Canadian Identity and Racial Discrimination
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.
- prejudiceor discrimination against a person or group because of race or of cultural or ethnic background.
- 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”.
- the act of making or recognizing differences and distinctions.
- the ability to make fine distinctions.
- the act or practice of making or showing a difference in treatment based on prejudice.
- an opinion or judgment based on irrelevant considerations or inadequate knowledge, either favourable or unfavourable, especially an unfavourable opinion or judgment.
- unreasonable hostility toward a particular person, group, race, nation, etc.
(All definitions are taken from Gage Canadian Dictionary) .
How do you deal with someone you don't like?
- How do you deal with someone you don't like?
Listing of the answers to the question: How do you deal with someone you don't like?
I understand that you are Canadian, but "Where you are from?"
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?
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.
 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').
- Canadian Manifesto. How I Love to Hate You.
The mystery of Canada: have we embraced multiculturalism or do we exist in Canadian nothingness? Are we as friendly as we appear? What is identity? Do we really have an identity or is it a myth? a label? a tag?
© 2011 kallini2010