As the weather finally changes to a familiar warm May, hissing with cool winds, reminiscent of the long miserable Toronto winter complete with ice storms and power outages, I began reflecting on the start of 2014, my plans for the remainder of the year, and public events that have transpired. As I embark on my first week of spring 2014, which will not include my regular commute to the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, via the Toronto Transit Commission’s ‘Better Way’, I cannot resist my temptation to divulge in my number one passion, my first love; to write. So, here I am, writing what is on my mind, sharing my thoughts as I reflect and project my perceptions.
September 2013, I finally decided to focus on academics after having a successful career in Marketing, followed by a career in Financial Lending Services and Debt Consolidation. As I got back into writing academically, while adapting to the pursuit of higher learning as a mature adult and mother of one, so too began my search for understanding the society that we live in. In addition, with the current controversial events that has saturated mainstream media, including NBA L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s disturbing racial remarks, the disappearance of Air Malaysia’s Flight 370, and the ongoing saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, one has to stop at this moment in time and question the state of our current society, while taking a comprehensive look at the past and analyze our future existence. After listening to Donald Sterling’s remarks about race, reading about a fight fueled in a race war at York Region’s Sutton District High School that was uploaded to YouTube, and seeing an ad placed anonymously in Brampton, Ontario, which racially targeted Brampton’s demographical and ethnic changes over the past thirty years, I asked myself ‘What kind of person thinks like that, who would do such a thing, what is happening to humankind, why is it taking so much time for some to evolve as spiritual beings and most importantly, are we going to sadly repeat the brutal war on race throughout society? What is it about racial differences that can get an individual so fired up to say and do unthinkable yet hurtful things? Have we really progressed successfully as a multicultural society in the twenty first century, or have we learned to live in a tolerable society, despite personal prejudices and preferences?
After a comprehensive study of Canada’s growth as a refined nation through the acceleration of the industrialization age, and the development of Canada’s immigration policy since its formation in 1869, the common realization that I was faced with, is that this world is full of squares; brilliant resilient squares. At this time, I will acknowledge the existence of squares, while clarifying whom the term fits, and suggesting what is necessary for the survival of a mosaic harmonious society. As far as a flourishing society western civilization has become, the fact remains that many continue to tolerate the melting pot theory, yet the same ones who have learned to tolerate the evolution of a cultural stew, have refused to wholeheartedly accept the dominance of a plural state, and embrace the reality that in 2014, we live in the age of wireless technology; filled with cultural diversity, including multi-racial and equal liberties. It is time to accept, not tolerate, but accept what is the norm, in a highly developed western society.
The term square in this sense, is a referral to uptight, incredibly ignorant, one track and closed minded individuals. It can be used to describe those who continue to carry a pro-colonized mentality, while sharing deep roots of justified prejudice and superiority, as well as to describe those in society who refuse to come out of their sheltered, preconceived ‘safety box’, while deeming the rest of society; anyone who doesn’t think predominately the way they do, as a threat. “I love everyone, I’m a great member of my community and I am not a racist.” This particular person would be the first to state what they unconsciously do not believe. I don’t know who created a universal system of power that was based on class, intelligence yet ultimately about the paler the complexion of skin to fit in, or why this system still exists. We may have elevated as a plural society thanks to changes in legislations, new policies and the likes of popular figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey, Gandhi, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and The Beatles during our last universal revolution. However, that last revolutionary wave will no longer be a memory, and vanish altogether, if as a unit, we do not do some serious soul searching, while focusing on our similarities instead of our differences. We may have replaced the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century, with the Equality Movement of the twenty first century, yet the wars on race and class supremacy in all societies are still alive and well. As the fight for same sex and gender equality takes a huge launch into the forefront, let’s not forget. Let’s not forget, that we have survived despite the odds, despite the differences and despite tragedy. The square has a hard time getting out of the entrapment box. They may try, but they often find it easier to live in the comfort of only walls and corners, completely locked in; traditionally secure. As a protective means, this is the safest and sound. A lack of understanding and the brilliant resilience of squares, continue to make the world go around. As a result, the war on race and brutal acts for supremacy, continues to happen again and again. It is the brilliant resilience of squares in an evolving plural society, which prevents progress, while setting up systems for many to digress. As we take a brief look at Canada’s evolution as a plural society, I want you to remember the existence of squares. The squares are here and they are everywhere. If you are different, and considered as the other, most likely you’ve learned to love the square and have pity for the square, while understanding the square. You may be whole; a light filled circle as I, loving all unconditionally while seeing the same qualities in all and wanting the very best for all. Sadly however, racism still exists.
