Why is racism and Islamophobia an issue in Mississauga?

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By Pradip Rodrigues

Mississauga now ranks as Ontario’s third largest city which in turn makes in one of the big Canadian cities. Visible minorities make up 53.7 percent of its population which makes it one of the most diverse cities in North America. The city’s mayor Bonnie Crombie has demonstrated time and again her staunch support for immigrants, refugees and visible minorities often at the cost of losing other sections of her supporters.

Despite all this, it must puzzle people when they realize that some of the most recent incidents involving racism, Islamophobia and a controversy of prayer in high schools have happened in Mississauga, not Uxbridge or St Thomas or any small Caucasian-dominated Ontario town.

The video of a mother demanding a “white doctor” who “doesn’t have brown teeth” at a Mississauga walk-in clinic and repeatedly demanded that a “white doctor” who “speaks English” treat her son has ‘shocked’ liberal Canadians, while brown people are outraged, white people are sounding appalled.

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But that’s a lie because I’ve met many whites who have complained about not being able to understand ‘hard Indian-sounding accents’ especially when talking to someone at an Indian call centre while they can vent their frustrations over the phone here in Canada they are forced to tolerate similar sounding accents, that mother asking for a white doctor must’ve reached the end of her tether. Maybe she is stranded in an apartment building filled with immigrants who all speak other languages, maybe she has no friends or family around who look like her and talk like her or maybe she simply felt threatened by the demographic changes around her but feels powerless because she is making minimum wage and is a single mom fed up of seeing other immigrant families looking out for each other.

It is easy to be tolerant, understanding and pro-immigrant when you are reasonably rich, financially sound and well-educated which is why some other visible minorities who’ve lived in Canada for several generations yet haven’t advanced far economically detest the visible wave of South Asians and Chinese immigrants who seem to be more educated and financially secure.

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Because Mississauga has changed so rapidly, many new and old residents are struggling to understand the changes and adapt. The so-called racism and Islamophobia I see these days is often a cry for help, frustration and fear.

When non-Muslim immigrants vociferously attack Friday prayer in High schools, it isn’t so much an issue against a religion but fear and perception that perhaps Islam and Muslims are getting preferential treatment. When PM Justin Trudeau boasted he had more turbaned Sikhs in his cabinet than Indian PM Narendra Modi had in his, it stirred similar feelings among other groups who saw it as being an over-representation of Sikhs compared to other religious and visible minorities. These are things that upset the status quo when one minority group gets more politicians to visit and champion their cause, others competing for the same attention get worried, fearful of losing their ‘stature’ and position in society act in unreasonable and irrational ways, often seizing upon an issue and blowing it out of proportion.

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This is really sadly a result of identity politics and this whole business of multiculturalism that has encouraged religious minorities to work harder on maintaining their identities and boosting their numbers. And all over the world, rapid demographic, cultural and social changes in any geographic area has produced just the kind of tensions that are all so visible in Mississauga.

And this should matter to the rest of Canada because Mississauga is a microcosm of a society that will one day be the same across the land, if not now, in a 150 years for sure.

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