Last year, there were two overt incidents of racism in Newfoundland and Labrador. Racist and Islamophobic posters were found at Memorial University and Blackface was portrayed at the local branch of the Law Enforcement Torch Run. While one could claim these are isolated incidents, these events have pointed to a larger issue at play.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, visible minorities — defined as non-Indigenous and non-white — are discriminated against based on the colour of their skin, according to a recent survey by Corporate Research Associates, a global public opinion and market research company. It operates the independent Atlantic Quarterly and it conducts quarterly telephone surveys to track political, economic and social trends affecting residents in the Atlantic region.
In the survey, only four per cent of respondents reported that they experienced racial discrimination five or more years ago, but nine per cent said that they were the targets of racial discrimination in the last five years, suggesting that racism in the province has been increasing.
These results paint a different picture from that portrayed in the provincial cultural narrative and memorialized in the Broadway hit Come From Away which is that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, a predominantly white population, are friendly and warm.
This may be true in the context of everyday relations among white people, but less so where systemic racial diversity is concerned, since white people are not beyond acting in racially self-interested ways. Hence, differences are tolerated so long as they are not a threat to the status quo.
The friendly reputation attached to the people and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador can thus perpetuate a dangerous myth of inclusion and acceptance of visible minorities which, as the Corporate Research Associates results show, is not always true.
This characterization of Newfoundland and Labrador as racist reflects that of the rest of Canada. The experiences and stories told by generations of visible minority immigrants and refugees across Canada about discrimination within many public systems that impact on their lives tell of a racism that is deeply rooted in the fabric of Canadian society.
Read more: Dear white people, wake up: Canada is racist
Attempts by the general public and public officials to mask this reality with appeal to notions of “friendly,” “warm” and “pleasant” only serve to conceal the ugly truth about racism in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the rest of Canada.
Economic challenges require immigration
The challenges of a rapidly aging population, a troubling fiscal outlook and youth out-migration have put Newfoundland and Labrador in an economically disadvantaged position. The response to these challenges — namely, increasing immigration to the province — has not been the antidote that many expected.
In discussions about the outflow of visible minority immigrants and refugees to other provinces, there has been very little dialogue about the role of racism. A recently released report by Dr. Tony Fang, the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Cultural and Economic Transformation at Memorial University of Newfoundland, hints at the importance of examining the experiences of racism on the retention and integration of refugees in the province.
This report, and the results of the Corporate Research Associates survey, will hopefully help to expand that conversation beyond employment as a factor to immigration and refugee retention in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is particularly important if the province is serious about retaining young people and immigrants and refugees from visible minority groups.
Actions against racism are necessary
Employment alone is not a remedy to the problem of retention. Young people and immigrants and refugees from visible minority groups must feel that they are part of their communities, and this must begin with recognizing and taking visible action against racism.
Specifically, in the rush to celebrate the diversity that visible minority immigrants and refugees represent, the social and economic impact of immigration takes a back seat in the shaping of public consciousness.
Immigration alone is taken to mean a better life in Canada, with very little regard paid to the effects of racism and discrimination on settlement and integration outcomes for visible minority immigrants and refugees.
When we fail to talk about racism in a meaningful and public way, we deny our collective responsibility for eradicating it.
The absence of any reference to racism or discrimination in the provincial government’s immigration action plan for success, “The Way Forward,” is telling.
Even in the Telegram’s reporting of the Corporate Research Associates survey results, no single reference was made to the word racism, revealing our society’s uneasiness with the language and, perhaps, the concept.
By virtue of their economic, political and cultural power, white people are the dominant racial group in Canadian society. This power comes with great responsibility. Bringing in immigrants from visible minority groups for economic growth is not enough.
That commitment must be matched with efforts to foster their success at every turn — in the workplace, at school and in society at large. These efforts must extend beyond the typical settlement services to include a consideration of racism in everyday life. Having frank conversations about racism’s effects on marginalized members of society is a step in the right direction.
This understanding should be followed with concrete actions for mitigating those negative effects. White people must learn to shoulder the burden of racism without always relying on visible minorities to do the heavy lifting.
Though immigration to the province is growing (1,870 and 3,675 immigrants were welcomed between 2006-2010 and 2011-2016 respectively), the province is working towards its 2022 target of 1,700 new immigrants annually. Therefore, the time to combat racism is now.
Between 2011 and 2016, the Philippines, Syria and China were the top source countries of immigrants to Newfoundland and Labrador. Overall, visible minorities make up only 2.4 percent of the province’s total population of 512,250.
The low number should not act as a deterrent for immediate and sustained action, given the stated higher percentage of self-reported racism in the Corporate Research Associates survey.
We should not forget about subtle racism; although sometimes hidden, it symbolizes contemporary manifestations of bigotry and intolerance. If we continue to resist efforts to name and work towards the eradication of racism, as if Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were immune to systemic bias, we risk deepening racial inequalities at a great cost to the success and prosperity of Newfoundland and Labrador.