Writing about race and immigration can be tricky. Just penning a piece about race relations can lead to accusations of racism: such is the case with Canadian magazine Maclean’s, which continues to generate public outcry over a Nov. 10 article called " Too Asain?" The piece essentially poses this question: is the rising number of Asian students at Canadian universities changing these institutions for the worse?
Now, it would be perfectly reasonable if the authors — Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler — covered how white students and admission officers at Canadian universities were making this argument. But the authors take things a step further and make the argument themselves. In a nutshell, they describe Asian students as “strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university.” In other words, Asian students generally perform well academically, but are duds socially.
Their white counterparts, on the other hand, are characterized as attending university for purposes beyond grades, such as finding themselves and developing relationships with others. The influx of Asian students on Canadian university campuses over the past 25 years threatens to change this dynamic, the article posits. Now, white students are choosing to go to universities that aren’t overflowing with Asians. Findlay and Kohler state that racial segregation on university campuses is the problem here. But again and again in the piece, Asians are blamed for creating ethnic divisions among students. If Asians weren’t so focused on studying, didn’t cling to their cultural heritage and were more willing to party, all would be right again. As things stand, Asian students “risk alienating their more fun-loving peers,” the authors write. Apparently, one can’t be both fun-loving and studious.
Sadly, when some of their sources call them out for making sweeping generalizations about Asians, the authors paint them as being in denial. They’re unwilling to consider that “Asian students are fully engaged in extracurricular activities,” as University of Toronto president David Naylor wrote them in an email. He rightfully called the concept behind the article “false.” I would also venture to say that the “Too Asian?” piece is racist for scapegoating Asian students in a way likely to make them the targets of even more resentment on Canadian campuses. The article says little about how Asian students better Canada’s academic institutions. In the same vein, it offers no criticism of the proclivities of white university students. Aside from its conclusion, the piece functions to justify white flight from Canadian universities now viewed as not white enough.
If the writers were truly interested in promoting dialogue about ethnic tensions at Canadian universities, it would have served them well not to traffic in the stereotype of the “Asian student who wants to major in math and science and plays the violin” and the sympathetic white students who feel at a disadvantage in their presence. The very title of the piece is offensive, even though it is derived from a panel discussion held by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, “Too Asian?” Imagine if a major magazine published an article called “Too Black?” or “Too Jewish?” The outcry would be tremendous. Now imagine a piece called “Too White?” It’s doubtful that such an article would run considering whiteness is viewed as the norm and, thus, not a problem.
Let Maclean’s magazine know that if large numbers of whites in one place isn’t cause for concern, then large numbers of Asians in one place shouldn’t be either.