The first step in the process of transformation is to listen and learn

The Department of Asian Studies stands in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) on the UBC campus, in Canada, on this continent, and around the world in their demands for an end to systemic racism and racialized violence. At this watershed moment when the deaths of Black and Indigenous people like Eishia Hudson, Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, and Jason Collins at the hands of police in Canada and the U.S. have brought renewed calls for justice, we commit to undertaking new initiatives to reflect on our particular connections to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and, on the basis of that reflection, make necessary changes.

Our department has long been committed to examining issues of Orientalism, colonialism, anti-Asian racism, and the complicated triangulations in relations between Black, Asian, Indigenous, and white communities at particular historical moments. We have made significant progress from a faculty cohort that was majority white a decade ago to a faculty cohort that is majority POC at all levels today. However, we have fallen short in attention to Indigenous issues, and in other important areas such as the recruiting of Black and Indigenous faculty members, and the recruiting and retention of Black and Indigenous students, both undergraduate and graduate.

Recognizing our shortcomings in the area of Indigeneity, we last year voted to approve a department initiative to foreground issues around Indigeneity in Asian Studies through a transformation of our curriculum supported by public events such as a film and lecture series; now is the time to add to that a commitment to transformation that will address historic and present-day structural inequalities vis-à-vis Black communities as well.

Those of us whose academic study and teaching focuses on the various regions of Asia engage with race and Indigeneity on at least three levels:

– considering race relations and the issues of Indigenous and marginalized peoples in the countries/regions we teach about and research;

– considering configurations of race at the times and places when and where our regional disciplines were created (such as the roots of Japanese Studies in the Occupation of Japan after WWII and the subsequent Cold War; or of South Asian Studies in the British Raj) and the ways those regional disciplines have been permanently affected by those specific histories;

– considering the current structure and practices of our field in North America.

In consultation with faculty, students, staff, and other members of our community, we will actively pursue ways of incorporating these three levels of engagement toward the goal of understanding where we (as individuals and as a department) are now, how we got here, and what needs to be done in our specific context to eliminate structures, practices, and implicit beliefs that exclude and endanger Black and Indigenous people. Among our concrete actions in the immediate future will be: fundraising for bursaries and prizes directed at Black and Indigenous graduate students; pledging that at least 30% and preferably 50% of department-funded invited speakers each year are from marginalized communities; holding anti-racism and anti-oppression training and workshops with all department members, including training in anti-racist pedagogy for all TAs; further transforming the curriculum to enhance attention to racial injustice beyond our current purview, beginning with a regular seminar series in the 2020 Winter session in which we explore ways of integrating marginalized voices and histories into our current courses; reviewing department policies and practices regarding employment equity, representation, inclusion, and racial justice; and continuing to support the student associations affiliated with our department to ensure resources are available to foster safe and inclusive spaces free from discrimination and harassment. We recognize that these actions must constitute only the first stage of a comprehensive, long-term plan to promote inclusivity, equity, and anti-racist action in all aspects of our department.

In addition, we echo the sentiments in the statements condemning anti-Black racism issued by the Modern Language Association, and the Association for Asian Studies.

The first step in the process of transformation is to listen and learn. Accordingly, we here offer a short list of resources at UBC and beyond. We are also constructing a list of resources, articles, and scholarship that specifically address Black and Indigenous issues in Asia, racial injustice issues specific to Asia, or the triangulations of Black, white, and racialized Asian diasporic communities, which can be found here on this website.

Resources at UBC

Resources beyond UBC