The very same week that Canadian tennis phenom Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open, becoming the first Canadian in history to win the Men’s or Women’s Singles Grand Slam event, the Vancouver Sun ran an openly racist, anti-immigrant op-ed vilifying “the dogma of diversity, tolerance and inclusion” and praising homogeneity and exclusion.
While the daughter of Romanian immigrants, who came to Canada in 1994 with nothing more than two suitcases, was busy uniting the country, a major publication saw fit to print someone’s unsubstantiated and poorly supported racist ramblings.
Mark Hecht’s anti-immigrant rhetoric cloaked in faux-intellectualism warning that “ethnic diversity harms a country’s social trust and economic well-being,” thankfully, didn’t pass muster with most of us. We saw through it. This junior college instructor, who studies “species dispersal and invasion colonization,” somehow thought it applied to humans. As if immigrants are invasive zebra mussels or destructive Dutch elm disease and not simply part of the same human race. The public backlash — including the one coming from the paper’s own journalism staff — was loud and angry, and justifiably so.
Anti-immigrant attacks, far-right hate, white people worried about being “replaced,” people freaking out over a woman in a hijab eating a hamburger in an A&W commercial, pundits bemoaning the proliferation of ethnic and cultural associations, isn’t a “difference of opinion.” It’s racism. We don’t need to coddle it, encourage it, validate it, pass it the mic or find some obscure instructor quoting from white supremacist blogs and publish him in a major paper so we can say we’ve presented the “other side.”
For as long as I live, I will never understand people who fear diversity, and those who think that it’s their sacred obligation to warn us that the “white race” is disappearing and being “replaced” by people of colour. To believe that such a possibility is to be feared and resisted, is to be openly racist. It’s to believe that other versions of humanity — whether racially, culturally, religiously — are inferior versions of you and must be squelched. It is supreme arrogance to think that the only way to live, prosper and evolve as a society is to maintain the status quo that you’re used to or were raised in (which, in itself is pure happenstance) and to ensure that what represents your demographic remains in control and in the majority numbers-wise. The world is moving rapidly and those clinging to outdated models of survival need to snap out of it.
No country, no community is ever a finished product. Like language, like culture, everything is constantly evolving, constantly turning into something new. But a healthy majority culture always remains because we’re social animals and will always gravitate towards it. Humans’ capacity to absorb the dominant culture and integrate successfully into another ethnic and cultural group is both admirable and almost always guaranteed. Those who don’t integrate well constitute such a minority, I don’t understand why laws are created based solely on fears swirling around their existence.
In Canada, first- and second-generation immigrants now make up more than 40 per cent of the population, and more than two thirds in Vancouver and Toronto. Those numbers aren’t going down, they’re rising. And this country continues to consistently score incredibly high in most international rankings.
More than 60 million refugees are looking for a home right now, and climate change is ensuring that number will only inch upwards. And we, like many other countries, can afford to take on more people. Statistics Canada projects that by 2030, we’ll rely solely on immigration (which is neither “mass” nor “illegal,” dear conservative, far-right pundits) for population growth. So, diversity and people from different backgrounds thrown together is a done deal, a fact, a reality. How we deal with it, whether we’re inclusive, trusting and welcoming, or distrustful and xenophobic… that’s up to us.
If you welcome immigrants, include them, and don’t ostracize and “other” them, integration is all but assured by the second generation. Acceptance is the key ingredient some people seem to have a problem with, because they, wrongfully, think that accepting others as they are is a denial and betrayal of who they are and what they value. Those obsessed by cultural homogeneity choose to wrap themselves in a self-induced panic that they’ve created for themselves, seeing everything that veers from their definition of “normal” as abhorrent, terrifying, a soon-to-be harbinger of their culture lost; as if multiple ideas of “normalcy” and success cannot co-exist side-by-side and thrive; as if this country, this city, your workplaces, your schools aren’t proof of that every single day.
The world is shifting and changing quickly. Immigration is not only an economic necessity for most countries, it’s an inevitable and urgent reality. Developed countries with abysmally low birth rates and aging populations (Canada included) rely on immigration to keep the workforce from shrinking and our social safety nets in place.
Immigration is no compromise or price that countries are forced to pay for the sake of their survival. Numerous studies point to the fact that diversity boosts creativity and that people with different backgrounds, viewpoints and experience stimulate new ideas in each other. Many business case studies conclude that the more diverse a group, the faster and the more efficiently they solve problems and think outside the box. Why should it be any different for communities and countries?
This notion that uniformity is better for the efficiency of a society and its social climate of cohesion and belonging is nonsense. Have we learned nothing from the forced assimilation attempted during various periods of our own history? John A. Macdonald thought it was a good idea to assimilate Indigenous communities. Lord Durham thought it was a great idea to do the same to French Canadians. Funny how both communities survived, but with added layers of trauma and resentment that follows them to this day. Funny how abysmally unsuccessful it is attempting to assimilate, marginalize and change who people are and what they consider markers of their identity. Bill 21 supporters should do well to remember this.
I thrive on diversity. It’s one of the reasons why I adore Montreal so much. I love living in a city where I can chow down on hot doughy deliciousness from a Jewish institution like Fairmount Bagel, which just celebrated its 100-year milestone, where I can read a book in French by a Quebec author, attend an English play about British Pakistani families at the Centaur by a Muslim theatre company and check out a compelling art show at the MAC by Canadian-Ojibwa artist Rebecca Belmore. And this is just this week alone. How blessed am I? Why would anyone want to limit themselves and make their world smaller — instead of inviting it all in?
I love that culture travels and settles down, becomes part of people’s existence, molds into something else and, in turn, molds the person into someone else. Foreign recipes that get passed down as part of family traditions, expressions that mean something only to a specific community, the way only English Quebecers know what a dep or a guichet is, the way only Canucks know what a “double-double” is, taste buds that crave what would have never been able to even be sampled, if not for immigration.
Multiculturalism is a beautiful word to me. It has nothing to do with tolerance (a word I loathe for its one-dimensional, conditional qualities) and everything to do with embracing and valuing the different, fully confident that what is part of your culture is worth sharing with others, too, and that the majority culture and language (English in the ROC, French in Quebec) become the connecting blocks and the common thread that binds us all together.
This absurd notion that if we all look alike, talk alike, pray alike, live alike, we’ll suddenly be able to trust each other more is extremely counterproductive and so limiting. Successful immigration isn’t about superficial homogeneity, it’s about effectively and properly integrating new people into the fold until they become part of the newly defined, newly expanded “normal” — it’s not about hand-picking sameness to easily assimilate into one giant beige blob. As cool as I sometimes think I am, I can’t imagine living in a world where everyone was like me, thought like me, looked like me, lived like me. What a blandly amorphous, generic bore of an existence. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Not even Mark Hecht. ■