaimed journalistic reputation. Publications should be wary of green-lighting articles that may have negative social repercussions by reinforcing stereotypes:

"'Too Asian" is not about racism, say students like Alexandra: many white students simply believe that competing with Asians – both Asian Canadians and international students – requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they're not willing to make."

"Too Asian" is, in fact, about racism. It's about taking Asian-Canadians and Asian international students at face-value and grouping them under the same umbrella, then stereotyping them as shut-ins and academic robots. Because Findlay and Kohler fail to address the cultural distinctions between Asian Canadians and Asian international students, they fail to acknowledge a large majority of Asian Canadians who are incredibly involved and by no means lack social skills.

They also fail to explore the make-up of domestic Asian students and international Asian students at each referenced university. Instead, they carelessly draw a big circle around all these diverse groups and label them "Asian" for simplicity's sake.

A first-generation Canadian, I was raised in Toronto and attended high school in the middle of the city at Yonge and Eglinton. My friends were a mixture of Chinese, Koreans, Serbians, Latvians, Dutch, Jews, Italians, Persian, English, and Irish. We were involved with school clubs and after school we socialized together.

As each of us moved on to university, we each continued to make new friends of all races and creeds and continued to be involved in extracurricular activities on and off campus. The reason why my Asian friends and I got into university cannot be accounted for by "fact(s) born out by hard data" (whatever that means) or by our tendency to be "strivers, high-achievers and single-minded in (our) approach to university."

I succeed because I choose to surround myself with a group of motivated individuals, based on character, not race, who motivate me with their own strong work ethic and enthusiasm to continue to achieve on and off-campus. I earned my spot in university based on academic merit. The fact that I am Asian should be irrelevant.

For every five metaphorical steps any Asian takes forward to defy popular Asian stereotypes it seems that some new ceiling appears right after the previous had a chance to be broken. A magazine of Maclean's' reputation and reach should help lead initiatives that nurture intercultural dialogue instead of publishing articles based on lazy journalism. 

(6) Comments

Thinking November 12th 2010 | 9:09 AM
I lost all respect and interest in Macleans years ago but the article you refer to was forwarded by someone else so I had read it. Why the authors wish to bring that kind of nonsense to their readers is beyond me but they will have to jump through many hoops to regain any respect. There is enough bigotry rearing it's ugly head in this country lately without people who self anoint themselves as journalists deliberately instigating more. The reality is that any thinking person will simply see that the 'students' they quote have not developed critical thinking skills as yet for which we can blame their parents and the K-12 education system.
nealea@gmail.com November 16th 2010 | 7:19 PM

Too often Canadian publications seem to exhibit the attitude that if there's a problem or controversy in the US, it must also exist in Canada. The problem with the Maclean's article (http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/11/10/too-asian/) is that it gives precious little evidence that there are people concerned about the mix of students in Canadian universities. There is "a growing cohort of student" that's concerned; "students talk about it all the time."; a few students are interviewed; a retired guidance counsellor has an opinion. The only hard data comes from UBC's survey: 43 per cent of students are "Asian" (defined as Chinese, Japanese, Korean-but not Indian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, etc... wonder why) compared to 21.5 per cent of all residents. But of course the makeup of all residents is not the relevant figure, but the percentage of "Asians" in the age groups likely to go to university. And UBC President Stephen Toope, like the U of T president, sees no problem with the situation except to say he'd like to see all sorts of groups at UBC mingle more. Well, yeah, they will with time. I do wish the reporters, having taken the US story and examined what was happening in Canada, simply reported back to their editors, "No story here." I expect they did but the editors insisted they write something.

 

cpcolinchau November 25th 2010 | 9:09 AM

The article did more damage than good.  Although to some the contents did apply to some in the asian community (even amongst asians, and asians of mixed western-asian values, they are jokes we play by), it's not progressive discussion especially with the venue of a magazine of such repute at MacLean's... or so I thought.

JWong November 26th 2010 | 12:12 PM

Arghh..where to start with this crap article...as a half Chinese/half Caucasian Canadian I hear a lot of people complain about how many Asians make up the College or University campuses, and it drives me nuts. I think what people are failing to recognize is that these 'Asians' are also just Canadians and we're grouping Canadian citizens with international students- at the same time should we not be aiming to accept the best students into the university/college regardless of where they come from? International students pay more $$ on tuition, have to submit their registration much sooner, and have to jump through more hoops in general to attend our schools.

Shouldn't the competition serve to push us all to be better students and work harder? I feel like a Canadian student that uses the excuse of 'too many asians' at their school, or work place is just doing so to mask their own shortcomings.

I'd rather just be proud of living somewhere people want to live, and attend school- that should be a kudos to us Canadians, instead of complaining about it.

And for the record 'Canadians' includes 'Asians', just as much as it includes 'Caucasians'.

I also don't feel this topic should have been given any space in Macleans- will add to my 'don't waste money on' magazine list.

 

Anonymous Observer November 27th 2010 | 5:05 AM

The school is not a playground. If you're not going to put in the effort, then get out and let someone else who is willing to do so take your spot. Want to flip burgers the rest of your life? That's your free will talking; you've made a choice so don't go around associating a "race" with academicia. I know plenty of Asians who never tried in school and vice-versa.

Arti February 20th 2011 | 1:13 PM

What is wrong with asking the question is Vancouver too asian?  We all know the answer so do we have to walk on egg shells rather than giving an honest answer.  Just go into a lot of richmond malls and they look at people that are born in this fair country with a look of what are you doing here?  I have no problem with any races but when cities get taken over.. it doesnt sit that well with me.  How about french and english signs rather than strip malls of just chinese.  This is Canada not an extension of Asia.  Good on the magazine for asking is this the best thing for Canada, I dont think it is.

                    Arti