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The issue of racism was very prominent in America in the early 20th century. Economic instabilities brought upon by the Great Depression and the Second World War caused the predominantly white population to become fearful and seek scapegoats to explain their own misfortunes and economic disadvantages. As it often is with racism, the targeted populations are often less numerous and somehow different from the main population.
The article written by Patricia E. Roy, titled “British Columbia’s Fear of Asians, 1900-1950,” and published in Social History Journal in 1980, addresses the issue of fear-mongering and racism in British Columbia towards Asian immigrants, predominantly Chinese and Japanese. Roy (161) states that the fears of the main population, particularly in regards to economic matters, labor, and competition, were not entirely unfounded. The article claims that the fears were primarily rooted in the desire of the white population to remain the dominant social demographic in the province.
Main Points and Arguments
Roy demonstrates the attitudes and opinions towards Chinese and Japanese immigrants by citing newspaper articles, opinions of different citizens and politicians, the economic impact of Asian migrants, as well as laws and statutes that were adopted between 1900 and 1950 in order to curb Asian economic growth and prevent them from receiving citizenship and voting rights. The author then provides actual evidence for whether one fear or another is true or false. According to the article, the main reasons for British Columbia’s fear of Asians were the challenges to morality, overwhelming numbers, the threat of Japanese military invasion, and economic competition (Roy 163; 166; 167; 169).
Challenges to morality and inability to assimilate into the Canadian society are easily debunked by Roy, who states that Chinese and Japanese children were as good as whites in studies (Roy 164). The overall criminality did not increase with the increase in Asian immigrant counts. The rumors of the Japanese military invasion were stoked after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the Japanese navy had neither the goals nor means to stage an invasion so far away from home (Roy 168).
However, the complaints about overwhelming numbers and economic domination of the region did hold some truth to themselves. The article states that Asian families, on average, had more children than Canadian families and that their numbers grew exponentially (Roy 166). The author also states that the Chinese and Japanese managed, in a very short span of time, to dominate the local agricultural market.
This feat was accomplished, according to some of the Canadian farmers, by “living like rats and working like devils” (Roy 169). The article states that the Japanese held more than a half of fishing licenses, 91% of groceries licenses, 39% of small fruit growing, and 29% of cleaner services (Roy 168). These numbers, according to Roy, were convincing the population that Asians were bent on economic domination of the region.
The article is concluded on the notion that as soon as Asian immigrants were allowed to spread throughout the rest of Canada, the social pressure on British Columbia decreased significantly. An age of economic prosperity allowed many races to coexist without encroaching on one another, and eventually, Asians became full-fledged Canadians by proving themselves through tenacity, hard work, and loyalty.
The article provides a reliable set of data regarding the reasons why British Columbians were fearful and resentful of Asian immigrants. Every point is well documented in Canadian laws, statutes, and the press. However, the author’s thesis can be seen as questionable grounds since she claims that Asian activities in the region “warrant deep fears about the ability of white British Columbians to maintain their dominant position in the province” (Roy 161).
In order for fear to be warranted or considered legitimate, it is necessary for the activities that led to it to have been done with malicious intent. Roy managed to demonstrate that the Chinese and Japanese migrants were indeed very industrious end excelling in certain industries. However, no evidence was provided for them to have been doing so with a malicious intent of taking over the province. Therefore, the fears of British Columbians could be explained through these factors but not warranted or excused.
The article also lacks a definitive statement against the evils of racism as well as the inexcusability of segregation based on race or the levels of perceived success. The article was concluded with a meek statement that it all worked out in the end. It is also unclear who the target audience for the writing is and what conclusions should be made about it.
The emphasis of the article, in my opinion, should have been made either on how the perceived slights affected the lives of average Asian immigrants or on condemnation of race-based policies not only on the basis of freedom and liberty but also on the basis of economic inefficiency. Instead of encouraging immigrants to improve the local economy through their hard work and dedication, the authorities and people of British Columbia undermined their own economic potential in times of crisis.
Roy, Patricia E. “British Columbia’s Fear of Asians, 1900-1950.” Histoire Sociale/Social History, vol. 13, no. 25, 1980, pp. 161-172.