In much of he western world, we live in multicultural nations. Over the past decade this has been depicted more so through the media which includes more characters of ethic minorities who are not there to fulfill a stereotype. These characters are there to reflect actual demographics and break archetypes of the past . It is even apparent when watching the news, that anchors are from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds reflecting the society we live in.
What baffles me though, is, why are we still dealing with racist hate crimes and xenophobia in this day and age? and in particular, why does the US seem to have so many more issues with xenophobia than Canada? The topic of racism has sat in the back of my mind all day and was initially sparked when I saw a news report this morning about a girl of Indian decent winning the tittle of miss America. I didn’t see what the big deal was considering in nations where immigration has fueled the population growth, it’s not unusual to walk down the street and see people from every ethnic background who were born American, Canadian etc. I do realize that no matter how multicultural and advanced we become, there will always be xenophobes and people who make generalizations and place negative stereotypes on certain ethnic groups. Of course there are some stereotypes that are actually true, like Persians driving white bmw’s. This is a true statement as I lived in a building that was primarily Persian for a few years and they even influenced me to buy one and Persians wearing too much cologne, the hallways almost consistently smelled like it!
Another true stereotype is Asians cannot drive, just go drive around the Pacific mall parking lot and you will see what I’m talking about. Good thing I still remember how to swear in Cantonese
Sadly though, there are some other stereotypes out there that hold no truth whatsoever. For example, the way middle eastern people are conveyed by western media as violent terrorists. It’s ironic, that if you look at most large scale public attacks in North America that have happened over the past couple years, they have been carried out by Caucasians. Prior to 9/11, the deadliest American terrorist attack on record was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, yet I don’t live in fear of Caucasians or stereotype them as aggressive, violent etc. So why then do we often see fear and hate towards people who are Islamic, or even just appear as if they may be Islamic? I believe it is because the qualities of aggressiveness and violence are the only qualities ever displayed in the media linked to people of middle eastern decent and it instills fear in those who are less than worldly. A lack of worldliness and relying on the most easily accessible forms of media to gain education about what’s going on around you without questioning is a dangerous practice. Unfortunately for some people out there, they cannot do much better than this, just watch five minutes of here comes honey boo boo. They’re illiterate so where else can they get their information from than the tv? They’re getting pregnant at the age of 13 so there’s no time to focus on expanding education and questioning things. They are too busy shoveling their obese faces full of fried chicken to look at what they see on television objectively.
So then, is this mentality the fault of all the uneducated hicks? I wish it were as simple as pinning this all on them for not venturing outside their boxes, but how can one venture when they are not given the inspiration to do so?
This leads me to question why is it that in Canada we have towns where people are pregnant as teenagers, drop out of high school or barely make it through and have little interest in anything outside of that little bubble yet there is almost a complete lack of racism? I grew up in a small city called Brantford which although the population is about 100,000 it still carries a real small town mentality. They didn’t get their first Starbucks until just a few years ago, they don’t have normal ice cream shops, they’re all little shacks where you go get your ice cream at a window that are only open in summer. They have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Canada! In my elementary school I was always the only kid of minority or one of two and I never had any issues based on the colour of my skin. Sure there may have been a bit of ignorance about what my background was, but there was never any hate directed towards me based on me being a minority. I don’t ever have any good things to say about Brantford because it’s a shit hole, but if I had to state the one best quality of that city, it would be the acceptance of minorities despite the town having an overall hick mentality.
I believe this distinction between Canada and the US exists due to differing fundamental values. America is classified as a melting pot, and Canada a cultural mosaic. I feel it’s a lot easier to come up with a definition of “American” than it is for “Canadian” when speaking in terms of culture. When you think of American, you think of Hollywood movies, celebrity, large chains which have gone global, a lifestyle of wanting the best of everything and not wanting to work very hard for it, buying everything on credit and an overall sense of having to conform to a certain way of being to fit in and be accepted. On the other hand, Canada is a lot less defined in terms of what’s Canadian, we have very little of anything that has blown up globally and also very little established in terms of what a typical “Canadian” lifestyle is. Don’t get me wrong, I know that American’s lifestyles differ greatly from person to person, but there is still that “American Dream” mentality that exists causing many people to feel like they have to conform to specific ideals, resulting in the melting pot. In Canada, we don’t ascribe to beliefs in a “Canadian Dream”. Immigrants travelling to both nations often do so looking for better opportunities in life. However, when the whole “American Dream” concept is removed from the picture, they’re able to cultivate their new lives more organically while comfortably maintaining aspects of their culture. When people are given not only the legal freedom to live and express their own culture along with the psychological freedom to do so, underlying tensions based on race, ethnicity and religion are seldom. In a society where immigrants are granted legal liberties of living and expressing their culture yet are consistently fed messages of “the American Dream” subliminally, it creates a paradox in which citizens can express and practice their cultures freely, but only if they’re American enough. This results in many keeping their cultures behind closed doors and shared only with others of their same cultural background. In turn, this leaves their culture and people of their culture easily susceptible to unfair stereotyping based on whatever the media depicts because that culture lacks a solid foundation in the psyche of the general population.
There is no simple solution to this problem as I don’t see “the American Dream” as something that’s going to die anytime soon although everything that’s happened in terms of financial crisis proves that it should have died a long time ago. I feel that small steps taken by individuals and communities are going to be what lead to increased awareness and more objectivity in place of unfair judgement and xenophobia. It’s up to people who feel uncomfortable publicly displaying their cultural traditions out of fear to step outside their comfort zone and share with their mail man and the clerk from the store the same joys of their culture they share with their families and other members of their cultural community. If those steps are not taken by the ones who belong to the ethnic backgrounds and cultures that are most often unfairly ridiculed by the media, nothing will change. There is a ton of stuff that can be done small scale to gradually increase awareness, celebrate your culture and not exclude but invite others to learn
– A festival with entertainment and most importantly food. Rather than throwing a party/festival in a private community location, open it up to anybody who’s interested, advertise it, make it in an outdoor location. The town I grew up in still has an annual cultural celebration called the international villages in which every night a different country sets up food and entertainment.
– If you’re an elementary school teacher, encourage more cultural activities with your class. Projects where the kids have to do a report and presentation on their country. Partnering up with another student to educate and share with each other their traditions. A class pot luck in which everyone has to bring in a national dish.
– free newspaper/news letter printed in both English and your native language
– fund raising event for a local cause. Pick a cause that everyone in town is going to want to support, have the entertainment and food at the event reflect your culture. You are showing you care about the rest of the community and at the same time potentially opening others to appreciating your culture.
I shared these suggestions because these were some of the efforts I saw in my town growing up that promoted multiculturalism even though the ethnic population was so small. When I hear about such unfairness in the news, or hear stories from friends who have encountered racism personally or seen it happening in towns on travels to the US it saddens me, but also makes me feel so fortunate to have grown up in a place that promoted diversity.
There may be some out there who will always be racist and full of hate towards minorities…..and to those people I ask you to answer these questions with a yes or no.
Was your cell phone manufactured by a Caucasian?
Was your television manufactured by a Caucasian?
Was your car manufactured by a Caucasian?
Does the label on your clothing say “Made in the United States of America?”
It’s most likely you answered no to at least one of these questions…surely that’s not a sign that we should all be open to the various cultures and ethnicity’s around us and working together rather than against one another….*rolls eyes*