Opinion: Racism is a multicultural issue

posted on August 18, 2014

By Albert Lo, Special to the Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Albert Lo, Special to the Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Rachel Brothers was fired by Nova Scotia’s Black Educators Association as regional educator because another employee thought she was not ‘black enough.’ A human rights board of inquiry ruled recently that she had been the victim of discrimination.
In Nova Scotia, it was recently found by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Board of Inquiry that an employee of the Black Educators Association had been discriminated against on the basis of her skin colour. Apparently some thought that her skin was not dark enough for her to deal effectively with the discrimination faced by darker-skinned members of the community served by black educators.

On the surface, a seemingly unusual case. But it illustrates the complexity of dealing with racism and race relations in a democratic, multicultural country like Canada. As individuals and groups from various backgrounds take up prominent roles in economic, social, cultural or political arenas, their attitudes can have an effect on who is discriminated against, for what reasons, and whether or not discrimination takes place. The conventional paradigm of a single majority vs. various minorities is inadequate. We need a broader framework to guide our work and allow for discussion of substantive issues.

In this instance, some members of a minority group have developed prejudices that they have used to discriminate against others within that group. There is no doubt that newcomers can also develop prejudices in Canada or bring them here from their countries of origin. Such biases are not necessarily due to actual conflicts in the country of origin but can be due to social and cultural attitudes in the society from which they come, or from the milieu into which they integrate here.

Canadian Race Relations Foundation research on attitudes held by various groups in Canada toward others clearly reveals these tendencies. Furthermore, practical experience in working with newcomers has shown that such negative attitudes sometimes arise as part of the settlement and integration process.

It is often assumed that, because of their own experience, those who are the victims of discrimination will be more open and less biased toward other groups. But this is not always the case. The focus for newcomers is on meeting the short-term needs of housing and employment. The challenges of cultural adaptation to the societal norms in Canada are deferred while these basic needs are dealt with, and long-term integration is then left to take care of itself or, if problems arise, to be shifted to provincial health and social services.

Individuals of means can achieve dual or multiple resident status or citizenship without having to put down roots in the host countries. Since they have no need to access basic services, questions of cultural integration are not addressed. These realities certainly add complexity to issue of integration and social cohesion.

In other cases, prejudices emanating from minority groups are often overlooked because it is easy to understand the historical roots of such attitudes. Among all groups, we have learned that such attitudes do not simply evaporate with economic success.

On the other hand, we have to be more precise and careful in linking race to issues that are caused at their root by other factors. Recent controversies in Richmond about the increase in property values are linked by both racists and anti-racists to people of Asian and, primarily, of Chinese origin. The recent distribution of anti-immigrant flyers targeting the Sikh community in Brampton, Ont., is one more recent example of this.

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