Archive for May, 2013

South Asians Are Not Racist

So argues Satya Sharma, everyone’s favourite Marxist associate anthropology professor at the U of Sask, and a man seemingly oblivious to irony.

We last met Professor Sharma when he railed against “corporatization of the university’s decision-making process” as it leads to “declining support for humanities, fine arts, social sciences and the library.”

Today, he attacks the social science of his university colleague:

The story, Thousands of immigrants flock to Saskatoon (SP, May 9), featured an ill-conceived attempt at analysis by Prof. Ken Coates of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

I take issue with both the immigration data and Coates’s analysis.

Note that mongers of competing grievances don’t mix well.

This influx of immigrants is exciting news. Saskatchewan was not a hot spot for immigrants during much of the latter half of the 20th century, so why is it so attractive today for newcomers?

The reasons are simple. Canada’s three big cities – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – have priced themselves out in terms of real estate value, rent and cost of living for immigrants. There’s also a perception that Saskatchewan’s economy is booming, although many residents might disagree.

If real estate prices were the primary factor, you’d think you’d see immigrants flocking to, say, New Brunswick than Saskatchewan, especially since Saskatchewan’s booming economy is merely a “perception”.

Canada is a land of the Inuit, First Nations and waves of immigrants. The early white settlers from Western Europe consider themselves privileged and have a strong sense of ownership of the country. Their activities and institutions caused much suffering to aboriginal groups through racism, discrimination, disease, war and ill-treatment, causing First Nations numbers to dwindle.

Ah, it’s about “privilege”, the latest buzzword in the ongoing saga to legitimize critical theory to the unwashed. I.e., differences in society are nothing more than psychological constructs in which one sociological group is “perceived” to hold power over another.

Which would have been news to the 19th-century “white settlers from Western Europe” known as “the Irish”.

The aboriginals now are the fastest growing group in Canada, which has made the early immigrant population anxious. We see numerous examples of it, especially in public policy and neglect.

“Early immigrant population” groups (i.e. Whitey) want to keep aboriginals down, you see. Because they are both racist and privileged.

And “anxious”, apparently.

Immigrants from across the globe have been coming to Canada steadily since the 1960s, although the current Conservative government has tightened the rules and made immigration in the family category particularly difficult.

Indeed. Note the severe drop-off of “family class” permanent-resident immigrants after the Conservatives came to power in 2006.

After early racist immigration policies toward non-white groups, governments of all political stripes have realized that Canada cannot survive without immigrants, regardless of colour.

Recent decades have seen an annual inflow of 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants needed to meet Canada’s labour shortage and to contribute to the safety net for the country’s aging population.

These newcomers, mostly non-whites, pose no challenge to the aboriginal population and have not done so at any time in history.

I agree. Even though the off-reserve aboriginal unemployment rate is almost double that of non-aboriginals and many unskilled labour positions previously available to aboriginals are being increasingly taken up by immigrants, immigration of productive workers does benefit us all.

But since the story was simply pointing out a “perception” issue and, as noted above, “perception” matters more than reality, Mr. Sharma shouldn’t be complaining.

The data used in The StarPhoenix, especially concerning South Asians, are totally wrong, but the paper is not to be faulted. The Harper government changed how Statistics Canada collects data, making long-form household surveys no longer mandatory.

“Totally wrong” being a statistical term introduced by Harper’s new-and-improved StatsCan.

These newcomers are highly underrepresented in the data. I have been doing research in Saskatoon’s South Asian community since the early 1980s. Even back in 1984, the city had close to 4,000 South Asians, the majority from India. Among Indians, Hindus were a majority at about 2,200. Their numbers are much higher today, well above 3,000.

If Mr. Sharma is so sure of his data, then why does he need the long-form census?

Within the past decade there has been a significant jump in the ranks of immigrants from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Muslims in Saskatoon number close to 10,000, many coming from Ontario. Many Sikhs, too, have move [sic] to Saskatoon from British Columbia.

Good. Glad to have them. Hope they enjoy our cheap housing.