As a Canadian born woman of West Indian heritage, and the mother of a multi-racial son, color was never an issue to me and I’ve always loved all skin tones. Yet, old wounds are hard to heal. I’ve heard it all: what are you? Is that your son? What is he and so forth. I’ve learned to be immune to ignorance; however, with the dominance of multi-racial families, yet the blatant racial remarks one has to endure, we should take a moment to deal with this uncomfortable topic. Not discussing it won’t let it go away. Canada has established to become an affluent society, thanks to the sweat and hard labor of immigrants, yet there are many white bread societies who would rather live as far away from them as possible and avoid talking to them if possible, as oppose to acknowledging that the others or undesirables who are also Canadian Citizens have earned the right to the same equal treatment. No two individuals are the same. No ethnic groups should be characterized in the poorest terms, with the worst labels a human can have and immediately deemed a statistic, yet it is done openly and behind closed doors. We are all immigrants.
The need to settle Canada’s West, and to build an economic force to be reckoned with, saw the influx in immigration during the late nineteenth century toward the beginning of the twentieth century. However, Canada’s open-door immigration policy was reflective of the times, based on an Anglo-Peking order that resulted as the pretense for assimilation into Anglo-Conformity. This can be understandable, considering the preference of that era was for the productive Anglo-class; preferably of British decent, followed by the persuasion of American and European migration. “During the first main wave of immigration from 1896 to 1914, three million immigrants, including large numbers of British laborers, British farmers and eastern European peasants, came to Canada” (Reluctant Hosts, Howard Palmer, pg. 144). Canada’s early development of its immigration policy, reflected a common preference for desirables, while excluding undesirables based on skin pigmentation. Dramatic changes to Canada’s immigration policy; including the elimination of racial and religious discrimination, would not take shape until the 1960s, thanks largely to the Second World War and post-war economy. A common reaction from Canada’s government towards Canada’s healthy economic growth, has been an increase in immigration as a means to increase the labor market, while the employment pyramid continued to accelerate. However, with an early system designed to welcome desirables mainly based on pigmentation, the desire for a multicultural society; weather in Canada, the United States, or globally, is often faced with brutal opposition and bitter rejection, thanks to the resilient persistence of the firmly conditioned yet poorly conditioned squares.
In a country that was formed out of cultural differences, and developed through diversity, there is no easy way to define what it means to have a Canadian identity. Canada, a nation confederated on July 01, 1867; with a prominent distinction based mainly on language and religion, was created at a time when new scientific discoveries of the mid-nineteenth century, birthed new technology. This paved the way for a ground breaking industrial era, which dramatically changed societies at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly throughout Europe and North America. The rise in technology significantly united Canada, through the force of communication. At the same time, a system of order and control for selective migration includes a historic account of racial prejudices and exclusions that was not that long ago. “Many English-Canadian intellectuals, like many American writers at the time, thought that North America’s greatness, was ensured so long as its Anglo-Saxon character was preserved. Writers emphasized an Anglo-Saxon tradition of political freedom, self-government and the white man’s mission to spread Anglo-Saxon blessings. Many intellectuals and some politicians viewed Asian and central, southern, and eastern European immigrants as a threat to this tradition, and concluded that since they could not be assimilated, they would have to be excluded. The 1885 introduction in Canada, of a head tax on Chinese immigrants; a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Japan which restricted the number of Japanese immigrants, the passing of orders-in-council which restricted immigration from India, the gradual introduction of restrictive immigration laws in 1906, 1910, and 1919 relative to European immigration, and the tightening of naturalization laws were based in considerable part on the assumptions of Anglo-conformity- immigrants who were culturally or racially inferior and incapable of being assimilated, either culturally or biologically, would have to be excluded. Those who rose to the immigrants’ defence, argued almost entirely from economic grounds: immigration from non-British sources was needed to aid in economic development, not because it might add anything to Canada’s social or cultural life” (Reluctant Hosts, Howard Palmer, pg. 146-147). Although the First World War may have accelerated the rise in Canada’s nationalism, including cultural expressions such as sports, broadcasting and the arts, Canada’s immigration policy would remain firmly intact and justified by the 1914 War Measures Act. The unfair and distasteful treatment of Japanese-Canadians included the dispossession, relocation, internment and deportation of all Japanese-Canadians between 1942 and 1947. It was not until 1947, when Canada’s ban on Chinese immigrants was lifted. The purpose of my reflection in time, is not to generate a harsh response or re-hatch old wounds. However, with the current state of ethnical diversity, combined with the occasional racially motivated hateful speech and/or crime, one must re-examine our historical development of a plural society to deal with the fact that this happened. These unethical and inhumane events from our past happened not too long ago, and if we do not acknowledge the past while learning the deep lessons, we are doomed to repeat it.
