Maclean's "responds" to criticism of "Too Asian?" article

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Maclean's "responds" to criticism of "Too Asian?" article

Maclean's "response":

Some of the comments we have seen on the Internet and in other media have suggested that by publishing this article, Maclean’s views Canadian universities as “Too Asian,” or that we hold a negative view of Asian students.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As our story relates, the phrase “Too Asian?” is a direct quote from the title of a panel discussion at the 2006 meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling where experts examined the growing tendency among U.S. university admission officers to view Asian applicants as a homogenous group. The evidence suggests some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. have abandoned merit as the basis for admission for more racially significant—and racist—criteria.

We find the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools deplorable, as do many of our readers. Our article notes that Canadian universities select students regardless of race or creed. That, in our view, is the best and only acceptable approach: merit should be the sole criteria for entrance to higher education in Canada, and universities should always give preference to our best and brightest regardless of cultural background. This position was stated clearly in the article: “Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so,” reporters Findlay and Köhler wrote.

Jeet Heer (who wrote a couple excellent rebuttals to Maclean's tripe): Maclean’s Re-Writes History

In the new editorial, what is happening in American schools is “deplorable” and meritocracy is an unequivocally good thing (“best and only acceptable approach”). In the original article, Canadians were encouraged to look to the United States for a more open debate on how on the issue of the racial composition of universities. More importantly, the original article does not celebrate meritocracy as an unequivocal good. Rather, it states that meritocracy is causing a “dilemma”, that with the increasing enrolment of Asian-Canadian kids in “universities risk becoming too skewed one way.”

Maysie's less-restrained response, delightfully peppered with f-bombs:

[M]eritocracy is also something fuckwad conservative racists use to justify injustices and differential treatment of folks who are marginalized and oppressed.

How can I say that about meritocracy? How can I spout off like that, having just said that saying something doesn’t make it true?

Well, I can say it because a cursory look at the most basic statistics by demographics reveal that Canada is a deeply white-supremacist and male-supremacist culture. The higher earners are whiter and whiter, demographically, and the lower earners are darker, browner and blacker and more likely to be immigrants. As income earners, men out-rank women across every class category and across every racial group.

The explanation is NOT that the white folks are richer and better off because they worked hard and yadda yadda.

Here is the last (excellent) babble thread on the subject, and, in the interests of full disclosure, here is a defence (sort of) of the Macleans article unfortunately published by rabble. (Of course, rabble also published some excellent critiques of Maclean's piece of piss, like Sarah Ghabrial's here and Soma Chatterjee, Louise Tam and Adriana Berlingieri's collaborative response here.)

There are public forums going up in unversities across Canada. Their message? Up yours, Macleans.


Issues Pages: 
Maysie Maysie's picture

Thanks Catchfire.

Here's some more actions that are going on.

Facebook Group: "Too Asian"? Talk Back

In Toronto:


Action Afternoon at CSI - Saturday November 27, 2pm-4pm
Button making, video creating and twittering! If you’re looking to get involved in a more hands-on kind of way and are free this Saturday, come by to 215 Spadina Ave. (4th floor, Alterna Room), for a few hours where we’ll make buttons for the coalition, film short clips for YCAM videos and learn about the twitter and other social media strategies we can use to respond to Maclean’s and Rogers!

Teach-in at University of Toronto – Bahen Building, RM 1220 Monday November 30, 6pm-9pm
This will be a similar event to our meeting last Wednesday in the breakdown of the Maclean’s article of how it’s problematic and what actions can be taken. For those especially who missed the meeting, this will be a good opportunity to gain insight and awareness. 


That was an awful response by Maclean's and Jeet Heer's and Maysie's respective critiques of it were spot on. 


this was more sensible

 Maysie unplugged is a self-caricature, could Saturday Night Live do the angry radical any better? 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Actually, I found that response published by rabble ignorant and dismissive of the criticism raised by every anti-racist activist group in the country. Evidently, YMMV.

But here's another excellent, excellent response from Jeet Heer on the Walrusblog: "Too Brazen."

The problems with the Maclean’s article are many and systematic. I’ve already discussed them here and here. Briefly, the article leaves a bad aftertaste because:

1. The word “Asian” is used in a very broad way to encompass both foreign-born exchange students (who are in Canada temporarily) and Canadians who have ancestors in countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. By this usage, David Suzuki, Olivia Chow, Adrienne Clarkson, and Sook-Yin Lee are all notable Asians, rather than notable Canadians or notable Asian-Canadians. Moreover the distinct problems faced by exchange students (linguistic hurdles, social isolation) are quite different from the experiences of Asian-Canadians. How could Chinese-Canadian kids who read the article not feel like foreigners in their native land?

2. The article stereotypes both white Canadian students and “Asian” students. White Canadians students are portrayed as privileged preppies who are more interested in partying and drinking than studying. “Asian” students are portrayed as socially dysfunctional nerds who lack any sense of fun, virtual robots who are programmed by their parents to study.