To attempt an analysis on the basis of wrong data is fraught with difficulty. To make sweeping generalizations on the basis of such data is foolhardy.

Though it’s perfectly fine to make “sweeping generalizations” on how “early white settlers from Western Europe [considered] themselves privileged and [had] a strong sense of ownership of the country.” Especially since there was no long-form census data available at that time to support such an analysis.

I am surprised that as a historian, Coates makes an argument about immigrants vis-a-vis aboriginals that amounts to accusing newcomers of being racist and insensitive toward aboriginals, considering them as competition for employment, and being ignorant of Canada’s policies regarding First Nations. It’s far from portraying the truth.

Would it be racist for this Whitey to suggest that Mr. Sharma should learn how to read more carefully?

In the offending article, Professor Coates actually said, “I’m not suggesting for a second [recent immigrants are] racist or aggressively anti-aboriginal, they just don’t buy into the public policy agenda that says dealing with these historic grievances is in fact an obligation of the current population.”

He’s not saying immigrants are racist; he just doesn’t think they care about First Nations concerns as much as guilt-tripped Whitey. That’s his opinion as a professional social scientist. Prove him wrong.

Oh, and he also said, “You’ll also notice among First Nations people that’s an area of concern. They’re saying if you have these temporary worker programs, you’re basically taking entry-level jobs from First Nations people who need to get into the workforce. So that’s a potential source of tension and concern.”

In other words, the perception of increased competition for jobs comes from First Nations people, not immigrants. Sharma has it backwards.

Personally, I wouldn’t say that South Asians in general are any more racist than those from other cultures — although this story goes right out and says just that — but this is based on the fact that I haven’t developed many relationships with recently immigrated South Asians other than with those who work with me. My knowledge on those particular cultures is limited.

I will say, however, that I think the concerns of both Professor Coates and Mr. Sharma seem to be overblown. Canada is one of the most tolerant countries on earth. Here, animosities between various cultures are almost entirely held as perceptions (there’s that word again) rather than outright hostility or aggression. When’s the last race riot you’ve seen in Saskatoon, for example?

I just don’t see the value in adjusting governmental policies and initiatives to appease the grievances between aboriginal and immigrant groups (sorry, leadership) while most members of these groups seem to just want to get on with their lives.

Can’t we all just get along?

Leave a comment

Changing the Culture

Glenn Reynolds, among others, points out the obvious:

Culture comes before politics. And politics come before law. So, I think that the culture has to change first.

Sounds easier than it is, but it can be done.

Exhibit 1: Astronaut Chris Hadfield almost single-handedly changed the public’s view of the international space program.

Commander Hadfield, currently falling from the sky, was officially in orbit to take care of a few, old spacey research things and keep the Space Station in orbit. You know, boring stuff.

But he and his team decided to take an opportunity to connect with the public in general through cheap, effective social media. His Twitter account has about 870,000 followers, who engaged with him regularly. Many of his videos were posted on YouTube, explaining the interesting and mundane of space travel, making himself an international celebrity.

 

 

In short, he was successful in developing an cultural output relevant to the public, and brought an extraordinary amount of publicity toward his mission and to the space program in general.

Exhibit 2: Environmentalist documentary film maker Robert Stone makes a convincing case for nuclear energy.

I don’t agree with Stone’s premise — that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a harbinger of catastrophic global warming — but I like the way he presents it.

 

 

I am encouraged by his willingness to challenge his initial skepticism on nuclear energy. Too bad he is blinded by his ideology from taking it a step further by looking skeptically at the environmental movement as a whole. Baby steps, I suppose.

The lesson to learn, however, is that instead of droning on about statistics of his case in a logical and cold manner, he embraces the emotional appeal of his argument and encourages others to do the same. Like Cmdr. Hadfield, he uses sophisticated cultural means to reach us, in order to persuade us of the validity and of their points of view, that not only are they doing the smart thing, but the moral one.

If conservatives or libertarians wanted role models on how to deliver their own messages — through the means of culture — they couldn’t ask for better.

Leave a comment