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Interracial Relationships in Canada Essay

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2021

In spite of traditional perception of Canada as a land of opportunities and bilingual society, racism and racial discrimination is still a problem for many racial minorities in this country. Canada represents a diverse multicultural society in which racial and national relations play a crucial role in politics and social life. The development of racial identity in Canada is closely intertwined with the development and progress of racism in this country. The greater the extent that racism exists and is denied, the less possible it is to develop a positive identity. The aim of the paper is to analyze and evaluate relations between different racial groups in Canada. In order to accomplish this purpose, the paper analyzes current literature on this topic and involves statistical data.

Racial relations and racism are a complex problem influenced by historical, cultural and social factors. Rosof (2003) identified three types of racism: (a) individual, that is, personal attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors designed to convince oneself of the superiority of Whites and the inferiority of non-White racial groups; (b) institutional, meaning social policies, laws, and regulations whose purpose is to maintain the economic and social advantages of Whites over non-Whites; and (c) cultural, that is, societal beliefs and customs that promote the assumption that the products of White culture (e.g., language, traditions, appearance) are superior to those of non-White cultures (Rosof 26). In Canada, three types of racial relations take place. Because each of these three types of racism is so much a part of the cultural milieu, each can become a part of the White person’s racial identity or consciousness ipso facto. In order to develop a healthy White identity, defined in part as a nonracist identity, virtually every White person in Canada must overcome one or more of these aspects of racism (Preibisch and Binford 6).

According to statistical results, “more than 30% of Canadians reported an origin other than British or French. When one looks only at the 16% of Canadians who were born outside Canada, the regional variations are even more striking” (Multiculturalism In Canada 2008). Critics admit that he or she must accept his or her own Whiteness, the cultural implications of being White, and define a view of Self as a racial being that does not depend on the perceived superiority of one racial group over another. Thus, the evolution of a positive White racial identity consists of two processes, the abandonment of racism and the development of a nonracist White identity (Rosof 66).

Thus the idea of occupation by conquest and by extermination gave way to that of segregation. The famous Indian Territory experiment violates rights and freedoms of Indian population in Canada. There followed the introduction of the “reservation system.” The belief was general that the solution of the problem arising between the white and the red races lay in keeping them as far apart as possible. Consequently, the areas known as reservations were set apart by the Government for the sole occupancy of the tribe or tribes, and this land, at the outset at least, was held in common by the tribal members. There are fifty-eight distinct linguistic family groups divided into 280 separate tribes or bands. This would go to show a slow but steady increase due to a more ready adjustment to the demands of modern civilized life. There are 161 separate reservations (including nineteen Spanish grants) of varying size, materially differing in soil and climate (Lai and Chau 57).

But in every state of the Union, even where there are no reservations, Indians are to be found who have adopted the habits of civilized life. That abuses have crept into the system no one will deny. Organizations, such as the Indian Rights Association, during thirty-nine years of its history, have done much by pitiless publicity and agitation to expose evils and right wrongs (Preibisch and Binford 7). The World War depleted the ranks of the Indian Bureau, but since the close of the war efforts have been made to strengthen its personnel. To-day, the “Indian Service,” as it is popularly called, offers many opportunities to young men and women eager to enlist in a worthy cause. The salaries are not large and often the hours are long, but the challenge is insistent and the rewards are enduring (Basran and Bolaria 76). “Research in Canada suggests that racism shapes the movement of people and their incorporation into labor markets. Racial and ethnic considerations have played a central role in Canada’s immigration policy” (Preibisch, and Binford 5).

Implicit in much of the contemporary writings on White racial identity development is the awareness that, in spite of the pervasive socialization toward racism, some White people do appear not only to have developed a White consciousness, but one that is not predominated by racial distortions (Lai and Chau 57). Some authors have even loosely described an orderly process by which a White person can move from a racist identity to a positive White consciousness. One of the concomitants of being a White person in the United States is that one is a member of a numerical majority as well as the socioeconomically and politically dominant group. One result of this racial status is that, as Li (1999) points out, even if one has few resources oneself, as long as one has White skin in America, one is entitled to feel superior to other nationalities. This sense of entitlement seems to be a basic norm of White society.