The 1960s marked a time when injustices could no longer be tolerated. After the Great Depression era of the 1930s, Canada saw a rise in provincial social reconstruction and social reform alternatives. Post-war economic prosperity provided the financial means to usher in social changes, including an acceleration of national social credit programs, including the 1940 Unemployment/Employment Insurance Act, the 1944 Family Allowance Act, Ottawa’s creation of Ministry of Health, as well as the Hospital Insurance and the Diagnostic Services Act. Hence, Canada’s Welfare State was finally nationally established. Tragic international events, such as the Holocaust and the unfair inhumane treatment of African Americans, generated an atmosphere of social discomfort in many. Finally, the cries from the mistreated and the oppressed were finally going unnoticed, as decolonisation and the Civil Rights Movement made social and national inequities increasingly difficult to accept, generating an atmosphere for an international revolution. In Canada, stirred by movements for social reform in America, and fed up with the Duplessis era of the mid to late 50s, Quebec embarked on a Quiet Revolution of their own. Liberal and leftist forces everywhere, questioned the social order that had been accepted for so long. Quebecers realized that there might be another way; one that challenged the status quo, demanding equal rights for the French language. In addition, the survival of culture through the recognition of the Quebecois as a unique nationality, and changes that would ensure that French Canadians were true masters in their own province, was voiced by the majority.
The rise in Quebec nationalism of the 1960s, ushered in new social, political and economic reforms, including the church based education system shifting responsibility to the state. In addition, key reforms in Canada’s immigration policy meant prospective immigrants could no longer be denied entry to Canada on the basis of colour, race, or nationality. In 1962, the government proposed regulations eliminating racial discrimination, while the 1966 White Paper on immigration, recognized immigration as a major contributor to the national goals of population and economic growth. Changes to Canada’s immigration policy slowly transitioned to a policy which finally accepted the existence of a Canadian plural society. “The introduction of a policy of multiculturalism in the 1970s was intended to create a sense of inclusiveness while still dealing with the threat of Quebec nationalism. Canada would be a bilingual, multicultural society in which all Canadians could take pride in their cultural identity. Confidence in one’s own identity, Pierre Trudeau argued, would promote personal freedom while strengthening national unity” (Canada, House of Commons, Debates, 1971, p. 8545).
The 1971 Official Multicultural Policy spearheaded the increase of racial and religious groups arriving in Canada. This accelerated pluralism, particularly in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, throughout the 70s and 80s. Multiculturalism would also be protected through the constitution under the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In addition, the 1988 Multiculturalism Act, provided funds for promoting cultures and preventing discrimination. Through reflection, Canada has dramatically changed to include policies that reflect the Canadian Identity, one that is diverse, rich with vibrant colors, and fascinating cultures. Connected through food, the arts, sports and other forms of entertainment, it is easy to love one another, through ways that unite us. Cultural expressions continue to shift the focus away from our obvious differences and allow us to take national pride in a country that is unique, diverse, covered in cinematic landscapes, and developed through the success of national building. Canada is filled with beauty. One thing that makes Canada beautiful is its beautiful combination of ethnicities, cultures, languages and structures. With unpredictable situations such as death and diseases, our current generation could use more peace, love and harmony; something that was prevalent in the 1960s, instead of the pursuit of square mentalities. We are all one. We all want to be happy, experience peace on earth, and we all have a soul. The soulful sound of unity that dominated the 60s, needs an emergence today.
In 2014, many are content to tolerate, if they must, while living as far away as possible from the reminder of multiculturalism. This is nothing new. Social projects such as affordable housing can be viewed as the twentieth century’s ethnic block settlement, in comparison to the nineteenth century ethnic block settlements in Saskatchewan. Considering the construction and make up of Toronto Social Housing Communities such as Regent Park, Driftwood Court, Grand-ravine, and Jamestown, I often wonder what were the pre-requisites, target markets, discussions in plan meetings and the overall projection when theses planned housing communities were being formed. Was this a way of dealing with Toronto’s increase in immigration, and an answer for those who wanted to control the growth of a multicultural society, through segregated affordable communities? The brilliant resilient square is usually hidden and highly adaptable; complying with tolerance, while objecting silently to the rise of a plural society. As we continue to evolve as a wireless, mosaic and metropolitan whole, let us also evolve into an accepting, connected yet diverse harmonious nation, with similarities outweighing all differences, and as a united force dedicated to the progression of all human-kind.
Written by: Simone Shouna Salām