How to make “diversity is our strength” a meaningful slogan

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By Pradip Rodrigues

By now every Canadian is familiar with the phrase “Diversity is our strength”. For some, it is a mantra, for others it has become a meaningless slogan or a lie invariably uttered by politicians trying to score brownie points (pardon the pun) with growing ethnic vote banks. My cynical side can’t help thinking that the more often this phrase is abused by politicians to advance their moral positions, it actually makes it even more meaningless. When I hear anyone utter the “Diversity is our strength” phrase, I am suspicious of their motives. I can’t help but thinking of a quote, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, this was the law of propaganda attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels.

No one seems to know exactly what “Diversity is our strength” really means, because no political leader has clearly defined it intelligently. They look around a room filled with ethnic minorities and repeat the phrase as a way to make people of color and new Canadians feel like they not just belong but that they are the reason Canada is getting better and stronger than ever. Maybe as strong as our neighbor south of the border someday, who knows. No leader has been strong enough to boldly state that for diversity to truly be a strength, new immigrants have to meet mainstream Canada halfway, not just call themselves Canadians, but think and act like Canadians. To think not just as hyphenated Punjabis, Tamilian or Sri Lankans. But that doesn’t happen because politicians encourage ethnic communities to live in their cultural silos and even throw money at them to have their unique festivals and celebrate their cultures and be proud of their heritage and especially the countries they come from, even ‘refugees’ who fled those very countries. Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but how about encouraging ethnic Canadians to adopt and be proud of certain cultural traditions that exist in Canada? The few ethnic Canadians who venture into the mainstream are often accused of abandoning their cultures or trying to act white. They are made to feel like traitors for trying to adopt a mainstream Canadian way of life.

Many immigrants assume that this feel good slogan means that the future of Canada is in their hands and that without them, this country would go down. No political leader would dare say ‘diversity is our strength’ in the context of ethnic community members joining the Canadian Armed Forces. It would be nice if immigrants who love living in Canada would be willing to die in order to defend the country they love. Well few immigrants would bother to target the Armed Forces for the lack of diversity yet despite the lack of diversity, Canada’s Armed Forces are reasonably strong.

But for the phrase “diversity is our strength” to really resonate, it is important that politicians define its true meaning in order for it to become meaningful, otherwise it sounds like a pep slogan chanted during a football game, well, politics is also a kind of game like football, some might even call it a blood sport and the way some of these politicians conduct themselves makes many thinking individuals’ blood boil.

Here are a few ways that slogan can actually mean something.

To begin with ‘diversity is a strength’ will truly have meaning when new Canadians are encouraged by their community leaders and political leaders to put aside their baggage and think of Canada as their home and stop referring to their countries of origin as “home”. It grates on the nerves of Canadians both new and old who welcome immigration. When returning to Canada after visiting their “home” some immigrants are confused when their immigration officer welcomes them home! New immigrants should be encouraged to get used to the idea that this country is now home.

It is great that Canadians of many ethnicities, notably South Asians are aspiring to political office. A few have their eye on becoming PM someday soon. And to me that is a big deal, but if our ethnic politicians spend a disproportionate time on political and social causes in their ‘home’ countries, it threatens to make other Canadians believe these ethnic politicians are acting more like foreign representatives or community leaders incapable of putting aside their dual loyalties. It risks making parliament and the Houses of provincial assemblies become like the UN where international causes take centre stage rather than festering problems in our own backyard. Other Canadians could become skeptical about ethnic politicians who are there to advance causes and issues related to their ethnic community both in and out of Canada. How then is diversity a strength if elected leaders spend their time and energy trying to solve the problems in other countries when they’ve been elected to focus primarily on their own ridings and country as a whole?

I don’t know how diversity can be considered a strength when we have ethnic communities aspiring to establish community gymnasiums, football leagues and private schools for their own religious and ethnic communities. In the years to come ethnically exclusive senior homes may well be the norm, ensuring that more ethnic Canadians socialize through childhood and into their second childhood with people exclusively from their own background. There are visible signs in many ethnically rich neighborhoods that make the phrase, “diversity is our strength” quite meaningless yet these are just the places white politicians visit and use the phrase multiple times in a single speech.

If ethnic communities are only interested in the mainstream insofar as getting jobs, establishing businesses, making lots of money and not contributing their time, effort and money to social and mainstream causes, I fail to see diversity as a strength. It sounds more like a house divided along ethnic, religious and cultural lines and we all know what happens to divided houses. – CINEWS

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