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Canadian Identity and Racial Discrimination

Updated on January 12, 2018

Hell is other people ~Jean-Paul Sartre

What made me pull this “ancient paper” and publish it on Hubpages? I came across the question “Does racism still exist in the most developed countries in the world?” I have a few thoughts, but I would like to begin with this piece.

Eleven years ago, in February 2000, I was a student at DeVry Institute of Technology in Toronto. I was studying sociology and we had an assignment on racial discrimination. Even though, the essay was written as a response to an article published in “The Toronto Star”, you don’t need to read the article to understand the point of the essay. Racial discrimination persists because it is in human nature to discriminate. One hundred years ago, ten years ago, now, ten years ahead, one hundred years ahead... Maybe the forms of it are different in different countries, it changes with time, but the essence of it is the same. We dislike people who are different from us. How do we treat them? It depends on too many factors.

One thought that popped into my mind as soon as I wrote those words “how do we treat them?” was a flashback to yet another question “How do you deal with someone you don’t like?” If the discussion is still there, I recommend reading it and imagining that it is about you and people of different race, nationality, ethnicity, etc. It turns things upside down really, when we try to be politically correct as soon as words racial discrimination are uttered, we are completely unaware of our discrimination based on other factors. But it all comes down to the same thing: you are different, I see and recognize how different you are; therefore, I am better than you and I don’t like you or I hate you; therefore, you don’t need to exist.

I would like to define a few words just to be on the same page so to speak. Clarity is everything.


  1. prejudiceor discrimination against a person or group because of race or of cultural or ethnic background.
  2. belief in the superiority of a particular race, based on the theory that human abilities, character, etc. are determined by race.

I prefer the term “racial discrimination” to the term “racism” precisely for the use of the word “discrimination”.


  1. the act of making or recognizing differences and distinctions.
  2. the ability to make fine distinctions.
  3. the act or practice of making or showing a difference in treatment based on prejudice.


  1. an opinion or judgment based on irrelevant considerations or inadequate knowledge, either favourable or unfavourable, especially an unfavourable opinion or judgment.
  2. unreasonable hostility toward a particular person, group, race, nation, etc.

(All definitions are taken from Gage Canadian Dictionary) .

I understand that you are Canadian, but "Where you are from?"

Canadian identity still eludes easy definition...
Canadian identity still eludes easy definition... | Source

Different aspects of discrimination

I love humanity; but I hate people. (Edna St. Vincent Millay)


In the Toronto Star article "Many Canadians are made to feel like strangers in their homeland", Shellene Drakes has touched on a sore subject of racial discrimination, as well as the impact of the term 'visible minority' on people of colour. The reporter concentrated on the experiences and feelings of three Canadians of different ethnic descents. The heroines of the article have a lot in common: all of them are females of the same age group, all of them were born and raised in Canada, and most importantly, all of them belong to visible minorities. Their experiences are, however, different. Shellene Drakes pointed out that the blacks, especially of Caribbean descent, do not share the same feeling of belonging as the Indians (from India) and the Chinese. The reporter mentioned imperfection of Canadian educational programs in history, which failed to recognize the contribution of people of colour to the historical and economical development of Canada. Nevertheless, Shellene ended her article on an optimistic note by saying that contemporary Canadian society is becoming more acceptable of different races and nationalities. This fact might bring about the day when we will not ask each other the usual question, "Where are you from?"

The logic behind discrimination? None -


Even though, the article by Shellene Drakes does not provide an in-depth analysis of the subject, it touches on quite a few sociological issues, such as systemic discrimination of visible minorities, - especially of blacks, - multiculturalism as a defining characteristic of Canada, Canadian identity, and the globalization of today's world. The article can be analyzed from the symbolic interactionists' point of view, as it focuses on the experiences and feelings of three different people.

The looking-glass self theory of Charles Horton Cooley can provide sufficient explanation of why the black lady Dayo Kefentse internalized the prejudice of white Canadians against the blacks, and how it became part of herself. She is offended by the innocuous question "Where are you from?", because she perceives it as an implication that she is either not a Canadian or not quite enough of a Canadian.

The prejudice against blacks has such a long history in Canada that, unfortunately, it has become now part of blood and flesh of the whites. One of my classmates (a white Canadian) said quite a mouthful that he sees difference between systemic and individual discrimination is that one is logical and the other is not. The significance of this can hardly be overestimated because it shows that this person is completely unaware of how little the idea of racial discrimination has to do with logic. As a matter of fact, prejudice and discrimination are neither logical nor rational, and this is exactly why it is extremely difficult for minorities to surmount them.

