Over the past couple of months there has been a dramatic rise in racially-motivated incidents and hate crimes in countries with a significant immigrant population. The most horrifying being the fatal shooting of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in a Kansas bar on February 22 with the shooter yelling “go back to your country”. This was followed by yet another shooting of a Sikh man in suburban Seattle on March 3, 2017. Once again, the man responsible is alleged to have told him to “go back to your own country”.
Closer home, Toronto has seen a string of anti-Semitic acts in the past couple of weeks. In fact, Jewish community centres in Toronto and London received bomb threats this Tuesday. Toronto police said they evacuated the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue out of “an abundance of caution” in the light of other threats made in New York, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Maryland.
South of the border, American federal officials have been investigating more than 120 threats against Jewish organizations since January 9.
Hundreds of other incidents involving South Asians, Muslims and other visible minorities have been captured on smartphone cameras and shared on social media sites from across the globe.
This includes a man of Indian origin being told to ‘go back to his country’ in Auckland, New Zealand and a video of Indian families hanging out in a public park in suburban Ohio with a description of how they have displaced Americans.
Australia has also found itself in the limelight on this front. On February 27, SBS World News Australia broadcast a groundbreaking hour-long documentary – Is Australia Racist? A survey commissioned by SBS (with the Western Sydney University) previously found that one in five Australians experienced racism in the last 12 months. The documentary put survey findings into action through a series of hidden camera social experiments, capturing the experience of racism through the eyes of those who have suffered it. The results were unnerving.
While Canadian society seemed to be shielded by a multiculturalism policy, an EKOS poll conducted in December 2015 on attitudes towards immigration and minorities showed that opposition to immigration has nearly doubled since 2005. The number of Canadians who felt that the country admitted too many visible minorities reached the 40-point ceiling for the first time ever and was threatening to cross the 53 per cent level seen in 1993. While economic anxiety might be a reason, and not just racial or cultural bias, the trend is worrisome. As it takes little for the lines of reason to blur like the Ohio video shows.
In the light of such events President Trump’s revised travel ban on the six Muslim-majority countries would have a more positive effect as a travel advisory for Americans to venture out and explore the world outside the United States.
Much of racial prejudice stems from ignorance and the resultant fear of the unknown. Many Americans and Canadians have never been outside their home state or province, let alone travel to another country. Limited exposure to other cultures, if any at all, results in an unwillingness to accept anything that is different. Intolerance and hate follow.
In the five years that I lived in the United States, I faced questions about my English language proficiency almost every day. Most people wanted to know how I learned the language ‘so quickly in the US’ and why I didn’t wear Indian clothing. Even more atrocious was a rather innocent question regarding camels being used as a mode of transportation in India. My initial irritation turned to pity as I realized these queries came from individuals who had no inkling about the world outside the United States.
Most Americans, like many Canadians, didn’t even have passports. International travel was not part of the plan. My condo supervisor in Pittsfield, Massachusetts was forced make one for an Alaskan cruise which required travel to Canada. She was close to 70 years old and this was the first time she was leaving American shores. Difficult to understand as most Indians just can’t wait to vacation out of the country!
One of school thought suggests that 9/11 perpetuated the American fear of travelling. A previous theory espoused that the world outside the United States is a scary place because of the violence taking place virtually everywhere. It alleged that politicians and media fueled the belief that America was the only safe haven. And after 9/11 came the notion that the terrorists and evil doers of the world were out to get America and the Americans.
Given that we only know how to believe, think and act within the parameters of what we have been taught, travel connects us to different cultures and exposes us to different perspectives, self awareness and learning.
The difference in the attitude of the baby boomers (and some Gen X Americans and Canadians) and millennials with respect to immigration and minorities stems from a higher exposure to diverse cultures. With education and business becoming more global in nature, young adults have a greater opportunity to interact with people of different ethnicities and travel prompting more open-mindedness. The same is true of more culturally-diverse metropolitan cities when compared to smaller towns with a predominantly Caucasian population.
Data on international travel from Statistics Canada in 2010 revealed that Canadians mainly travelled to the United States, Europe, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Updates in 2016 showed a continuation of this trend with China, Australia and Netherlands being added to the list of top 15 international travel destinations. An interesting revelation, given the fact that many immigrants come from countries outside these regions. Given this situation, any understanding of Indian culture for example, is limited to stereotypical representations of Bollywood. While “Lion” is an engaging film, it also perpetuates the stereotype of “Slumdog Millionaire”. What impression or understanding will a Canadian who has never visited the thriving cities of Mumbai, Bangalore or New Delhi have of the Indian subcontinent?
The ideal way to understand different cultures and people is to experience it first-hand in their country of origin. While festivals like Carrassauga (Mississauga), Carabram (Brampton) and the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto offer an opportunity to showcase our multiculturalism, they do little to educate us about diverse lifestyles and are no substitute for the eye-opening experience travel offers.