The time is now to recognize biases
A few years ago, when the world grappled with displaced citizens of Afghanistan and Canada was on the cusp of a political shift, CBC radio hosted a call-in show to air public opinion on immigration in Canada. One caller from Alberta enthusiastically spoke of his gratefulness for the immigrants in his community. He further explained that the immigrants were filling jobs that would otherwise not be taken by resident Canadians and this made for a better functioning community. At the time, there was a shortage of workers in sectors like the retail and service industries. The host and caller finished their conversation in a congratulatory manner, promoting their positivity and welcoming attitude to other ethnic groups.
Herein lies one of the subtle underpinnings to Canada’s systemic racism. In a study published in 2019, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that income inequality of racialized workers persisted over the last decade. Over this same period, University of Toronto conducted two experiments that demonstrated that applicants with non-English names were far less likely to be given an interview despite having competitive skill sets. Welcoming of non-white people into lower paying positions inadvertently sends a subliminal message to Canadian society that this is where they belong. It becomes an expectation that more work for less pay can be expected of non-white workers. Yukon is a very good example of this. It is not by chance that our big box stores have a much higher proportion of non-white employees in lower paying positions than the offices of Yukon Government, which house workers of enviable pay and benefits.
I can attest to this attitude on a personal level, being non-white, and often being asked whether I work as a cashier, and even being approached by a shopkeeper on Main Street in Whitehorse who needed retail persons. This is hauntingly similar to the narrow-mindedness of the Ontario town where I endured most of my childhood and was repeatedly asked whether my family ran the restaurant (we did not), amid more explicit racist derisions. This was the era when CTV’s documentary program, W5, claimed that foreign students were displacing Canadians applying for entry into universities. The so-called “foreign students” included non-white Canadians. It was also the era when commercials with stereotyped ethnic groups were acceptable, for example Calgon’s “ancient Chinese secret” pointing to the history of Chinese-run laundromats serving white people.
To clarify, I am not a cashier, I am a professional with a graduate degree. I can only brush off so many irksome questions as they do indicate a more serious insensitivity. I have had more than my share of obstacles in pursuit of a career, seeing white people take credit for my work, being excluded from professional training, having worked for lower pay or for no compensation alongside paid white employees, or being passed over for less-qualified white applicants. Some decisions were no doubt due to subconscious stereotyping, as non-white persons are uncommon in my profession in Canada. A very basic way to gauge bias is to time the amount of eye contact given by a person in a meeting involving few participants. Typically, the white person beside me receives a disproportionate amount of that eye contact, often over eighty per cent.
Now that it is trendy to be part of the “Black Lives Matter” anti-racist movement and its closely related “Me too” movement, there is another social group that needs to be recognized and dealt with. It is the “Not me” mindset, including those who believe they can rightly absolve themselves from being part of the problem of inequality because they have jumped on the moralistic bandwagon decrying discrimination. Combating racism is not just about conscious thoughts and actions; it is also about subconscious attitudes that show up as biased actions and trends in peoples’ behaviours. These subconscious parts of racism are widespread and engrained. Addressing this requires introspection. Until the entitled sector of society is willing to do this work, and to give up some of its wealth and advantages, the fight against racial inequality faces an insurmountable uphill battle.
The Yukon Spirit is Alive and Well
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to some Yukoners who recently helped us out.
A big shout out to Dale Best of the Coal Mine Campground in Carmacks; he is the epitome of the Yukon spirit!
Not only were we able to store our canoe and gear at the campground, but he went above and beyond by lending us a vehicle to drive back to Whitehorse, when our arranged ride fell through.
Thank you to the three young men who stopped to help our daughter when her car broke down on the side of the highway. They not only drove her back to Braeburn where she could use a phone, but they also found us in Carmacks to let us know what was happening. They eased a mother’s and father’s worries.
And a big thank you to friends Larry and Kristin, who dropped everything to come to the aid of our stranded daughter. What awesome friends! We know the Yukon spirit is alive and well.
Thank you so much to everyone!
Val and Bob Holmes