3 Ways to Turn Multiculturalism into Justice

Canada has prided itself on multicultural values for years; it is both in written legislature and in public imaginary that Canada is a nation where various cultural and ethnic groups supposedly live together in harmony and constant celebration of one another. While the idea of instituting multiculturalism into the fabric of the country seems like an important step towards a more inclusive country, it can fall short in addressing some of the systemic issues of injustice that exist in Canada. Multiculturalism is a good foundation for a society that honours diversity but how can we transform that ideology into action and a commitment to genuine inclusion? 1. Understand the systemic issues What multiculturalism lacks an Act and as ideology is it fails to take into account the power and privilege at play in a multicultural society. Indeed, Canada is home to a diverse array of cultural and ethnic groups and an acknowledgement and celebration of that is important. However, focusing solely on 'diversity' means we ignore the different relationships between cultural groups and the history of their place in Canada and in the world. Instead of simply recognizing that Canada is home to a mosaic of people, we must also recognize that people have different experiences of and relationships to the nation. For example, many ethnic groups were forcefully brought to Canada to do enslaved or indentured labour, while others were sold false promises about their freedom here or fled violence in other parts of the world. This means that visible minorities, immigrants and Indigenous communities experience racism, discrimination and violence in Canada. Therefore, we must see 'multiculturalism' as merely an acknowledgement of difference and move towards justice instead of simply a celebration of diversity. Instead of asking who lives in Canada, let's ask ourselves what are the systemic issues in a multicultural society and how can some of use our privilege to make change? 2. Respect and learn from Indigenous communities Indigenous communities lived across these lands for thousands of years before European people settled here. The colonial legacy still impacts communities. Many parts of the country are still 'unceded' which means that land rights were never officially signed over to the Canadian government; many of us live and work on stolen land. Before Canada was officially "Multicultural", it was described in legislature as "Bicultural" referring to the French and English sides of the country. Obviously, this completely erases the presence of Indigenous communities and their rich and varied cultures. Moving into Multiculturalism, Canada still fails to acknowledge the violences of settler colonialism or even Indigenous cultures as an equal and celebratory part of the multicultural mosaic. Rather than focusing on a 'Multicultural' Canada, we should look Indigenous communities for guidance on respectful interaction with the land, honouring and celebrating the vast diversity of First Nations, Metis and Inuit cultures and learning how to decolonize our work. 3. Honour individuality We've all heard of the golden rule; "treat other people how you wish to be treated". Let's trying working towards the platinum rule; "Treat other people how they wish to be treated." This idea acknowledges that everyone has different needs, values and desires. We should be mindful of how other people want to be treated rather than assume they want the same things as we do. How does this apply in a multicultural context? While the image of Canada as a multicultural mosaic attempts to distance itself from the melting pot of America, it can still fall victim to some of the same issues. We often homogenize groups; we forget that people have unique and individual experiences; we forget that even the most 'positive' stereotypes are harmful. We say things like "those people" and "that culture" which groups everyone together as if everyone from the same cultural or ethnic background looks, feels, behaves and moves through the world in the same way. In her famous TED talk, "The Danger of A Single Story", Chimamanda Adichie explains that when we absorb single narratives about a culture, we are prone to critical misunderstandings. We must work to unlearn stereotypes about cultural groups and instead focus on the needs of the individual. For example, youth of colour are often stereotyped as being badly behaved in school, which leads them to receiving less positive attention, get lower grades, miss more school and have higher expulsion rates. Working to undo our assumptions, improve our cultural sensitivity and assess the needs of each student can quite literally change the world.