Is it racist to prefer someone from your same background?

Pradip Rodrigues

Last week a local newspaper reported that a Burlington home care provider put out an ad on Kijji for a Caucasian Registered Nurse or Registered Practical Nurse. An issue like this naturally had bleeding heart liberals frothing at the mouth and baying for blood. Some employment lawyers who see this as reason for their employment in the first place, they say that the online ad searching for nurses“Caucasian” nurses in Burlington is not only illegal, it’s a throwback to a bygone era.
The company that sends out its workforce to the homes of seniors quickly pulled out those ads and its CEO with his back to the wall was forced to retract and call it really unfortunate. In the multicultural west, Caucasians like Christians cannot go around advertising their preference or their religion because any mention of either of these two things is supposedly offensive to those of other backgrounds.
Now the Canadian Charter of Rights have in place anti-discrimination principles designed to ensure all qualified people have equal access to employment.

Everyone does it

While it is seen to be racist for a company to be looking for Caucasian candidates, it is not seen that way when a Chinese, South Asian or Arabic company advertises for candidates that speak their language and shares the same background. Walk into most companies owned and operated by other ethnic groups and chances are that most of the employees belong to the same ethnicity as the owners.
Here is why I assume this home care provider put out this ad for nurses with a Caucasian background. It am almost sure that most of their clients are Caucasians who grew up in an age when Canada was very European, those were the days when the English, Scottish and Welsh were in far greater numbers. Many seniors today belong to that background and would prefer having a nurse who spoke English in an accent they understood. I suspect these seniors are wealthy and prefer a nurse who can understand them culturally as well.

All races tend to prefer their own race

Preference for one’s own race isn’t always racist, it is more complex than that.
One Scarborough nursing home has dedicated a floor for Tamil seniors. Markham’s Yee Hong has a South Asian wing. Italian seniors have Villa Colombo in Vaughan. The Yee Hong Geriatric Care Centre in Mississauga is exclusively for Chinese. I would wager a bet that most if not all the nurses at these ethnic-focused nursing homes belong to the same background as the clients they serve. I would love to see the ads that were put out for those positions.
The reason why this issue doesn’t raise the ire or eyebrows of rational Canadian or employment lawyers is that seniors who can’t speak or understand English would better be served by a nurse or a PSW (Personal Support Worker) who can intuitively figure out what the ethnic senior needs or requires. A nurse sharing the same ethnic background can pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues very easily because they understand the culture and background.
There are probably over ten ethnic-focused nursing homes across Canada today and that number is set to increase.
In Thornhill, the Muslim Jaffari Centre has a plan to erect a 17-storey seniors residence with 100 assisted living units. Now the seniors in all probability will be Muslim and I wonder if nurses from all backgrounds will be recruited. Unlikely, however it will be easier to get around anti-discriminatory laws by inserting the requirement of being able to speak Farsi or Urdu.

Seniors prefer nurses who have things in common

I once spoke with a South Asian PSW (Personal support worker) who was assigned to a home of a Caucasian senior who spent his days listening to Opera music and loved talking about old Hollywood classics and books. This lady who just so happened to be well-versed in Western classical music, culture and literature got along famously with this senior. She told me that the company that sent her there was surprised because the senior complained about every PSW they sent before.  The PSWs  they  sent tended  to be new immigrants from different backgrounds who had nothing in common with this man. It is one thing for a senior to be in a  Many seniors who live at home have different health conditions but all tend to be lonely. In addition to PSWs or nurses taking their temperature and dispensing medication, they end up being companions. Seniors often have no one to talk to other than the nurse and it can be really frustrating not to be able to talk the nurse in question does not get the cultural context or share a similar culture. Was this man racist? He was perhaps, like most of us, but was he wrong to prefer someone who shared similar interests and someone he could relate to? I don’t think so.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply