The verbal assault on Jagmeet Singh in Peterborough is a grim reminder that racism still exists in Canada. We are told time and again that individuals acting out their hate-filled ideologies are a minority, but this is hardly reassuring to the many immigrants who feel the pressure to prove they’re Canadian on a daily basis.
The federal NDP leader is not a new immigrant with an “accent” although treated like one. He was born and raised here just like the people who attacked him verbally. But his brown skin and turban make him ‘un-Canadian’ in their eyes. This was not his first brush with racism (his youth is probably full of such experiences) and it certainly won’t be his last, even at his political level! Being elected leader of a federal political party was a huge step forward for him as well as Canada, but being accepted as prime minister is a difficult bridge to cross. The Peterborough incident highlights the underlying sentiment of more Canadians than we’d be comfortable admitting to.
Every individual who is a “visible minority” knows that no matter how long they have lived here their physical appearance will make them the target of white supremacists at some point in their lives. We expect and mentally prepare to deal with it in the best way possible. Some fight back, others endure it silently.
We know that racism is driven by ignorance, closed-mindedness and fear… but political hypocrisy and an over-played multicultural policy are equally responsible for keeping it alive.
Being Canadian doesn’t mean forgetting your roots but it should not define who we are either. Multiculturalism was meant to make Canada inclusive but seems to encourage us to cling to our origins rather than assimilate it into our new identity instead. That’s the monumental difference between being American and Canadian! Immigrants south of the border don’t wear their culture on their sleeves. They’re eager and happy to blend into the American melting pot.
It serves Canadian politicians well to keep us in our racial ghettos which can be exploited for their benefit at election time. They field candidates with the same cultural background who pledge to be the voice of “the community” but do little once elected. Either because election promises are meant to be broken, or they are more interested in protecting their position and must toe the line to do so.
The professional world is no different. Ask the doctor or engineer who is driving a taxi, or a former executive denied a front line job for lack of “Canadian” experience. Veiled systemic racism will have you believe that you’re just not there yet!
Our non-white skin colour does not fit the stereotypical image of a Canadian and so our origins continue to define our social and professional lives. Tell another South Asian you’re Canadian and they will ask you whether you’re Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc. It’s difficult to get past your brown skin.
One must also acknowledge that we won’t hesitate to play the racial card to our benefit. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has opened the doors to many privileges which we are not afraid to explore. This does not encourage acceptance but only reinforces cultural stereotypes and resentment…and the cycle goes on.
Many Indians and South Asians are also racist. We’ve discriminated against dark-skinned people in our home countries for centuries. Moving to a different continent rarely erodes our colour bias. Take a look at the matrimonial ads asking for fair-skinned brides. We’re also uncomfortable with people from different cultures and will often instruct our kids to find life partners with a similar cultural background. Anyone else is simply not good enough.
So what’s the solution to our racist attitudes? Adopting a race-neutral approach to all inequalities. This can only happen if we stop laying so much emphasis on an individual’s cultural background and promoting their traditions. Enough with this post-national state nonsense! It’s time to build a distinct and unifying Canadian identity!!!