Perhaps more importantly, as previously noted, if one is a White person in Canada, it is still possible to exist without ever having to acknowledge that reality. In fact, it is only when Whites come in contact with the idea of people of coloyr (or other visible racial/ethnic groups) that Whiteness becomes a potential issue. Whether or not this initial contact has any implications for racial identity development depends upon the extent to which it is unavoidable (Lai and Chau57). Thus, if the non-white (in this instance) presence “intrudes” into the White person’s environment, and the intrusion cannot be ignored or controlled, then the White person is likely to be forced to deal with White racial identity issues somewhat. However, to the extent that such intrusions can be avoided, which may still be the case in much of White Canada, one can avoid resolving White racial identity issues. That is, one can choose to be oblivious to race and the differential effects of race on how one is perceived and treated by society at large; or one can decide to remain fixated at one of the identity stages to be described subsequently (Basran and Bolaria 79).

There are two primary ways by which one can become aware of the presence of people of color as an outgroup: vicariously or directly. Vicarious awareness occurs when significant persons in one’s life (e.g., media, parents, peers) inform one of the existence of people of color as well as how one ought to think about them. Li (1999) describes how Whites are socialized directly and indirectly to fear and devalue people of color. Direct awareness occurs when the White person interacts with Blacks himself or herself. These two means of awareness are not necessarily exclusive, as Li points out. Nevertheless, though one’s own initial experiences with Blacks may be pleasant and non-individually racist (Hegar and Greif 135). “Although ethnic minority groups have universal access to health care services in Canada, researchers have reported health disparities. Older immigrants who have settled for a longer period of time tend to report less favorable health than Canadian-born individuals in the same age group” (Lai and Chau 57).

Culture of people of color have been the primary “outgroup” or reference group around which White racial identity development issues revolve. Thus, as is the case with Black racial identity, White racial identity contains parallel beliefs and attitudes about Whites as well as people of color. For the most part, theories or models of White racial identity development have focused on defining racism (Hegar and Greif 135). Only recently have theorists begun to speculate about the harmful consequences of racism on the perpetuators of racism, which include the absence of a positive White racial identity. In presenting the case for the need to help Whites develop a positive White identity, various authors have discussed the defense mechanisms by which Whites pretend that they are not. In exploring the emotional consequences of racism to, major concomitants of racism and Whites’ distorted views of racial identity are negative feelings such as “self-deception,” “self-hate”. These feelings can contribute to distorted behaviors as well as distorted views of the world (Basran and Bolaria 73).

Recall that institutional and cultural racism are so much a part of the White individual’s world that he or she is often blind to their presence. Thus, the White person’s developmental tasks with regard to development of a healthy White identity, according to Li (1999) perspectives, require the abandonment of individual racism as well as the recognition of and active opposition to institutional and cultural racism (Hegar and Greif 135). Concurrently, the person must become aware of her or his Whiteness, learn to accept Whiteness as an important part of herself or himself, and to internalize a realistically positive view of what it means to be White. As soon as one encounters the idea or the actuality of Black people, one has entered the Contact stage of identity. Depending somewhat upon one’s racial (particularly) familial environment, one will enter Contact with either naive curiosity or timidity and trepedation about Blacks and a superficial and inconsistent awareness of being White. When one is in Contact, if one exhibits individual racism, it is probably exhibited in a weak and unsophisticated form since the person is just beginning to try her or his racial wings. Nevertheless, the person in Contact automatically benefits from institutional and cultural racism without necessarily being aware that he or she is doing so (Basran and Bolaria 36).

Behaviors thought to characterize Contact people are limited interracial social or occupational interaction with Blacks, unless the interaction is initiated by people of color who “seem” White except for skin color or other physical characteristics. In such interactions, the White person uses the people of color to teach him or her about what people in general are like and often uses societal stereotypes of people of color as the standard against which the Black person is evaluated. Accompanying the conflicted White identification is a questioning of the racial realities the person has been taught to believe (Hegar and Greif 135). It is probably during this stage, for instance, that the person first comes to realize that in spite of mouthings to the contrary, in Canada, people of color and Whites are not considered equals and negative social consequences can besiege the White person who does not respect the inequalities. Moreover, the stage may be the time in which the person comes to realize that the social skills and mores he or she has been taught to use in interacting with Blacks rarely work (Dhruvarajan 63).

Basran and Bolaria (2003) proposed three ways of reducing dissonance: (a) changing a behavior, (b) changing an environmental belief, and (c) developing new beliefs. Accordingly, the person in the Disintegration stage might reduce discomfort by (a) avoiding further contact with Blacks (changing a behavior), (b) attempting to convince significant others in her or his environment that Blacks are not so inferior (changing an environmental belief), or (c) seeking information from Blacks or Whites to the effect that either racism is not the White person’s fault or does not really exist (adding new beliefs). Additionally, as a means of avoiding an increase in dissonance, the person may selectively attend only to information that gives him or her greater confidence in the new beliefs and/or he or she will interact only with those who can be counted on to support the new belief.

