It used to be that against the larger White Canadian population, the term “visible minority” would have a distinct connotation, commonly referring to Black people. But 40 years after Pierre Trudeau instituted multiculturalism, “visible minority” can no longer hold that specific racial meaning.
The diversity that exists across Canada’s minorities can no longer be limited to one racialized group, thus rendering the term too indistinct.
This is the conclusion coming out of a recent survey on multiculturalism and related issues by the Montréal based Association for Canadian Studies (ACS), culled from the responses of 2,345 Canadians.
The ACS findings suggest that to reference visible minorities may be too simplistic since this designation does not do justice to the diversity of the many that now fall under the classification that had been conveniently used by, for example, Statistics Canada.
This is the case when recognizing that one-fifth of all Canadians are from someplace else and that recent immigrants are being drawn increasingly from East and South Asia.
The ACS study also found that Canadians enjoy the feel-good idea of multiculturalism – with two-thirds of those surveyed in favour of the country being composed of people from different ethnic backgrounds, and three-quarters supporting the idea of young people preserving their cultural heritage – but in reality, old-stock Canadians are not embracing recent Canadians with as much enthusiasm as New Canadians show in their willingness to integrate and socialize with longtime Canadians.
As evidence, 66 per cent responded that most of their friends share their ethno-cultural origin, while half say they prefer to live in a neighbourhood with people of the same ethnic background.
What the survey revealed was that when it comes to heritage, almost half of Canadians believe New Canadians should give up their customs and traditions and become more Canadianized.
Noting that Canadians are divided, ACS executive director, Jack Jedwab, said: “We value diversity in theory, but Canadians are more concerned about how transmitting a diverse heritage applies on a societal basis. There is still a hierarchy there.”
It is therefore realistic to recognize the ambivalence many longtime Canadians feel about the cultural shift that has occurred here in the past two generations.
Perhaps the most troubling finding coming out of the survey was the degree to which Muslims, as a visible minority, were viewed negatively, reflecting a view of more than half of those polled. On the other hand, 75 per cent responded that they viewed African Canadians, Hispanic Canadians and Chinese Canadians positively.
And, as if the Occupy Toronto movement and other similar protests across the country do not already bear it out, there is also a perception of tension along socioeconomic lines pitting the rich against the poor. The fact that so many of Canada’s poor are racialized minorities should not be lost here.
Fostering ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in order to guarantee, in Trudeau’s words, “the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of Canadians” is still a laudable goal; moreover the principle is enshrined in our Constitution. But we must do more than pay lip service to it in order to ensure that the ongoing practice of building Canada’s economy and, indeed, the nation itself through immigration remains a success.
Our success in maintaining social harmony rests on our openness to the diversity that comes with welcoming peoples from across the globe. To further cross-cultural understanding, the ACS study recommends that the government make an effort to familiarize Canadians with the many aspects of immigrants and New Canadians of colour.
We need only look to the unrest plaguing Europe as the traditional cultures of each European country reject those brought in with the influx of immigrants to realize the value to Canada of its policy of multiculturalism.