Opinion » Maxed Out

Let's move the human experiment forward

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Dear StatsCan, your roots are showing. Time — actually long past time — for a touchup.

Notwithstanding Sunday's mad dog shooting in Quebec, Canada remains a pretty tolerant country. This is especially noteworthy considering the vast diversity of nationalities that make up its population and the changing face of Canadians... at least in metropolitan areas. It stands in stark contrast to the return of the Dark Ages south of the border where a mad man has taken over the ship of state and is running it aground out of fear of The Other.

Having said that, tolerance is a quicksilver commodity. It can slip through our fingers at the slightest provocation. It only takes enough people who feel culturally threatened to buy into a political leader's vision of a country that used to exist — at least in their none-too-accurate memory — and rally behind a demagogue promising to uphold Canadian "values," whatever they may be since, at least in that person's view, tolerance isn't one of them, to reduce tolerance to a memory.

There is a deep well of irony in the current allegation the shooter in Quebec City was an old-stock Canadian, to use former prime minister Stephen Harper's term. He wasn't Muslim; he seems to have hated Muslims. He wasn't an immigrant, any more than any of us are. He was a hater. That he seems to have been a supporter of The Orange One is, perhaps, not unexpected. He very likely saw The Others as a threat to his hope for a white, francophone Quebec where losers like himself could still feel superior to anyone who was different.

He likely hated visible minorities.

Me too.

But not in the way that sounds. That's why I say StatsCan's roots are showing.

In their recently released study, A look at immigration, ethnocultural diversity and languages in Canada up to 2036, 2011 to 2036, StatsCan seems to be mired in old-stock Canadian thinking, the kind of thinking that posits Canada didn't really exist until Europeans arrived to wrest it from the savages.

They can be forgiven, I guess. The lens through which changes to the country are viewed have to start some place and historically that place has always been the arrival of Europeans in the New World. History is written by the victorious, after all and Canada's colonial past continues to inform the present.

The victorious, of course, were the English, who firmly believed some form of divine ordination lay behind their seemingly global dissemination of the English language and culture and its accomplice, Christianity. No wonder they viewed Canada, and all of North America for that matter, as a wilderness there for the taking, er, occupation.

And so, even in 2017, in an era where multiculturalism has taken root and grown for the past several decades, a time when all but the most unabashed politicians will rise and say to the one million aggrieved Muslims in the country, "We stand with you," StatsCan will tell us their population modelling reveals a Canada in 2036 where, "... between 34.7% and 39.9% would belong to a visible minority group, up from 19.6% in 2011." (Italics mine.)

Ich bin ein visible minority!

I am neither a proponent or opponent of what has disparagingly been called political correctness. But visible minority? Really? Compared to whom? Old-stock, white, European Canadians? Aboriginal Canadians?

There are at least two big problems with this label. The first is historic. After paying homage to the country's ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, the StatsCan study tosses out this gem of ethnocentric insight. "According to the first census conducted four years after Confederation in 1867, 16.1% of the 3.7 million people in Canada were born abroad. The main countries of birth of immigrants were then the British Isles (84%), the United States (11%) and Germany (4%)."

Quick: Who's missing from that group?

That census was made more than 250 years after John Cabot — an Italian sailing under letters patent from the English king — landed in what would become Canada and about 125 years after Jacques Cartier planted a French cross in the Gaspé Peninsula. Had the census takers at the time consulted with the various tribes of the First Nations of Canada, they might have answered, "All of you were born abroad." But they didn't count.

Had they counted, they might have referred to the old-stock Canadians as a visible — to them — majority.

But the concept of visible minority is increasingly an anachronism. When I was first introduced to the idea, there were three races: Caucasian, mongoloid (Asian) and negroid. In 1960, australoid, or Australian aboriginal, was added as a fourth. Over the decades, those four have been further defined into 30 subgroups based on distinguishing characteristics not necessarily correlated with genetic differences. The United Nations has abandoned the term race and uses ethnic group instead. There are more than 5,000 ethnic groups in the world. And even those are quickly being blended into one with marriages and breeding that crosses loosely identifiable boundaries.

So what the hell is visible?

And more to the point, visible to whom?

Old-stock, white, European Canadians may believe black, brown and yellow Canadians are a visible minority. But the fact is, it's in the best interest of even the least tolerant old-stock Canadian to drop the whole visible-minority label. That's because it won't be too many years before they, or more accurately, their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be the visible minority. It seems it would be, shall we say, gracious for the visible majority to stop thinking of the Others as a visible minority before numbers tilt the balance and they become the minority. Time, instead, to just think of them as, well, us. Canadians. Human beings. Fellow travellers on this journey of experimentation that is homo sapiens.

After all, considering all forms of life on Earth, it's homo sapiens who are the visible minority. And as a minority, we're not treating our home with much respect. I guess that makes it easier to treat each other without much respect.

When all is said and done, it's easier to focus on differences than similarities. It takes a sustained effort for us to not give in to the biases and racism that lurk within all of us. But only through the effort to do so will we move the human experiment forward. The alternative is just too gruesome to contemplate, not withstanding watching it scroll out before our eyes.

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