Why racism is not a ‘minority issue’
Lena Orlova // Staff Writer
Sara Nguyen // Illustrator
Diversity is a hot potato, difficult to hold. Canadian culture exhibits a tendency to keep neat appearances agreeable for the majority. We pay lip service to multiculturalism by including Indigenous and Black material in academic curricula. We pledge allegiance to inclusivity even though we don’t practice it. Indigenous and Black professors teach about Indigenous and Black causes while white professors teach everything else. Unless we integrate diversity in the way we do business, decolonization work won’t move forward. The people will change, but the institutions will stay the same.
As Canadians, we don politeness with pride. In the Canada Project survey to mark Canada’s 150 anniversary, 66 percent of Canadians agreed that we are as nice as the world thinks we are. Good manners make people get along because niceness avoids discomfort. However, discomfort is a necessary part of change because it signals new ways of relating.
With 73 countries represented in the student population, a vast number of the students at Capilano University (CapU) come from a non-Caucasian ethnic background. We get along because we accept the multicultural nature of our community. While multiculturalism promotes coexistence, it does not address inequality.
“Multiculturalism fails to acknowledge the fact that this country is not neutral, as it is fundamentally built on white supremacy,” writes Brittany Garuk in Canada’s Hidden Racism. Garuk dedicated her research project at Emily Carr University to raise awareness of systemic racism.
As long as our institutions are built on white supremacy, they will use the tools of supremacy. For example, in a class that considers Indigenous work, the content of discussion often matters more than the process of discussion. Instructors rarely create an atmosphere where students personally and emotionally experience the work with peers. ￼The texts are assigned and individual opinions are graded without respecting Indigenous values of storytelling, sharing and relational learning. Instead, we simply analyze Indigenous work believing we become more aware.
“University administrators say ‘Indigenization’ and what they mean is simply bringing more Indigenous people into the same structures, into the same building without much thought about what universities can learn from Indigenous communities,” says Eve Tuck in an interview with CBC.
Tuck is an Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies. She proposes that instead of hiring Indigenous people as single members to a white faculty, universities should hire people in group “clusters,” building community and expanding peer support. Further, schools should place successful candidates in positions of hiring in the future. “So that there’s a number of Indigenous colleagues who are hired in one year and that they are involved in hiring a next group of colleagues the following year and then the next ones another,” explains Tuck.
Hiring practices can be used as a vehicle of diversification, and is an area where CapU deserves closer examination. Hiring disclaimers welcome applicants from all backgrounds but upon observation, the majority of successful candidates are white—or at least, have a light complexion. The university would benefit from disclosing the data on ethnicity of applicants in order to facilitate discussion about the reasons for misrepresentation. Even if the hiring practices are unbiased, it may be that people of colour don’t apply at all. If that’s true, which came first: the chicken, or the egg?
We must speak about how we co-exist as a nation with many races—how we practice diversity in reality and in principle. All generations benefit from dialogue that opens opportunities for examination of our systems. We shouldn’t need to rely on the minority to teach us about ‘minority issues’—these are central issues affecting all of us. We can begin by asking what processes perpetuate colonialism, and how ￼the way in which we conduct ourselves as students, faculty and decision-makers preserves an archaic, white-centric culture.
I think the real barrier to change isn’t our personal discomfort, but the time and financial investments involved in moving to these new ways of doing business. An institution must meet government standards to be accredited, instructors must keep to curriculums, everyone has policies to follow. In the face of resistance to change, we must stand strong in our collective goal. ￼Reform does not take standards away; reform aligns old mandates to match contemporary values.
Change must begin somewhere, in the sphere of our lives, in questions, in dialogues. Conversations will be messy but our efforts will lead to greater growth as a society. Advertising multiculturalism, diversity and good manners isn’t enough. We must try new things, we must learn other ways of being, with each other and on the world stage.