The Logic. The Logic? The Logic!!!

In the actual discussion "Does racism still exist in the developed countries of the world?" there is a response by Digger Dave:

I am a Brit that lives in Sweden. A skinhead on a Swedish TV chat show recently stated that he wanted " to move to a country where they don't accept immigrants". Even in Sweden, one of the most tolerant countries in the world.

Read it carefully.  And again.  What a skinhead is saying is that he wants to move... hence immigrate to a country that does not accept immigrants! The logic...

We all know what he means, yet to be able to move there must be tolerance towards those who move from place to place in this world.  Because in the previous centuries some of the "immigrants" or unwelcome visitors were simply eaten. Or they were discriminated against.


If your blood composition does not define you, what does?

The author of the article and all the three heroines confirmed that Canada's pattern of intergroup relations was multiculturalism. "People wear their cultures on their sleeves here", says Sehrab Grewal. Multiculturalism is very favourable for recent immigrants, because they do not have to strip their ethnic identity right away. They do not have to cut all their roots and ties the moment they land in Canada.

On the other hand, for the children of the immigrants, multiculturalism provides an opportunity to decide for them to what extent to maintain their original ethnic identity or not to maintain it at all, and become a Canadian instead. Out of the three ladies, two were able to identify themselves as Canadians.

What is Canadian identity after all? It makes sense (at least to me), to determine the national identity of a person by that person's culture. If an individual was born in Canada, and raised in Canadian culture; if he/she lives in Canada, speaks English or French and most importantly does not speak the language of his/her ancestors; if he/she does not share the cultural values, and does not breathe the same air with the people of his/her ancestry (speaking both literally and figuratively), then he or she is a Canadian. Then there is no need to look at skin colour or eye shape, or calculate the blood percentage that you inherited from your parents, grandparents and so on and so forth. Or if your last name (for the sake of argument, let's say Kovacs) is neither British nor French, should it make you less of a Canadian then?

Faces of the Caucasian Nationality. What?

This photo is taken from the  Russian source and the article about the rise of xenophobia in Russia.  Not in 2000, when I wrote my essay.  It is dated December 2010.
This photo is taken from the Russian source and the article about the rise of xenophobia in Russia. Not in 2000, when I wrote my essay. It is dated December 2010.

Some whites are whiter than others, some blacks are not black enough. Our creativity has no limits

Although defining ethnicity by culture sounds quite reasonable, it does not eliminate grounds for discrimination. After all, the original and first meaning of the word 'discrimination' is 'the act of making or recognizing the differences and distinctions'. It does not have a derogatory nuance to it. Rather it describes an essential characteristic of the human mind. We, as human beings, cannot think without symbols. We have to define everything that surrounds us. If the definition of an object or an idea is incomplete, then we are no longer comfortable with it and we start adding modifiers (such as an adjective), or simply creating new words (terms, symbols). This is exactly the reason why we came up with the term 'visible minority'.

Currently, whether we like or not, Canadian means white. If a Canadian does not happen to be white, then we need a hyphenated definition, such Afro-Canadian or Asian-Canadian. In order to distinguish between whites - native born and immigrants, - sooner or later we can create the term 'audible minority'. Being an audible minority can easily transform you to an invisible minority, where people simply ignore you because you are a recent immigrant. (Why bother? He/she is not one of us.)

To demonstrate that our creativity has no limits, let me give a couple of examples. In the last 10-15 years, Russians created the term 'person of a Caucasian nationality'. What is the reason for that? We have no ability to tell between Armenian, Georgian, Chechen, Dahestan, Azerbaijani or other numerous Caucasian nationalities. The best we can do is guess that a person is from Caucasus, hence the term. This classification hurt a lot of people, especially those who only bear a resemblance (arguably, though), but in fact are not Caucasians at all. In 1997, one of my relatives was mistaken for a Caucasian, was stopped by militia and brought to the militia station because he did not have his passport with him (note, that our passport contains a nationality record). Knowing "the friendliness" of the Soviet militia, and being full of premonitions, the poor fellow died right there from a heart attack.

There is another incomparable socially constructed term Homo Sovietikus (compare with Homo Sapiens) used to describe the results of evolution of people under the Soviet regime. Though it is a joke, but as in every joke there is a part of the truth in it. Or rather the other way around - there is a part of the joke in every joke and the rest of it is the truth. It is questionable, whether we will be able to eliminate discrimination in all of its aspects. Again, retournons a nos moutons, your name can cause a question to pop up. Let's say, your name is Dieter Kramkowski. How many people will be able to resist the temptation to attach a tag, either by simply guessing (hmm, Dieter must be German, no, hmm…Kramkowski must be Polish) or by asking the notorious question, "Where are you from?"

Why is it easier to hate than to love?

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people". (G.K. Chesterton)

The final accord that closes the discussion in the article gives us a glimpse at the very important characteristic of today's world - globalization. No longer can we live in the shell of our own nationality, because it is a small world after all. The immigration - emigration and migration processes have become an everyday reality for so many countries. This trend shows that we have to learn to coexist in the multicultural continuum because the probability of our neighbour, colleague or friend being of our own nationality is decreasing every day. However, the recent resurgence of xenophobia in Europe, Russia and also in Canada leaves very little space for optimism. Often immigration only exacerbates the antagonism between in-groups and out-groups. To a larger or lesser degree, we are all ethnocentric. Will the era of cosmopolitanism ever come? We are yet to see[1].

[1] I apologize for not being laconic. Apparently, brevity is not my sister (allusion to the famous expression of the outstanding Russian writer Anton Chekhov 'Brevity is sister of talent').

© 2011 kallini2010


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Welcome kallini2010! more blog to come!

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      @ francis5k:

      Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.


      Thank you, Jessica. I find this question of racial discrimination still intriguing and haunting - regardless of how many years has passed since I wrote this paper. Maybe even more so... To preserve and tolerate differences is very difficult, we do much better when we tend soften the differences, when we move towards more homogenous society.

    • Jessicapotter24 profile image


      6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      "Racial discrimination persists because it is in human nature to discriminate" - Very true! Human tendency is such that we cannot accept people who are not the way we like them to be or wish them to be. It has been the same through the ages and still continues to be the same. Self realization is the one thing that will help solve this problem, but then it is very difficult for us, isn't it?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      nice article it's realistic! goodjob!

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada


      Yes, discrimination & Halloween. We were going around the neighbourhood yesterday (my father, Daniel and I) and I thought and I said it to Daniel

      - Halloween is not the same anymore.

      - Why?

      - You are growing, darling.

      - And?

      - Your perception changes.

      Even for me, last year was one thing and this year was quite another. Last year I went to two Halloween Salsa Parties - got sick and was sick for a couple of months.

      This year I went to three Tango Halloween parties. If last year I was excited to see a grown-up party, costumes, the atmosphere, this year it was simply tiring.

      The last party where I took pictures (not the best that could be done) - someone who saw me all these ten days of my tango marathon and never showed any interest, all of a sudden came up to me - "Where are you from? Montreal? I haven't seen you here before. You look good on the dance floor. Must be the purple hair."

      (I have photos on my wall - me, tango & my purple hair that is the secret).

      No, the secret is my partner. Whereas other men would tell me that I have to learn, listen to the beat and, and, and, and - he simply taught me in the process without too many words. He just did it.

      Of course, I discriminate now. All those men who told me that I should do this and that - they could not do what somebody else did. Now, I don't even want to dance with them - they are simply not good enough.

      Recognizing differences is intrinsic. By recognizing differences - we develop taste, knowledge, we grow.

      And the last thing - Nellieanna - I don't know if you saw the comments under the "Jumping into the Erotic Wave" - but I want to tell you - "we cannot send her Che, for goodness' sake!" - oh, yes, I was sent precisely that - Che - I got him. As a song. I love the song and I love the whole thing.

      "We can't send her Che" - sounds like a perfect title for an article for which I have no time to write.

      Have a joyful day,

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      I love it. But - hehe - my favorite piece on intolerance is "I just can't tolerate intolerance."

      You're right in that discrimination is between perceived worth or value of one alternative over another, which we must base on our own best judgment of them.

      And, yes, pets do have their favorite people and things, but they make no pretense of basing it on judgment - it's mostly instinct and intuition with which they respond. Theirs may be the wiser way - at least, the more honest. In fact, if truth be known, we base much of our choices on our feelings, more or as much as on our intellect, but often insist it's all 'reason'. It may be the conflict between them (or our self-delusion about it) which sometimes clouds our issues.