As someone who has done a little teaching and spent far too much time in school, I have to say these two stereotypes are violently at odds with the real diversity of personality types that you find on Canadian campuses, among students of all different races and backgrounds. It’s notable that the Maclean’s article completely erases the existence of working class white Canadian students, many of whom face the same educational problems of balancing work and studying that often bedevil immigrant students. Also ignored is the fact that many “white” students in Canada also come from immigrant backgrounds, notably from Southern and Eastern Europe.

By highlighting race and ignoring class, Maclean’s makes it harder to see the commonalities that many students of diverse backgrounds share. Throughout the article, it is assumed that the experience of upper–middle class white kids is normative — and that every other experience (whether working class white Canadian or “Asian”) has to be defined against that norm.

3. Finally, Maclean’s frames the problem as one that is caused by the mere presence of “Asians” on campus, rather than by the social and cultural barriers that divide students. For example, in the rankings issue’s table of contents, Maclean’s has this headline: “Asian advantage?” The question mark is a typical example of Maclean’s trying to cover an inflammatory statement by qualifying it. However, if you read the article, it becomes clear that the only “advantage” that “Asians” have is that many of them study “hard,” which is what all students should do. The idea that doing homework is an “advantage” is built on the assumption that whites are entitled to university spaces whether they study or not, simply on the basis of their whiteness — or perhaps because they are real Canadians, unlike the “Asians” who happen to live here.

If the Maclean’s article is troublingly xenophobic, then Margaret Wente’s defence is a classic case of obfuscation.

Speaking last Friday on the CBC radio program Q, Wente said that all Maclean’s did was make public “the simple fact that Asian kids are disproportionately represented on some campuses, especially at the U of T and in BC.” Wente, in both this interview and her subsequent column, refused to address the critique made by several writers about the xenophobic way that Maclean’s has framed the debate....

The flip side of overrepresentation is underrepresentation. If we believe that universities should “broadly reflect society,” then underrepresentation is a much larger problem than overrepresentation. Instead of asking how we can help more First Nations people or working class Canadians or Caribbean-Canadians gain access to higher education, we’re stuck debating the supposed overrepresentation of “Asians” in a handful of programs at three Canadian universities. There are all sorts of public policies that could help underrepresented groups make it to university. An intensive program of early childhood education, for one thing, would be a boon. But neither Maclean’s nor Wente are interested in such policies. The pseudo-problem of “too Asian” is used to hide the genuine issue: that real barriers to higher education remain for some groups.

Ahhh...just read the whole damn thing.


Maysie Maysie's picture

More info on the teach-in tonight in Toronto. I'll be there.

"Too Asian" Talkback: A Teach-in on Racism in the Media and the University

29 November · 6:00 - 9:00 pm
Bahen Building, Room 1220
40 St. George St., just north of College
Toronto, ON

This is a night for community to talk against and ask questions about the recent Macleans article and its defamatory accusations of Asian students at Canadian universities.

A short panel featuring a break down of the article, talk about Asians in Canada, 'multiculturalism' in the city, and racism at the university will be followed by a moderated group discussion and we'll also let you know about upcoming action being planned to Macleans to apologize and make sure this doesn't happen again.

Featuring Dr. Minelle Mahtani and Kenichiro (Ken) Noma.

Minelle Mahtani is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, and Program in Journalism, University of Toronto. She is President of the Association for Canadian Studies. Her research explores issues of media and minority representation, and women of mixed race in Canada. She is co-editing a book entitled "Global Mixed Race" and worked at the CBC for the "National" . She is former Chair of CERIS (Centre for Excellence in Research on Immigration and Settlement), a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and a Senior Massey Fellow.

Since mid 1970's, Kenichiro (Ken) Noma has been a community activist in Hamilton and Toronto. Upon moving to Toronto he was involved in the establishment of the Toronto Chapter of the National Association of Japanese Canadians and organized numerous student and teacher workshops on the Japanese Canadian Internment. Ken continues to be involved with the Japanese Canadian Community and is concerned about the need to insure the survival of the Japanese Canadian Community who have been part of Canadian history for 133 years. He has held the posts of Redress Subcommittee Chairman of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council and is the past President of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Ken was elected as national President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians in October of 2010. The NAJC, on September 22nd, 1988 achieved the Redress Settlement with the Government of Canada for the internment of 21,000 Japanese Canadians during World War Two.

This event is being organized by the Youth Coalition Against Macleans 'Too Asian?'

Maysie Maysie's picture

DaveW wrote:
  Maysie unplugged is a self-caricature, could Saturday Night Live do the angry radical any better?  

Hey DaveW, for anyone else that would be a personal attack. As a mod, greater liberties are allowed with such matters, but you only get so much space for that, and at this point it's used up.

You have a nice day now.