Which alternative the White person chooses probably depends on the extent to which her or his cross-racial interactions are voluntary. It seems likely that the person who can remove herself or himself from interracial environments or can remove Blacks from White environments will do so. Given the racial differences in social and economic power, most Whites can choose this option. If they do so, they will receive much support in an exclusively White environment for the development of individual racism as well as the maintenance of cultural and institutional racism (Basran and Bolaria 54). Attempts to change others’ attitudes probably occur initially amongst Whites who were raised and/or socialized in an environment in which White “liberal” attitudes (though not necessarily behaviors) were expressed (Dhruvarajan 63).

As might be apparent, each of the White racial identity in Canada has its own unique effect on attitudes, behaviors, and emotions. Nevertheless, it is probably not the case that each of these develops at the same rate. In fact, studies of symbolic racism (Basran and Bolaria 44) suggest that attitudes (at least racist attitudes as opposed to White identity attitudes) may change faster than behaviors. It seems reasonable to speculate that the greatest discomfort occurs for those individuals whose attitudes, emotions, and behaviors are not in harmony. Basran and Bolaria (2003) concede that in Canada, classical African and European world views do not exist in unadulterated form, but he further argues that remnants of these world views do differentially influence non-white and White personality (Dhruvarajan 63). Moreover, his perspective moves us somewhat closer to understanding how ancestral cultures and modern socialization experiences can lead to different manners of interacting with one’s environment(s).

For instance, in the case of Blacks, he contends that European domination and imposition of the European world view on non-European people has led Blacks to reject, deny, or devalue their own African perspectives. In response to this domination and self-devaluation, many Blacks are said to have developed pseudopersonalities (e.g., the Negro personality) in which they actively attempt to discard any remnants of their African roots and/or world views. Parenthetically, one might argue that Whites also have developed pseudopersonalities (e.g., the “color-blind” person) as a result of their participation in the domination of other groups and denial of such involvement (Basran and Bolaria 23). Significant sociocultural influences in the person’s environments potentially include parents, family, peers (especially cohorts), schools, churches, media, and other institutions. In discussing adolescent identity development in general, theorists suggest that different sociocultural influences matter at different times in a person’s life (Dhruvarajan 63).

Thus, during infancy and early childhood, parents are most important; during late childhood and adolescence, peers or cohorts and nonfamilial institutions (e.g., school, media) become increasingly more important. Therefore, if racial identity follows the same course of development as other aspects of identity, one would suspect that parents and adult authority figures are most influential early on, followed by peers or cohorts and social institutions in later years. Be that as it may, what possibly makes racial identity development different from other aspects of identity development, with perhaps the exception of gender, is that most of the focus of sociocultural communications from the environment to the person are about group-related appearance rather than the individual’s own abilities, interests, and so on (Dhruvarajan 63).

In sum, on a national level, to the extent that the person appears to share the group characteristic of Whiteness, he or she is considered to be superior to others who do not share that characteristic and, conversely, to the extent that the person shares the group characteristic of non-white identity, he or she is considered to be inferior to those who do not share the characteristic. A person’s first knowledge of how her or his racial characteristics are likely to be evaluated by society is transmitted by these various communicators.

Works Cited

Basran, G.S., Bolaria, B.S. The Sikhs in Canada: Migration, Race, Class, and Gender. Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.

Dhruvarajan, V. Ethnic Cultural Retention and Transmission among First Generation Hindu Asian Indians in a Canadian Prairie City. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 24 (1993); 63.

Hegar, R.I., Greif, G.L. Parental Abduction of Children from Interracial and Cross-Cultural Marriages. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 25 (1994): 135.

Lai, D.W.L., Chau, S.B.Y., Predictors of Health Service Barriers for Older Chinese Immigrants in Canada. Health and Social Work, 32 (2007): 57.

Li, P.S. Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada. Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition, 1999.

Multiculturalism In Canada. 2008. Web.

Preibisch, K.. Binford, L. Interrogating Racialized Global Labour Supply: An Exploration of the Racial/national Replacement of Foreign Agricultural Workers in Canada. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 44 (2007): 5-8.

Rosof, P. J. Ethnic and Immigration Groups: The United States, Canada, and England. Routledge; 2003.

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