The advantages of looking like a ‘visible’ minority

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Pradip Rodrigues

Following the 2014 municipal elections in Ontario, I recall reading a couple of news reports that focussed on an uncomfortable truth that despite Mississauga being among the most diverse cities in Canada, all it’s councillors at City Hall were 100 % Caucasian. So when Dipika Damerla won Mississauga Ward -7 in the recently concluded municipal elections, it prompted me to write a piece highlighting the fact that Dipika was the first non-Caucasian councillor in Mississauga. Funnily, no other mainstream newspaper made the connection which led me to believe that perhaps had Dipika Damerla who is Hindu been one who swaddled herself in saffron robes and highlighted her religious affiliations, she may have drawn the attention of the national media. But I suspect that Damerla who has never flaunted her religious beliefs and has chosen to blend in rather than stand out is not viewed as being ethnic enough to warrant much media attention. Because she blends in well, she has not got the kind of media attention that is often reserved for ethnic minorities who look and act the part. She likes to think of herself as a Canadian politician rather than a hyphenated one but in politics, I get the feeling it is not appreciated or encouraged.

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I have often noticed that politicians surrounded by carefully arranged individuals representing very visible minorities. I guess politicians and their handlers want people watching or reading about them to unconsciously and instinctively make the connection between the politician and his or her unswerving support for ethnic minorities. So just having second-generation South Asians or Muslims who have eschewed their cultural and religious symbols are largely ignored because they are not really seen as sufficiently ethnic. Looking and acting Canadian while brown or ‘foreign’ is apparently not get its stamp of approval by the establishment.

I was at a high-profile event for young women and among the guests were a few other ethnicities including South Asians and two Muslims wearing their hijabs. Nothing wrong with wearing the hijab but what I found wrong was the cameras that periodically kept zooming in on these tables. I watched as one news anchor scanned the room looking for someone to interview and as soon as she spotted the woman in the hijab, she walked over to her and conducted her interview and ignored all the other ‘Canadian’ looking women. Other news anchors were also attempting to talk to her and a couple of ‘visible’ minorities. There were two very westernized and fashionable young South Asian women who needless to say were not sought after for interviews.

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Canadians who support multiculturalism, educators, the media and of course politicians have inadvertently or shamelessly ended up fetishizing an authentic ethnic look.

They have ended up giving new immigrants the feeling that there are advantages to maintaining the ethnic look and flaunting their religious identities. I once spoke to an aspiring South Asian political candidate who confessed off the record that he felt disadvantaged because he did not look authentically Sikh. He could pass off for Spanish, Mexican, Middle-Eastern, maybe even South Asian and so he thought that he didn’t have the right ‘look’ for politics. I wouldn’t go that far but the fact that an educated person of color could conclude that he was not authentically Sikh by way of look, that too in Canada, says a lot.

This sort of identity politics is what is responsible for individuals joining organizations that are committed to furthering their ethnic, religious and cultural identities and get rewarded by government funding and visits from politicians.

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I met a couple of young people belonging to one South Asian country who were in the process of getting members to join a community group in order to get attention and draw attention to issues that were important to them. In order to do so, it was important to highlight their ethnicity, preserve their culture and ensure their Canadian-born were well-versed in their language and traditions. They had been inspired by other well-established ethnic community associations and groups that received thousands of dollars of government funding for their activities and political clout.

So here you have community associations and groups being funded to keep alive traditions, religious and cultural practices, beliefs and dances which leaves those who choose to spend their time and energy trying to integrate into the mainstream at a distinct disadvantage.

This is indeed a social and political tragedy that will come back to haunt Canada as it becomes ever more multicultural in the years to come. -CINEWS

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