Friday, April 06, 2007

Racism: Canada vs US

We Canadians are a very insecure lot. We suffer our insecurities like a badge, and it's for that reason we always feel it necessary to prove, to show the world, that we are better, wiser, more democratic, more humane, more politically correct, less racist, etc. than our American neighbors and our British forbears.

Our American neighbors, on the other hand, barely know that we exist, and in most cases, don't particularly care what we think about them, or, about anything else. To them, we're like the little brother, who is regarded with affection and a pat on the head when we do something that appeals to them, other times a complete irritant, and most of the time not really acknowledged. The Snowbirds and Frostbacks conundrum.

After all, Mama Britain had to cut our apron strings, we didn't revolt like our big brother Americans and assert our Independence.

Britain just used to consider us a wayward child. Yes, Canada, you can have the BNA Act back if you really want it. I don't know why it makes any difference to you, but here it is ... now calm down, child. Of course you're free to create your own Charter of Rights and Constitution, but this one has been good enough for this long, don't really know what the problem is. And now, I doubt they consider us at all. They've pretty much let go.

This insecurity, this need to prove that we are better and different, is ingrained in our culture, in who we are. Part of our problem is that we still, after years of trying to establish a unique identity, haven't really figured it out. All we know for certain is that we want to be different from Britain and the US, so we establish policies, governing styles, culture, etc. from that point of view, and then flaunt them to the world to establish our uniqueness.

Herein lie the roots of our Multiculturalism policy, a policy which, in my opinion, is racist and divisive.

Yes, I know, Canada's Multiculturalism policy, is one of Canada's Holy Grails. People who criticize it are evil and/or racists blah blah blah.

This is another one of our shortcomings. Try to talk about certain issues, question them, criticize them, and rather than debating the issue, things just degenerate into name calling. How dare you say that our policy is racist, it's intended to eliminate racism. You must be evil, and/or a racist.

Well ... frankly ... the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Canada's Multiculturalism policy is a good example of that.

Neil Bissoondath, a well known and well respected Canadian author, whose family origins, like mine, are from India, said it best in his book,
Selling Illusions, The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada:

"Multiculturalism has, over the years, acquired aspects of a holy cow for many, a cash cow for some. Both are dangerous creatures. Standing on consecrated ground, they resent being disturbed and, when challenged, are inclined to bite. But a society that wishes to remain healthy and to grow must, from time to time, stare the holy cows down; it must probe and question them, and decide on their merits and usefulness. To fail to do so is to atrophy."

"There are many ways of approaching a laudable end. It is incumbent on those who seek it - the end, in this case, being a truly pluralistic society - to define their vision with words weightier than vacuous expressions of good will. It is also vital that they not settle into the kind of self-righteous complacency that summarily rejects criticism, for to do so not only calls their vision into disrepute but also proves inimical to the fabric of the society that vision seeks to serve."

Mr. Bissoondaths' book is a good read for anyone interested in this topic: Selling Illusions, The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada.

Now, why do I object to this policy of Multiculturalism?

In the 1980s, I was going to college part-time to build credits for a university degree. The courses I took were first year introductory Psychology. One of my assignments was to set up an experiment on paper, on any issue I was interested in researching. I chose Stereotypes. Since this was an experiment on paper and not one which was actually going to be implemented, my conclusions had to be based on existing experiments which had been performed in this area and their results.

Stereotypes was an area that had been well explored in the 1930s and 1960s in North America. One conclusion which came out of these experiments consistently was that emphasizing differences contributes to stereotypical thinking and divisive attitudes whereas emphasizing similarities brought people together and built understanding, acceptance and community. This is an oversimplified and very basic explanation. I'm not going to get into quoting all kinds of references here, this isn't a research piece, just an opinion. My purpose for explaining this is to simply explain how I came to the conclusions I came to.

In the 1980s, Multiculturalism was a well established policy. It was established in the 1970s, in response to the many complaints of systemic racism which was the norm in Canada at that time. The hope and intent was to build respect for the many cultures that made up Canada by all Canadians.

However, to give those who put this policy together, the benefit of the doubt, I have to assume they weren't familiar with the available research and its results on stereotypical thinking.

