- Contesting White Supremacy: School Segregation, Anti-Racism, and the Making of Chinese Canadians by Timothy J. Stanley
Perhaps the first thing a reader might notice about this book is that it covers an ethnic relations topic about which many believe they are already quite aware. Most school textbooks and popular media sources now routinely refer to the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants in Canada over the past century or so. Likewise, many people have heard about the Chinese Head Tax, and have learned of the harsh labour conditions related to the completion of our national railway. Perhaps not surprisingly, what Stanley capably uncovers in this carefully researched volume is that the texture of the Chinese Canadian experience is much more nuanced than we might have imagined. It is also compellingly written, and the organization of the chapters leads the reader, not only chronologically but also conceptually, through this previously ignored piece of our national past.
Stanley's narrative focus for the book is on a particular Students' Strike in 1922-23 in Victoria, BC, in which over 200 Chinese students participated for over a year in action to protest the school board's race-based segregation of their education. His historical approach to these events includes a critical "anti-racist history" framework that resists binary notions of oppressor and victim. Instead, the author emphasizes the legitimacy of personal accounts in favour of relying only on "official" records and accounts from the time. Stanley draws on a number of Chinese language sources that provide important and previously unavailable perspectives on the events under consideration.
The author's first chapter offers a helpful contextualizing of these events, with vital explication of the sometimes invisible process of racialization necessary for race-based discrimination to take place. In accessible language, Stanley exposes the mutable form of racisms that serve to create a particular set of representations, exclusions, and segregations. In the case of Chinese immigrants and their families, the particular setting of British Columbia is important, with its specific history and anti-Asian sentiment that comprised the backdrop for this remarkable set of events.
This book is organized into two main parts, Racism and Anti-Racism, and the former includes chapters on the Student's Strike, on "Anti-Chinese Racism and the Colonial Project of British Columbia," the racializing of both "the Chinese" (a more [End Page 265] complicated category than the easy label suggests) and "the Canadian." Important information on the organization of provincial schools as part of colonization, the formation of the racist state, and consequences of racialized exclusion, round out this rather gloomy section of the book. Shining a critical light on our own history means including detailed documentation of widespread and vicious anti-Chinese violence over several decades, from many sources, and taking several forms. Part Two is much more gratifying, providing the active response from the targeted group, with a careful outlining of their specific forms of resistance, organizing, and mobilizing toward more inclusive engagement with Canadian society on their own terms.
Included throughout the text are photographs and illustrations from the time, that effectively bring the events to life. Stanley also provides a robust set of over 60 pages of footnotes that evidences painstaking research from a wide range of archival, official, and other sources. His attention to detail, nuanced appreciation of varying accounts of events, and respect for individuals' autonomy and viewpoints, all add to the significance of this work. I am eager to know how learning about these incidents and narratives from the past might influence and inspire a new generation of Canadians to negotiate their own citizenship, but this will have to be another project.
Readers are certainly given a deep and multifaceted look into the Students' Strike and its aftermath. More importantly, Stanley documents the agency and self-determination this event symbolized for an ethnic group more likely to be demonized and, somewhat more subtly, dehumanized in popular discourse and official policies and documents. The book pioneers a critical approach to...