      I'm short on comments right now too. I was ready to write earlier but left this laptop to go upstairs for something several hours ago. It's now 4:25 AM and I got distracted by tiresome details, specifically scheduling (on my desktop computer up there) some online payments for November bills and such. When I came back downstairs just now to this machine and realized I'd left this dangling, I wanted to reply, but I'm not bubbling with ideas, and devoid of sparkling ones - obviously! I still need to brush my teeth and clean my face before lying down for some sleep. I dozed earlier, however. so it's not as bad as it might be. There was a time when I thought nothing of staying up all night, going strong all the next day and far into the next night. It's hardly the healthiest habit. I like sleep, but it does sometimes seem to take up too much time! Even as a kid I felt that way.

      I did the Halloween 'trick or treat' thing for the kids who came - and thought of my friend Sveltana's birthday. I hope it was pleasant.

      I set up a laptop to play u-tube spooky music right by the door and wore an orange sweatshirt and a silly pumpkin 'lid' headband. There were lots of adorable children. There are a Hispanic and a black area not far from here, and the children are especially cute and their parents are always lingering nearby, coaching them to say "trick or treat" and then "thank you". It's rather heart-warming.

      My friend, John, came by with his cat, Mogey. Mogey wasn't terribly excited by the whole thing but he's a sweet kitty and John dotes on him. While they were here he helped greet one group of trick or treaters. Silly, of course, - but nothing wrong with some silliness now and then. ;->

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Dear Nellieanna:

      Thank you for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment. You said it all, yet it can never be enough.

      I am not going to dwell on intolerance - you know my favourite piece on "Tolerance/Intolerance" - the astrological funny one - where I am the one with the whip using tolerance for torture.

      I am as intolerant as it gets when certain things are concerned. I am not proud of it.

      Animals? You know how dogs range their owners? There is always the most favourite person in the family, then the second... It is normal. Each animal would have preferences in food, his own, not characteristic to the species...

      The problem... is often with words, we get directed/distracted/misled/confused/mesmerized by words that we don't understand. And thank you for saying this.

      I don't have to say much now (I can't anyways, my mental abilities are blocked, my brain said "ENOUGH!!!") - you and I understand each other, words or no words. I do love Air Signs for intellectual connections and Water Bearers are like no others.

      Of course, every sign is unique and beautiful, but with you - it is always guaranteed that you come and say the right thing. That we will be in sync. That I would not have to spend my energy proving points that do not require any proving.

      Sometimes I enjoy the process (of proving), sometimes I play along ("Yes, dear, you are right").

      I do discriminate - this situation is worth putting a fight for, that one is not.

      It is so strange that this paper written in 1999 still generates waves and you say that there is no effect or impact that your words will make. There is and there is not. It is all as old as the world itself.

      Now, back to my universe.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Svetlana - I came to read this for several reasons based on what attracted me to the subject.

      First, I've long been appalled at the tendency to associate only a single definition to a multi-useful word, such as 'discriminate'. There are several valid definitions listed, as you noted, beyond just the rather modern one equating it with 'prejudice'. To notice differences is not to automatically like or dislike them, much less to set up hostile boundaries! When we name our favorite color or dessert, we're discriminating! If we prefer red, are we prejudiced or intolerant toward green and blue? If we can only be tempted by chocolate cake, does it automatically mean that we have animosity toward apple pie?

      We may not even have a preference; we may simply note that chocolate cake and apple pie are quite different.

      That's discriminating! Yet in today's world, the meaning seems to have narrowed down to referring only to that one definition, meaning prejudice, which equates with intolerance, bad treatment, even hatred. Words have such power. And often when one chooses a word which means what one means to say - someone else is thinking something quite different, and then associating his or her meaning to what you meant to say. No wonder there is such disharmony around!

      Another similarly frequently narrowly defined word is 'judge'. Again, when we prefer one choice to another, we've judged them as alternatives. Yet we're made to feel terrible by exhortations not to judge, lest we be judged. Well, heck. We're being judged all the time, just as we do and must make judgements for ourselves. If one gets invitations from two friends for two different activities on the same day, one must judge the options - and the persons who offer them are either chosen or not, and probably we were selected to fill out a limited seating arrangement rather than others of their acquaintance.

      Discriminating and judging are not optional. In order to select the course of our day, we must do them!