The Official website of the Canadian government describes the policy as follows:

Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. Acceptance gives Canadians a feeling of security and self-confidence, making them more open to, and accepting of, diverse cultures. The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding, and discourages ghettoization, hatred, discrimination and violence.

Through multiculturalism, Canada recognizes the potential of all Canadians, encouraging them to integrate into their society and take an active part in its social, cultural, economic and political affairs.

Canadian Heritage - Government of Canada Web Site

The same website provides the following statistics:
  • 36 percent of visible minorities feel they have experienced discrimination and unfair treatment because of ethno-cultural characteristics;
  • nearly 50 percent of Blacks reported discrimination or unfair treatment. By contrast, 33 percent of South Asian and Chinese respondents reported discrimination or unfair treatment;
  • when broken down by gender, there is a slight increase in reports of discrimination by Black men (53% compared to 47% for women). There is a similar increase reported by South Asian men (38% compared to 27% for women);
  • according to a 2003 Ekos survey, 46 percent of Aboriginal people living off-reserve reported being a victim of racism or discrimination at least once over the previous two years;
  • research by Ipsos-Reid (2002) suggested that more than six-out-of-ten Canadians (61%) think that racism separates Aboriginal peoples from the rest of society; and
  • roughly the same proportion (59%) felt that Aboriginal peoples are discriminated against by other Canadians.
Canadian Heritage - Government of Canada - Statistics Web Site

Now, one would think that, based on these statistics, they might clue in to the fact, that Multiculturalism isn't working. I would also go as far as to say that discrimination is under-reported in the South Asian population because I know from personal experience with this community, that new immigrants in particular, often do not recognize (or acknowledge) certain acts as racist, acts which North American blacks will correctly identify as racist.

My attempt to find the equivalent statistics for the US failed since they tend to break their stats down to specific categories such as housing, employment, etc. and in the documents I found, made general statements instead of giving specific percentages. However the impression I'm left with is that their situation is pretty much the same as ours except that the discrimination against South Asians has increased and is much higher since 9/11. However, since there was far less discrimination against South Asians before 9/11, my guess is that rates are likely the same or similar now. If anyone out there has the stats feel free to pass them on and I'll add them. Not having these stats makes it a little more difficult to argue my point, so I can't really get into whether the American melting pot concept is better or not. When I get that information I'll update this section.

However, the reality is that the concept of Multiculturalism hasn't eliminated racism, far from it.

The requirements for a society which claims to have eliminated racism is inclusion. Inclusion comes by emphasizing similarities, commonalities, and making differences incidental.

Multiculturalism has ghettoized Canadian society. Minorities stay within their own groups and interact with society from that base. Politicians from those groups represent the special interests of those groups and not necessarily their constituencies. We even have situations where lobby groups are created to represent the special interests of the foreign country from where these groups originate or are tied. The loyalties of these lobby groups is to the foreign interests they represent and not to Canada. Multiculturalism encourages this.

Inclusion results in all parties respecting each other and opens doors for full participation in each others lives and in the society at large. People are free to make their choices regarding their belief and value systems but the belief and value systems of others are no longer a deterrent to building a relationship based on other common interests. Instead of encouraging isolation of people in the communities which represent their origins, people are encouraged to break out of those bounds and get involved with people outside of their communities. They become Canadians.

Ask most Canadian minorities (including many who are born here) what their nationality is? You'll get a hypenated response. Indo-Canadian, African-Canadian, etc. This, in my opinion, indicates a ghettoized psychology. Why not just Canadian?

When people ask me, I say I'm Canadian. The ghettoized psychology of Multiculturalism usually prompts the question, where are you originally from? My response? Canada. Where were your parents from? Canada. Where does your family originate from? India. Finally the hear what they expect to hear. I'm not criticizing those individuals, like I said, it's the psychology of Multiculturalism that encourages this and people respond accordingly.

My grandfather came to Canada in 1908. My father grew up here and raised my siblings and I as Canadian. He believed in integration. His logic was that our family had been in Canada so long that what was the point hanging on to the past. So, while we understood our roots, and respected the culture, values and belief system of our homeland, we also moved into the future and integrated fully into Canadian life.

The stereotypes encouraged by Canadian Multicultural policy only serve to prevent, block this process of integration and inclusion.

