The Importance of BIPOC Allyship

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I was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario (located on unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation) to two Chinese immigrants. Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded predominantly by Chinese culture - my family and I spoke Cantonese at home, ate Chinese food at every meal, and celebrated Chinese holidays. I was very proud of my heritage - it made me unique amongst my peers and gave me something I could share with my friends. 

As I grew up, however, I became increasingly aware of the inequities faced by people of colour in Canada both historically and in the present. Not only did I learn about legislation such as the Chinese Immigration Act, the Electoral Franchise Act, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, all of which restricted the rights of Chinese Canadians for decades, but I began to notice the way others treated me based on my appearance, my name, and my cultural identity. Over the years, I began to make small changes in order to assimilate - I altered my vernacular, I added Western food to my diet, and I wore the clothes I saw my white peers wearing. I became aware of how I could subtlety change my disposition and my behaviour to conform to Western society.

Furthermore, as someone who identifies as a woman, I began to become aware of the patriarchal norms present in both Western and Chinese culture that have undoubtedly shaped my person. From the relegation of women to domestic work, to the policing of women’s bodies, to gender-based violence, I began to learn about how gender inequalities percolate through every aspect of life. 

These concerns are what catalyzed my interest in equity and development work and are the issues I have focused much of my energy and attention on over the past few years. Nevertheless, I have recently recognized that the decolonial desires of non-white people, despite experiencing oppression ourselves, can be entangled in the reoccupation of Indigenous land and further the legacy of settler colonialism. I realize now that it is not possible to advocate for the rights of Asian Canadians and/or women without acknowledging that doing so may further the exploitation of Indigneous populations, and I am working to consider my positionality and my privileges as a settler of colour as I continue to live, work, and learn in Canada.

My understanding of Indigenous issues growing up was through a settler colonial lens. The content that I consumed emerged from sources such as the public education system or mainstream media; thus, although I was aware of colonization as an event, I did not know the extent of the systemic and institutional effects of settler colonialism as a structure. I now recognize that the Indian Act, enfranchisement policies, residential schools, and child welfare policies created profound epistemic and ontological disruptions in Indigenous land and life, and that these disruptions have had lasting effects. I am also now aware that settler colonial institutions continue to create injustices against Indigenous peoples even today - the erasure of self-determination as well as the brutality of law enforcement are prime examples of these inequities.

Furthermore, although black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) communities all experience injustices at the hands of existing power structures, I now know that settlers of colour are in the unique position of allowing for the further dispossession of Indigenous communities without the unsettling of the white settler dominion - the attainment of equal legal and cultural entitlements for minority groups is often at the expense of Indigenous people rather than of the state. It is imperative that in my advocacy for my own people, I remain cognizant of this fact; I must be an ally rather than an antagonist to my BIPOC communities. It is only in the recognition of our different histories that we can work together against existing hierarchies of power.

As I progress through my schooling and my career, I hope to continue learning about how the settler colonial legacy that I am a part of has shaped and continues to shape the histories and life experiences of Indigenous peoples. I am aware that I continue to hold assumptions and biases that I must consciously work to undo, and the first step I can take to do so is to learn about and explore the privileges of my own social position and become a more informed and effective ally. Decolonization involves actively opposing the exploitative power structures that pervade our society; justice can only come with the understanding of these structures.

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