Canada is a multicultural nation, meaning that the people who inhabit our native land come from diverse backgrounds. Typically, Canada is portrayed as accepting and welcoming of all people. However this is not necessarily true — racism is alive and well in Canada and something needs to be done about it.
In Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Othello, Desdemona, in response to an accusation of infidelity, says, “I understand a fury in your words, but not the words.” What Desdemona means is that while she can read her husband’s emotional state, she just does not know why he is saying what he is saying. To me this is all racism is: lots of hatred, lots of emotion — but I can’t find a good reason why racist statements ever need to be made.
I will be completely transparent and not plead ignorance or take a holier-than-thou stance and say I have never said a racial slur. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of comments, jokes and insults which were based solely on race. I am ashamed of those incidents and I hope that they will never happen again.
The widely held opinion of Canada both around the world and in our country, is that we are somehow morally superior to our neighbours to the south. It is admittedly an easy mistake to make. Many of the popular TV shows, movies, music and news that Canadians choose to enjoy show the darker side of the American culture. The media shows the violence, guns, drugs and the ever-present and often negative discussion of race in the U.S.
This is held in stark contrast to the stereotyped view of Canada as a fun-loving, constantly apologizing, toque-wearing population. It allows us to believe that we are a racism-free, pluralistic and united society. It is unfortunate that nothing could be farther from the truth. Canada may be the land of multiculturalism but that has not made us accepting of everyone.
The history of racism in America is far better known and publicized than the sordid details of Canada’s racist past. Much has been written of the negative treatment, both historical and in the present, towards Aboriginal groups, Asian-Canadians, Jewish refugees of the Holocaust and numerous other ethnic groups that call this country their home. However, very little — if at all — of the shameful parts of Canada’s past are ever remembered by the public at large.
Very few people who make racist remarks are evil. Many — myself included — have said such things in moments of anger or out of pure ignorance. That does not absolve them of the statements they make, but it does not make them fully culpable for their actions either. We all say things we regret and we all must take responsibility for our own actions.
Racism is the scourge that will consistently and constantly rear its ugly head in the nation of Canada. A country as diverse as ours — not just ethnically, but linguistically and religiously — will have incidents which divide the country. Conflict remains inevitable.
If we are ever to successfully stop racism in this Canada, we must come to the realization that a large majority of us are in some way racist. It may be a snide comment, a joke between friends or a subconscious desire to discriminate against an unfamiliar person. Many people, if not all, experience these feelings at some point. Some repress it and some give into what they see as a socially acceptable practice.
By saying that Canadians need to acknowledge that racism still exists, I am not saying that racism will disappear overnight. No one should be naive enough to believe that. By acknowledging that racism exists in this country we can at least begin to have a conversation on how to eliminate it. The current methods of education and the general apathy towards acknowledging racism means that we are not as accepting as we should be.
Canada is a modern nation in a modern world. We describe ourselves as a multicultural country and in policy alone we reflect that. In practice, social interactions prove that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we want to call ourselves a nation of equality and multiculturalism we need to start acting like it.