My family, the Hundals, are completely integrated into both the Canadian and American fabric. A fact of which I'm proud. We also have a proud heritage in my homeland on both my mothers and fathers side of the family. Another fact of which I'm proud.

My grandfather settled in Vancouver in 1908, his brother, my grand uncle settled in San Francisco at the same time. Our legacy is integration, inclusion, represented by intermarriage in both countries. The youngest generation of my family is almost entirely represented by children who are mixed. We have almost every race and religion represented. Narrow minded bigotries and stereotypes have been stamped out. Everyone is included and accepted.

When I was growing up, I would ask my friends what their national origins were, and was always greeted with responses like: Well I'm part Irish, French, Scottish, or I'm part Italian, English, Norwegian, etc. You will get a similar response from the kids in my family. I'm part Jewish, Indian, Scottish, or, I'm part Indian, Mormon, Spanish, etc.

This is what North America is. We're all part something, or we might be one whole something, but we are first and foremost Canadian or American (or sometimes both ;).

The Internet has, by its very nature, created an inclusionary virtual world. No one knows what anyone looks like, what their nationality, religion, etc. is, or whether they are disabled, unless they choose to share. People don't discriminate because they don't know what to discriminate against until they get to know you. And if they have taken the time to get to know you, the things they might have held against you no longer matter. That's not to say that the Internet doesn't also have it's virtual microcosms of hate, it does. It also has it's communities based on nationality, religion, etc. The difference is that no-one restricts themselves to those communities.

On the Internet, people are free to explore and get to know other people without the bars that normally exist ... and they do.


KiDDAA Magazine said...

I disagree with you to a certain extent. Multiculturalism has made Canada stronger. As people are not all similar in views or cultures like the US. There is less resentment by minorities because they are not forced to assimilate in any time frame.

This encourages people and most importantly kids to be proud of their ancestor. A Punjabi Canadian kid is always Canadian but should not forget his or her language. I have friends in the US and they are messed up they actually think they are white but are brown.

I disagree with your assessment of this. White elitists usually attack multiculturalism.

Kitty Hundal said...


Check out the concept of Interculturalism and I think you'll have a better idea where I'm coming from.

Thanks for your interesting comments (even though I disagree :-).


Anonymous said...

This article succesfully articulates my thoughts on multiculturalism. I wish I had read this sooner.
Great aricle, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Your article successfuly articulated the way I felt about the multicultural policy. I wish I had read this earlier.
great article!

KapeWater said...

Being from the US and recently landed in Canada, I'd have to say the idea that people are all similar in their views in the US is not in anyway true. Christians vs. Jews, conservative vs. liberal, Mexicans vs. name the opposing views, we got it. Racism is alive and well. Multiculturalism is also prominent. I do agree that the subcultures in the states aren't nearly as concentrated as here in Canada. Which is good and bad. Immigrants to the states are forced to learn the language and culture if they wish to get ahead in the states. Which I think is a good thing. It's good to integrate into the culture and society you reside in. It Doesn't mean one shouldn't maintain a certain amount of their birth culture. It does make it harder for people to feel secure though, and can be hard for many folks. I live In the lower mainland of BC. The subcultures are so extreme, that there are jokes about going from India to China by crossing a bridge. That in itself itself isn't all good either. People can move here and settle in their respective subculture whilst never really having to integrate...and I mean ever. Not all are like that of course, but many are because it's secure and easy. Subcultures this extreme can lead to stereotyping, continued ignorance and prejudice. I've seen kids all but reject their birth culture in a bid to socially integrate. While that's not always the case, it does happen and it's sad. Racism is more quiet in the US, though not any less damaging, and in someways, quite worse. Few folks are open about it and people get shocked (even if they feel the same). In my time here, I've heard more racial and cultural slurs thrown liberally than in some of the most bigoted areas of the states. Multiculturalism is great, but it's nothing if we don't open ourselves to new cultures. Canada is awesome in the way that you can experience vast different cultures of people. It just might be even better if people left their segregated areas and jumped all in together. In my opinion, you respect people by learning about them. Stereotypes are never good. It stops people from really seeing each other and adds to feelings of superiority, racism, and continued ignorance.

Anonymous said...

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