The illusion of pluralism

We are a land of immigrants. Whether you trace your ancestry back one or 10 generations and it is easy to forget that.


We are a land of immigrants. Whether you trace your ancestry back one or 10 generations, it is easy to forget that, besides the First Nations, Canada is made up entirely of those who originated from somewhere else.

In spite of this, Canada has a familiar rhetoric around multiculturalism that is both welcoming and paradoxical. A rhetoric that emphasizes our “mosaic” of different cultures that make up a harmonious multi-ethnic society.

Last year, I wrote an essay based upon the subtle racism in Canada as experienced by university students and faculty.

To spare you the intricate details, I will explicate a few remarkable observations I found in my research.

Firstly, famous scholars Frances Henry and Carol Tator define subtle prejudice as not necessarily purposed to exclude the other.

Frequently subtle prejudice is expressed to be “inclusive” while emphasizing the differences that separate individuals from dominant culture.

Because of this characteristic, subtle prejudice is infinitely more stealthy, silent and exponentially more harmful because of its ability to permeate culture.

In an infamous study by Henry and Tator, 89 racialized faculty were questioned concerning their experiences with “everyday racism” or small slights that are meant to make one feel unwelcome. One faculty respondent described that this subtle prejudice was “a daily occurrence.”

However shocking, this is the experience of faculty members at institutions of higher learning.

It is sad that often academia disregards the importance of faculty wellbeing.

If they are bitter and resentful about their treatment in academia or in Canada that will negatively reflect in the opinions they express to their students. Unfortunately, even students are part of a visible minority taught an entirely hidden curriculum emphasizing their difference.

According to a qualitative study by Edith Samuel, of 40 South Asian university students in Canada, all had emphatically claimed they had experienced racism at their universities.

For instance, students often emphasized experiences of minimization and silencing in the classroom, especially when they expressed a different stance on racial issues such as colonization.

In light of this, it seems that only one side of history, philosophy and experience are being taught to young Canadians, further perpetuating the protection of a pluralistic ideal of our nation.

Therein lies the problem with Canadian multiculturalism. Canada emphasizes multicultural constructions, while ignoring the perpetual silent racism alongside it.

I will not deny there are many policy-makers and politicians who enjoy tossing around words like “tolerance” and “respect” for “other” cultures, as if the dominant culture was not at one point an immigrant population themselves.

However tolerance is not the same as respect.

As scholar Kim Matthews puts it, the rhetoric of multiculturalism hides the power relations that drive it, while perpetuating an idea that one group has the power to tolerate others, and minorities must wait to be tolerated or rejected.

Pluralism and inclusivity are concealing the presence of discriminatory attitudes in the guise of Canadians as tolerant. Canada must begin to recognize the effects of this unconscious prejudice.

Sadly, it is the fact that Canada is regarded as welcoming and supportive to immigrants that makes it difficult for Canadians to accept that subtle prejudice is a serious matter.

This is not the idea of Canada that exists in the minds of new immigrants.

Canada’s construction of a harmonious multi-ethnic society is what Matthews calls a “form of window-dressing” that carries weight on the global stage.

We as Canadian citizens may buy into the idea that we are somehow better than our southern neighbours, but we forget that prejudice rears its ugly head in many forms. However one chooses to express their bigotry doesn’t lessen its detrimental effects.

Just the same — a mosaic thrust together in an effort to appear united will remain different fragments.

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