Academic journal article Social Justice

Antiracism in the Cosmopolis: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of Elite Chinese Canadian Women

Academic journal article Social Justice

Antiracism in the Cosmopolis: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of Elite Chinese Canadian Women

Article excerpt

IN THE ERA OF GLOBALIZATION, CANADA, LIKE THE UNITED STATES, HAS WITNESSED increased westward migration of Pacific Rim capital and Chinese professionals. These adult professionals often establish families in Canada and seek not only capital and cultural accumulation, but also a sense of "belonging" in their new country (Ong, 1999). Aihwa Ong, however, argues that many of these professional Chinese investor-immigrants face persistent racial biases that prevent them from gaining full acceptance in white, Anglo circles with high social standing (Ong, 1999). Among these barriers are: resentments by white neighbors toward Chinese Canadian and Chinese American immigrants who move into traditionally white, upscale neighborhoods (Mitchell, 1997; Ong, 1999); exclusion from invitation lists to prestigious and predominantly "white" social events (Ong, 1999); and persistent stereotypes of Chinese Americans as laborers, laundrymen, and restaurant workers (Ibid.). Thus, Ong cautions that transnational, cosmopolitan, Chinese investor immigrants, despite being armed with capital, Western business degrees, and an embrace of global capitalism, are still often constructed by popular discourses as aliens in the U.S. Ong notes that this led one Hong Kong manager to comment, "they want your Pacific Rim money, but they don't want you" (Ibid.: 108).

The goals of this essay are to examine how three young, privileged, middleclass, Chinese Canadian women understand and/or experience sexism and racism and what they think about social justice movements such as those concerned with antiracism. Building on the important work of Ong (1999), I focus on the young adult offspring of middle-class Chinese immigrants. I use a semi-structured interview method, which permits an empirical exploration and application of Ong's theoretical work. This article also employs what Nader (1972) refers to as a method of "studying up," that is, studying the wealthy, privileged, and powerful. Proponents and practitioners of antiracism, like many social justice movements, have more commonly researched the oppressed, downtrodden, and marginalized. However, Nader argues that "studying up" is vital to efficacious and complex social justice theory and practice formations.

My interviews with three privileged, middle-class, Chinese Canadians, ranging from 27 to 30 years of age, revealed that these women supported antiracism initiatives, but were not necessarily anti-capitalists. This dynamic suggests the need for antiracism activists to grapple with the recalcitrance these young Chinese elites feel toward anti-capitalism and to seek innovative collaborations with these women. Such collaborations require us to move beyond the modernist terms of "right" and "left."

Toronto is a cosmopolis, a diverse city comprised of many racial, ethnic, immigrant, and linguistic groups. Given the diversity of groups, differing histories, and the wide range of political interests, the challenge of inciting mass involvement in social justice movements is particularly intriguing. Yet, the struggle for antiracism in Toronto has a long, hard fought, and commendable history, particularly among African Canadian communities, leaders, activists, educators, and parents (Bramble, 2000; Dei, 1996; 2000; James and Mannette, 2000). However, critics have noted that the antiracism movement is often framed by a black-and-white paradigm of race relations that serves to exclude groups such as Asians from discourses of race and antiracism (Lee, 1996).

Beyond the black-and-white paradigm of race relations, social justice movements, including those dedicated to antiracism education in Canada, have been stymied by an ambivalence toward some nonwhite groups, especially those perceived to be wealthy. The Chinese in Canada are a case in point. Omi and Takagi (1996) describe the Left's ambivalence toward Asian Americans because of suspicions that Asian Americans, especially affluent ones, do not support left-wing struggles such as employment equity. …

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