Maysie Maysie's picture


Race Matters: Media Responsibility in Promoting Human Rights

Thursday, December 9 · 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Ave, Suite 120

Public Forum to Commemorate International Human Rights Day

Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010
Time: 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Venue: 215 Spadina Avenue, Suite 120
Toronto, Ontario

Panel Discussion on
Media Responsibility in Promoting Human Rights in an Equitable Society

Focus: "Macleans' "Too Asian?" November 2010 Schools Issue"

Pat Case - University of Guelph
Cheuk Kwan - W5 Adhoc Committee
Danielle Sandhu - Canadian Federation of Students
Florence Li - CCNCTO

RSVP: Yumei Lin [email protected] 416-703-6607 x 5
Estella Muyinda [email protected]

Light Refreshments sponsored by Labour Community Services

Sponsors: Urban Alliance on Race Relations, South Asian Women's Centre, National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, Labour Community Services, Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, and Chinese Canadian National Council

Maysie Maysie's picture

Olivia Chow signs on. Yes.


For Immediate Release

December 2, 2010

CCNC welcomes the support from MP Olivia Chow

Toronto, ON - The Chinese Canadian National Council welcomes the support from Olivia Chow, MP for Trinity Spadina, who tabled the following motion in the House of Commons earlier today:

"That this government call on Maclean's to issue a comprehensive and unqualified public apology to Asian Canadians regarding its November 2010 offensive and divisive 'Too Asian?' article, as it racially profiles and stereotypes Asian Canadians as perpetual foreigners in Canada and suggests Canadian students of Asian heritage may be limiting opportunities for non-Asians at universities."

"We appreciate Ms. Chow's support and her leadership on this issue," Victor Wong, CCNC Executive Director said today. "Public leaders from all three levels of Government are rallying to our side."

"We call on Maclean's to work with us to arrive at a constructive resolution of the issue."

University students are mobilizing across Canada with students at UBC, University of Toronto, University of Victoria and University of Waterloo holding meetings and announcing various actions. Updates on the CCNC response to the Maclean's "Too Asian"? article are posted here.  and also available on "Not Too Asian" facebook site

Founded in 1980, CCNC is a national non-profit organization with 27 chapters across Canada and a community leader for Chinese Canadians in promoting a more just, respectful, and inclusive society. CCNC and allies are one of the co-recipients of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation's 2008 Award of Excellence for its work on the Chinese Head Tax redress campaign.

- 30-


Having read the response provided by OISE graduate students under "For the Sake of Argument" on Nov. 24th, I decided to provide my own two cents.

The Maclean's article is a poor example of journalistic integrity, plain and simple.  The authors' choice to include Alexandra's point of view as the hook and anchor to their argument, discredits not only their feature article, but also their response to the criticism featured in this post, entirely.

It is outright arrogant and racist for the authors' to quote her saying, “The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian." So the issue in relation to her specific comment is not that choosing an "Asian" school means that students from non-Asian backgrounds cannot compete/have fun (secondary issue), but that those girls like Alexandra do not want to be amongst them because they are snobs and don't like to mix and mingle with people who are not like them.  What a surprise.

I read another response in the Globe and Mail that brought up how Asians are the new Jews in that Harvard had kept limits on enrollment of Jewish students in response to the practice of ivy league schools in the US, to maintain their wasp credentials.  And, that also mentioned no one on the Maclean's editorial board is of Chinese descent, only South Asian.


Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Hi butterfly, welcome to babble. I definitely agree with your take on Macleans' awful article. Macleans likes to drop bombs like this every now and then and call them "controversies." They don't care about ideas or public welfare or social justice--it's just about the game, a kind of nihilism. Win the game and f the consequences, eh?

Maysie Maysie's picture


Race in Media and Higher Education: A Town Hall Meeting and Panel

Tuesday, February 15 · 6:30pm - 9:00pm
OISE/UT Library
252 Bloor Street West (St. George subway station)
Toronto, ON

Confirmed Panelists:

Senator Vivienne Poy - Chancellor Emerita, University of Toronto
Haroon Siddiqui - Editorial Page Editor Emeritus, The Toronto Star
Jill Matus - Vice Provost Students, University of Toronto
Rinaldo Walcott - Chair, Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, University of Toronto
Danielle Sandhu - Vice President Equity, University of Toronto Students' Union

For the past five years, various racialised communities have felt the brunt of what they deem as distorted and harmful depictions by media outlets and in higher education settings. Asian Canadians believe that the Maclean's ‘Too Asian?' article and the Toronto Star's article on ‘Asian Students Suffering for Success,' both published in November 2010, worked to racially profile and stereotype Asian Canadians as perpetual foreigners in this country. Black Canadians construe the blackface ‘costume' at the University of Toronto in October 2009 as part of a long history of blackface performance and minstrelsy in demeaning black people and caricaturing black cultures. The Muslim community feels targeted by discriminatory journalism that promotes Islamophobia and fear of Muslims, as evinced, for instance, by Maclean's articles published from 2005 to 2007.

The Town Hall will aim to address the following questions:
1. How do Canadian media and higher education institutions address issues of race and racism?
2. What are the benefits and limitations of their approaches?
3. How can issues of race and racism be addressed differently by media and higher education?

Event Sponsors:

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
- Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies
- Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education
Asian Institute
Canadian Studies Program
The Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office
University of Toronto Students' Union
United Steelworkers Local 1998


Refreshments Provided
Wheelchair Accessible