      How we FEEL about different things, people and groups is what we should be aware of superimposing on their VALUE, rather than just which we select as our options from among them.

      My parents moved to Texas - and eventually, to southwest Texas - from Indiana, a state near the northernmost central area of the United States. Though they lived in Texas from about 1919 till their deaths in the 1970s, they were always considered "damnyankees" by many Texans, especially in the south and southwest. Why? -- a Civil War which was fought between the North and South in the previous century - over slavery - an extreme demonstration of prejudice and wrongful judgement.

      This still prevailed - and yet still - prevails in the minds of people and to the extreme of distrusting people from 'the other side of the Mason-Dixon Liine'. Didn't depend on color or even on views. Just on origins or locations. Imagine.

      This attitude is so tangible, so visceral, one can almost read it on people's faces, especially if they're confronted with any person, issue or suggestion which activates that barely sleeping rage and intolerance. It's heartbreaking. And it's a reality, not just here, but throughout the south and many other enclaves of unresolved, residual fury.

      I can only imagine how difficult it is in many other places with even more adamant prejudice against other religions, ethnicities, traditions and all the many forms of human life and society which mark our differences from primitive species, including those from which we surely arose; differences which could be valued & cherished if we had more enlightened hearts and minds. What will it take?

      I guess animals have their preferences, too, but at least they're mostly based on whether or not they're likely to be killed and eaten or to do the killing and eating. rather than obscure and negligible pre-judices.

      I'm glad I ran across this hub, Svetlana. It is something which deeply concerns me - and should concern us all, I think.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you for reading, Journey2244.

    • Journey2244 profile image


      7 years ago

      LOVE IT!!!!!!

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, PlatinumOwl4 - I believe there are so many articles and books and courses on the same subject. To be able to live together peacefully, people should...

      I stop here - I don't know what they should... I only know that for some reason - to dislike or hate is easier than to like or to love.

    • platinumOwl4 profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a magnificent article, unfortunately the people who really need to read it never will. This will cause them to pass their misunderstanding along.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Reading it now. I'm so sorry about my miss spellings. I do know how to write. Gaw!

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, Augustine, for reading and commenting. Tolerance is a very delicate matter. I don't know if you read my "Intolerance" - it is not a social essay - it is just funny and I am not the author, I just translated it. The good thing about it - it is short. Everybody loves it.

      Just remember - I was the one "who came first". I have my problems with tolerance, too.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Fascinating treatise on the subject of racism. We will never get away from it. Even in the future, or science fiction future it still carries. The "Star Trek" generation ahs people and aliens all working in proximity to each other. But no one like Klingons or Romulans. I joke, we even have a hard time in fictional settings getting along.

      Racism has touched almost everyone I've known, from whites, blacks, asians, and hispanics. I've experienced it from others, but mainly from other hispanics because of my socio-economic standing. They've attribute my success and freedom to being assimilated into white culture. I didn't see that coming.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you for the compliment, Twilight Lawns! I don't think of terms of racism. That is why I prefer the term "discrimination". We recognize differences and how we act upon those differences defines the reality for both parties. Majority versus minority. Majority? GOOOOOOOD! Minority? BAAAAAAAD.

      I never really experienced racial discrimination except for a few cases. Somebody called me a Jew in school and I was not. Here in Canada, it was difficult at the beginning, but lack of belonging was more due to the language barrier than to anything else. I will forever remain an immigrant for the "blue blood" Canadians, but it does not bother me. Strangely enough, in Toronto whites are a visible minority now. And whites come from all the different places - defining national identity, is there anything more complicated than that?

      I am not Russian by blood composition, only partially. I am Russian by the culture I was brought up in. How Canadian am I? Even I don't know.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 

      8 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      A lovely and beautifully written hub. Great food for thought here.

      I get annoyed when people assume that I am English; because I sound "more English than the English", but was born in India of British parents. I suffered racism, not from people of differing skin colour to my own, when, in school in Australia I was teased for

      1. being an Indian (Woo woo woo... (Ethnic American Indian) I was the Indian (therefore the Baddie - they were the Cowboys... You know how it goes).

      and then when my teacher tried to stop the bullying

      2. being called a whale (as in Jonah and the Whale) because my mother came from Wales.

      Yes, I suppose I could be called a racist, because I am attracted by people from the sub Continent. Is this positive racism, prejudice or preference? Hmm!


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