Airbrushed Asians

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Here’s a real-life parallel to Aesop’s fable about the man, the boy and the donkey.

First, the fable: a man, his son and their donkey head into town. Along the way, bystanders keep taunting them on their mode of travel. In an attempt to satisfy everyone, they try every permutation — man on donkey, boy on donkey, both on donkey — until they finally end up tying the donkey to a pole and carrying it between them. Things get tangly, yada yada yada, and the donkey drowns.

The moral: please all, and you will please none.

And that’s exactly what the Bank of Canada tried to do with its new $100 banknote.

Canadian Press writer Dean Beeby reported last week that the bank modified the image of a female scientist on the back of the $100 bill because focus groups didn’t like the fact she looked Asian.

You read that right. They didn’t like the Asian woman, so the bank tweaked her to look more “neutral” — meaning, in this case, more Caucasian.

 Beeby got access to documentation from a number of focus group sessions held across Canada in 2009.

To be fair, the reasons for singling out the Asian woman differed from group to group. A couple of people said there should be more ethnic groups represented. Others suggested putting an Asian person in a lab coat was stereotyping.

But there were also less palatable sentiments, like this from a Fredericton group: “The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t rep(resent) Canada. It is fairly ugly.”

On Friday, the Chinese Canadian National Council slammed the bank for basing its decision on a few racist remarks.

The shocker here is not that there are still people in this country who harbour crude prejudices. One need only look to Cranbrook, B.C., where the local Legion published a joke about shooting native Indians in its August newsletter.

What’s appalling is that a reputable institution such as the Bank of Canada would even listen to it, let alone act on it.

Besides, none of the complaints really stands up to scrutiny.

Depicting accurate racial diversity would be a non-starter. Only one in 25 Canadians is of Chinese origin. The same ratio goes for native groups and Southeast Asians. One in 40 is black. What sort of crowd scene would it take to get all those ratios right?

And the complaint of stereotyping? Well, it could have been a Chinese person running a laundry. In reality, Asian-Canadians work in every field imaginable. Does it really matter what profession you pick?

The Bank of Canada took a handful of raw remarks from across the country and treated them all as sound advice. It tried to please everyone, and pleased no one. Now it’s drowning in criticism.

The moral is pretty clear.

Organizations: Bank of Canada, Chinese Canadian National Council

Geographic location: Canada, Fredericton, Cranbrook

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Recent comments

  • Herb Morrison
    August 21, 2012 - 12:08

    Perhaps theyshould have consulted with young Elijah Porter?? The fact that atheletes to whom he sent his medal were black. didn't matter to him. In the same vein, the fact that Humanitarian Dr. Norman Bethune was white didn't matter to the Chinese. "The worth of a person should be judged based not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character." -Dr.Martin Luther King Jr

    • Billy Maguire
      August 22, 2012 - 11:51

      Well said, Herb Morrison.

  • Political Watcher
    August 21, 2012 - 10:26

    Show me one piece of Chinese currency with a non-Chinese let alone non-Asian on it. Enough said

    • Peter Jackson
      August 21, 2012 - 11:11

      The 1998 10-yuan coin has an image of Dr. Norman Bethune on it.

    • Politically incorrect
      August 21, 2012 - 15:10

      SCORCH, PW! What the deuce does Chinese currency have to do with the issue anyway?