Can’t we all get along? We’re all stuck here for a while: Rodney King in Los Angelos, 1992: (CBC podcast May 31, interview Mary Hynes with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt).
The question of how it might feel to be a member of a minority does not often arise in my Canadian circles and specifically not in my direct environment, and when it does, it’s with great reluctance for fear of sounding racist. The question arose recently how it would feel when we as Caucasians would have become a minority — a future prospect. What is it that makes Caucasian people so uncomfortable about possibly becoming a minority?
Living in a work environment were employees are of the dominant culture while a good number of clients are members of visible minorities, it is a very relevant question that is quite taboo. One of my interests in blogging is to share my experiences, to increase knowledge about immigration, and the related issues of tolerance for differences, and my experiences when I travel. As a member of a small, but invisible minority (a first generation Caucasian immigrant) I feel compelled to devote a blog post just to this subject.
Coming to Canada, this nation seemed very much to me like the country I left behind, but less multicultural, possibly with exception of Vancouver and Toronto, and Montreal.
Then I stumbled on the existence of the Canadians of First Nations heritage. Most Caucasians I spoke with had never visited a reserve, but had plenty to say. It was a shock to me seeing the derision and lack of respect shown by the mainstream Canadians and the provincial government in Alberta to this population thirty years ago, even when most Aboriginal people have the same religion as other Canadians, with some variations. So it wasn’t about religion, I concluded.
Then I learned about the history of First Nations and was even more appalled. How was this possible in recent history and how come so few Canadians seemed to know, or cared?
After 30 years in this country and having become a citizen, I have worked out this aberration: it was too painful to talk about during the development of the nation as a modern state in recent history, as some of the politicians involved with the forced “integration” of First Nations were still in power. It seemed much like Germany, when it took its time – a long time – to address the Nazi period in their history and their terrible compliance with the genocide of whole groups of German citizenry.
The Canadian political leaders and by extension its education officials had so many deaths on their conscience that they hid in denial and shame, disguised as arrogance and paternalism. Lately, the presence of shame has waned somewhat, opening the door by current governments to some acknowledgement of past abuse. They could chalk up those terrible discriminatory decisions (the forming of reserves, the absconding of kids from their parents to place them all in the custody of missionaries in residential schools, and the killing of their centuries-old culture) to having been misguided actions of previous governments, but made with good intentions. Well….
Having said that, it looks like we have learned in Canada more or less what the party line is:
– discrimination is bad,
– people with a different colour of skin are just as good as those with pale skin,
– we are all one nation and
– we all contribute to our society.
Still, when we talk and read about Canada’s future, it becomes very clear that it scares the hell of out most Caucasian Candadians to think that they might become a nation were whites are a minority. To explain more clearly with an example from those that have fear in their heart: if our parliament would consist of a majority of Sikhs and Muslims, might the freedoms and the current position of women – us – be squished or curtailed in Canada?
The point here is that this fear might be valid, if those new members of parliament with those extreme, abusive views of their dominance over women would a. Form a majority or significant minority in public institutions and b. Are first generation immigrants and c. Cling to abusive views.
I am unaware that any religion explicitly declares that dominance over, and abuse of women is the male right. In the Christian (dominant) society in Canada, the marriage vow to obey the husband has been abandoned as well. However, in many developing societies abuse of women is a fact and is basically enforced due to economic reasons; a woman is dependent on a male provider, as women have little access to financial resources or means to make income. However, these societies and the plight of the women might be the base for the fear expressed by Caucasians, I think.
Research indicates that immigrants to Canada become for most part integrated in the mainstream society to a large extent within two generations, adopting the values of that new country. Especially so when they came from countries were those freedoms were curtailed or the immigrants and refugees were persecuted in some way.
I believe that the education system and the political organizations are obviously doing a very poor job educating the Canadian population; the status quo is maintained this way in Canada. To be more successful in decreasing opposition to the plans for more immigration and higher volumes, the federal and provincial powers that be need to start more targeted education.
What can we do as citizens?
It is clear that the trek to holiday resorts abroad is a real Canadian treat for a lot of us and seems the preferred vacation style for Canadians. Cuba seems to rely on our tourists, while Mexico is a real boon to us too; Costa Rica is a place where baby boomers increasingly buy retirement property.
We can have luxury accommodation away from home, more opulent than we even have in our daily lives, with exquisite styles and lavish spaces. We eat low cost, or even free food if going “all inclusive” and drinks are free.
Yes, we do see the odd Mexican of Jamaican at the resort, but they speak English and they leave the resort after they are done their shift. They cater to us, make us feel comfortable. We can feel generous toward them and we chat jovially with them, we feel we have no beef with their skin colour, we feel we do not discriminate. But, even in this foreign destination, we are still the majority, together with all the other white people, and we mostly ARE white when first arriving: “fresh meat” the locals call us.
Sure we make some day trips and we see a few more, mostly poor, locals by the side of the road or at the tourist site, but we are still all together and feel strong, and not vulnerable as a tourist in those situations. That’s why we stay away in droves when somebody gets killed on a Mexican beach without understanding the situation. But beware of introducing significantly more immigrants to our country: we don’t want that, as they come here to exploit our generous social programs or take our jobs. Think again! Research found that immigrants to Canada have higher levels of education than the average Canadian, but their income is on average lower: a strange coincidence? Or is some sort of discrimination at work?
So how can we as individual citizens shed the mantle of self-delusion and self-assurance, in favour of a more congruous attitude that matches our fears of becoming a visible minority, fear for people that are different from us? Do we want to address this in ourselves, or do we rather remain ignorant and scared?
There are many ways and I would suggest you could start at home, in Canada. Wherever you live, there might be an enclave in your town where an ethnic group lives, or a cultural centre where social-recreational events take place, or a festival that starts in the street where you could expect a lot of the ethnic population to attend. Get up your curiosity and attend, read up about the meaning of the event, research, talk about it, ask the people you know, etc. I was once invited to a wedding in the Sikh tradition by a colleague. Because it was out of town I declined, but felt my choice afterwards as a missed chance to participate and learn more about that culture. I wished I had attended.
Vancouver and Toronto are great cities to explore other cultures, to eat delicious foods and mix with local populations, especially in the ethic neighbourhoods. Yes, you might feel a bit like a fish on dry land, so welcome the experience of being on the other side: that’s how minorities mostly feel in your environment. Do not pull your purse toward you, and do not stare when you are walking around Vancouver’s China town: act like you are relaxed and are enjoying yourself, and that feeling will appear in you after a while.
When abroad, go out on your own, or with a buddy, during the day in the streets and take the bus, or the train, eat in the local eateries run by locals, and try the street food stands, ask and show an interest. Try to exchange the basic social graces in the local language, learn about safe times and places to go to as tourist at night, or hire a local guide, and learn about the religion, the customs and habits. Most of all, dress modestly, leave your shorts and mini dress at the condo (unless you are in nudist colony), and do not get drunk in public.
After several trips and situations where you feel, and were a minority, you might come to get more comfortable with that situation when you experience that nothing bad is going to happen. You will meet people. You will and know in your mind and your body that we ARE all people and that it does not matter whether you are brown, black, yellow or polka dotted, Muslim, Hindu or Roman Catholic, born in Canada or Timbuktu, and that we all love our children.
Jonathan Haidt wrote about it in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (listen to the interesting podcast interview of Jonathan with CBC host Mary Hynes, where they talk about the righteous mind and tribalism). I feel that is what we have to overcome in Canada to come together: tribalism.
Have you ever felt a minority, or do you have any thoughts about this subject, or about Canada’s multiculturalism? I would love to hear from you.