Canada Reads·Highlight

Ziya Tong and Joe Zee on confronting stereotypes and stigmas

The two Canada Reads panellists debated the delicate balance of revealing the stigma of mental illness and the risk of reinforcing stereotypes.
On Canada Reads 2019, panellists Joe Zee and Ziya Tong discuss book The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong's approach to confronting stereotypes and stigmas about ethnicity and mental illness. 2:37

On Day One of Canada Reads 2019, the five panellists made impassioned pitches for their books in a bid to remain in contention.

Science journalist Ziya Tong is defending By Chance Alone by Max Eisen on Canada Reads 2019. In a discussion about The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong, she applauded the author's writing but questioned whether Wong's work may in fact reinforce negative stereotypes about the Chinese community.

"There are parts of it that I do relate to, but there issues with stereotyping, perhaps, especially knowing what the Chinese stereotype is — loud, dirty, cruel, rude, all these sorts of things, very melodramatic — and I wonder if there isn't a slight concern that some of these stereotypes are perpetuated," said Tong.

"You have millions of people listening to and watching this program. Reinforcing those stereotypes, I think, can be damaging."

Fashion guru Joe Zee is defending The Woo-Woo and he argued that the characters Tong perceived as stereotypical were in fact more nuanced and complex. He also took on actor and defender Yanic Truesdale who lamented that the author of The Woo Woo's treatment of the issue of mental illness felt a little repetitive. Zee spoke about the unique challenge for a writer to consider age, gender and ethnicity while grappling with a taboo subject.

"We have to understand she is doing an intersection right here — a millennial, female, Asian voice tackling a contemporary dark subject and talking about it in a very new way and I think that's the part that makes it hard," Zee said.

"We have to get uncomfortable. We have to talk about it, we have to drill about it and we have to keep on saying something because if we don't it's not going to get any better and we will still be on the hamster wheel."

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