Welcome to your community

By Theresa Wells

I have become increasingly troubled recently because I have seen more and more instances of it. I think it is an issue we need to discuss, and we need to discuss it soon because it is unlikely to go away, and left in the dark it will continue to fester. It is ugly, and it is explosive, and it is present in our community in ways that worry me. “It” is racism, and it has reared its ugly head on several occasions in recent weeks.

This is a multicultural community, and that fact is one that we trumpet loudly as a sign of our success. The reality is, though, that multiculturalism is only successful if all people, regardless of race, colour, or creed, are accepted as equals. The first hint that this is not the case is a sign that multiculturalism may exist in word but not in deed, at least not in the way it should. I have personally seen several examples of racism, both subtle and overt, and if it continues I believe we could be in serious trouble in this community.

Some of the comments I heard centred on the recent taxi strike. Some of the comments made on social media during those days went past commentary on the issue and instead smacked of overt and in-your-face racist diatribes. I saw words being used that I thought, truly believed, we had given up as we had learned that they had no place in our society. I saw allegations and accusations levelled at different colours and cultures that had no basis in reality and were simply the rehashing of old stereotypes. I saw words and thoughts being expressed that spoke to a very dark part of our community, one that saw some of us as lesser than the others, and based solely on things like differing colour or religion – and I was incredibly troubled, and saddened, because people fought and died to end this very sort of racism.

I have even seen these comments on local Facebook pages devoted to “mommies” and to selling second-hand goods. I have seen things expressed that people seemed to think were entirely normal, racist thoughts so repugnant that I was shocked to see that people still think them. And some of the comments while not as overt were more subtly racist, implying that those of other colours and religions are somehow trying to take over our country and change us – and yet the reality, of course, is that we are all, except perhaps for our aboriginal peoples, relative newcomers to this country, and we have all changed it as we arrived.

Where are your ancestors from? Mine came from Germany decades ago, bringing with them their language and customs and beliefs. Maybe yours are Ukrainian, or Welsh, or Irish, or French, or English. And maybe they are Pakistani, or Indian, or Filipino, or Thai. What happened when our families arrived, though, is that they brought with them their countries and their cultures, and they didn’t detract from this one – they added to it, creating the rich cultural blend that has become Canada. I may be German in descent and yet I eat Ukrainian perogies, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year, and I love nothing more than a spicy dish of vindaloo. Yes, new immigrants change our country just as our ancestors did when they arrived – but not for the worse. They add to our cultural stew, and they make it thicker and richer and far, far more interesting. So why do we now fear the arrival of immigrants from other countries? Why do we assume they will do us harm or somehow lessen us? And why do we treat them with less respect and dignity than we would wish for ourselves?

Here is another reality – this community will likely become increasingly culturally diverse. As we grow we are going to see more and more immigrants arriving here to chase the Canadian dream, because when people dream about Canada, and the freedoms and opportunities it holds, this is the sort of place they are dreaming about. This is the place were so many of us, whether we are Canadian born or not, are pursuing our dreams and hopes, and so too will others. As our cultural diversity continues to grow we will need to find ways to combat racism, and to question our own thoughts and beliefs to ensure that we are not only tolerant but also welcoming of those who come to us with new ideas and beliefs and cultures. We need to recognize that just as our ancestors came here one day, likely uncertain and afraid and worried, we have others arriving here feeling the same. And then we need to stretch our hands in welcome, because there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain. We will find that perhaps our country, and community, does change – but for the better.

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