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