We all have a part to play in ending racism

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Sabrina Almeida

Being at the receiving end of a racist barb or comment is not a pleasant experience. Neither is witnessing such an incident. After all, no one likes to feel like a lesser being. If you are South Asian or any other ‘visible minority’, chances are you have experienced or witnessed racism in some form or the other. The recent episode involving a Toronto police officer and the response it evoked from two civilians (which Kim’s Convenience actor Andrew Phung tweeted about) is troubling to say the least. For one, the comment “… go back to your country” came from a uniformed official and secondly, it quickly received support from some passers-by. This is indicative of the underlying sentiment despite our “multicultural philosophy” in the “diverse” city of Toronto.

Any reference to this racist episode is likely to generate a heated response and rant from non-Caucasians about the discrimination they must endure. To most of us racism is all about white versus black, brown, or yellow. And we would like to hang all our misfortunes on the peg of racial prejudice. Less comforting or acceptable is that fact that we all have a role to play in changing this narrow-mindedness. Both by speaking up when such an incident occurs and more importantly… refraining from any racist behaviour ourselves!!!

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Yes, it’s hard to admit that deep down we are all prejudiced against a community or race. Even if it is just a “little bit”. Being raised in a country that is deeply divided by caste, religion, region, colour and gender—Indians are well-schooled in prejudice. And we continue in the same vein even when we are halfway across the world. This is exemplified in our periodic sermons to our kids on choosing the “right” life partner. Meaning of “Indian origin”.

“She has to be Goan,” one mother said to her 20-something son, narrowing it down to very region in India the bride must belong to. “I don’t care where you find her,” she continued. Lucky for him that he did… on the Internet that too!

Another voiced her displeasure with her son’s “white” girl friend to me as we travelled on the GO train. She was convinced that the “witch” was taking him away from the family. Writing him off as a lost cause, she went to say that she wanted her daughter to marry a Goan. Then she could inherit all their property in Goa which her son showed no interest in.

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Both mothers believed having a similar cultural background was the key to marital bliss. Most South Asian and Indian immigrants subscribe to this philosophy. Years ago, one of my Gujarati neighbours in Connecticut was terribly upset that her brother was marrying a “white girl”. She was convinced the marriage wouldn’t last because of their cultural differences. Keeping this in mind mothers whose children are of a marriageable age openly scout prospects at social gatherings or even ask for proposals from India.

The reality is that the divorce rate in the Indian community (around the world) has risen significantly despite partners having a similar background. Of course, we could blame this on Westernization.

Marriage apart, our prejudices show forth in the relationships we form at work, in the neighborhood and community at large. Behind closed doors, many are quite candid about their racial biases when it comes to hiring staff, their kid’s friends as well as the neighbours they will mingle with.

I’ve caught myself inquiring about the ethnicity of my children’s friends often enough. They get annoyed and ask how race is relevant to a conversation about a birthday celebration or any other outing. It’s just that I’m just curious. Or is it more than that?

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Any altercation friends or family members may have at work or in school also follows a similar line of questioning. It’s like we are trying to establish that certain communities are predisposed to being argumentative or aggressive. Or looking to play the racial card, perhaps!

Social scientists say that these prejudices stem from our personal experiences and the environment in which we have been raised. However, that is not blanket approval for our discriminatory actions.

If anything, exposure to different cultures in the GTA should help to educate and enlighten us. Just as the stereotype all Indians smell of curry, ride camels and don’t speak English infuriates us, labels of being radical or predisposed to crime are disrespectful to other communities.

The best way to bridge the racial gap is to make everyday connections with people from different backgrounds. It is as simple as striking up a conversation with a parent at swimming class or soccer game and inviting them along with their kids for a play date at your home to get to know them better.

Much of our prejudice stems from ignorance and fear. More interaction can help reduce our anxiety, misconceptions and racial bias! -CINEWS

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