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Racism in Canada as a Social Problem Essay


Racism. A relatively new word in our vocabulary. The word was not defined until 1936, when Webster’s dictionary defined racism as 1: A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race 2: Racial prejudice or discrimination. This is a definition of racism that was written by white men, back wen it was ok to deny the access of certain facilities to blacks. This was even considered a white man’s moral duty. (Paul Lotus, 2000) Some might think that racism is a thing of the past, yet every day individuals still face racism in a social system in which power is controlled by a white majority.

Racism is not only present between blacks and whites, it is an issue concerning everybody, based on the colour of their skin, their religion and other factors. For example, since the attack on the World Trade Centre, Muslims and Arabs have been experiencing an extreme amount of racism in the United States but also here in Canada (Fakhreddin Jamali, 2003). This proves that people are simply looking for someone to hate. Anything can set it off but it is hardly ever justified.

Nature and Scope of the Problem

Racism is difference plus power. All forms of racism suppose that different races cannot coexist equally in one society. For the racist, expulsion and elimination are the only options. Racism is discrimination based on race, it is the belief that one race is superior to others and that differences in race also mean difference in human character and ability. Racism exists when one group excludes or seeks to eliminate another based on differences that are believed to be hereditary and unchangeable. (Ormond McKague 1991)

Some might say that victims can beat racism by ignoring it. “Sticks and stones will break by bones but words will never hurt me.” On the other hand, when looking at hate crimes, we can see that racism can go much further. It is not only a question of insults; it even goes past segregation. Racism can
lead to hate crimes and in some places, these are even common. “A hate crime is any criminal act or attempted criminal act directed against a person, institution, or property based on the victim’s actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender.” (Lambda Community Center, www.lambda-sacramento.com)

In other words, hate crimes can vary from anything that results in injury, threats of violence that look like they can be carried out to acts which result in property damage. During 1999, a total of 7,876 bias-motivated hate crimes were reported to the FBI in the United States. However, we have to remember that reporting is voluntary and hate crimes are seriously under-reported. In the year 2000, 366 hate web sites were found. ( Religion News Blog, 2002)

Racism can also be expressed in hate incidents. Hate incidents are similar to hate crimes in that the act is directed against people based on the victim’s race. The difference between a hate incident and a hate crime is that a hate incident is a non-criminal act. Some examples of hate incidents are passing around offensive material such as hate flyers or hate graffiti in public places.

Racist actions happen all the time but some are more serious than others. Canada has a long history of hate-motivated violence towards racial or ethnic minorities. For example, back in 1907 in Vancouver, a mob of whites attacked the Chinese and Japanese communities, causing damage to stores and several fatalities. In the 1970s, there was a series of subway attacks against members of the South Asian community. (Margaret Cannon, 1995)

A Social Problem

A condition becomes a social problem when most people in a society agree that the condition exists, threatening the quality of life for certain people and their most cherished values. When they also agree that something should be done to remedy it (Ormond McKague, 1991). Racism fits under all these aspects. Racism threatens the quality of the victim’s life. Day after day, people who are different experience insults, exclusion or even physical attacks. Racism also attacks some people’s religious values and beliefs. For example, prejudice towards Jews. Furthermore, people do agree that something should be done to prevent and put an end to racism. Many programs have been started in hopes of accomplishing both these goals. Also, we live in a democratic society where we believe in equality of all but racism is proof that we do not live by that ideal.


According to a recent United Nations report, racism and racial discrimination are on the rise world-wide, especially against immigrants. A document was presented to the UN Human Rights Commission, indicating that racist ideologies are spread world-wide through the most modern technologies, especially via the internet (Daily Online, 1996) There has been an increase in web sites used to provoke hatred against Arabs, blacks and particularly Jews. Racism is on the rise due to many different factors. For example, it is the direct consequence of the electoral success of nationalist and extreme right parties in a number of countries. Today there are about 22 million refugees around the world who were forced to abandon their homes because of nationalistic wars (Margaret Cannon, 1995) There has also been a significant rise in racism following September 11th. People everywhere, American or Canadian tend to identify any Arab and Muslim with terrorists. Even the US media take part in spreading a negative image of Arabs.

Even in the most developed countries, racial oppression continues. In the USA, the wealthiest capitalist country, African Americans continue to face severe racial oppression. In Australia the indigenous population suffers Third World living conditions and gross racial discrimination.

Who is affected?

Obviously, people who belong to minority groups, such as black people. They can be affected directly if they are victims of hate crimes. They can also be affected directly but in more subtle ways. For example, a white taxi driver might not pick up a black person. (Clayton E Tuker-Ladde, 2000) Teens can also be affected. Black teenagers are more likely to drop out of school because they worry about completing their education and not finding jobs. They also tend to do poorly in school due to low self-esteem and the negative attitudes of teachers towards black students. (Margaret Cannon, 1995) They can also be affected indirectly. Children might be growing up in poverty due to their parent’s experience with racism. Some people might not get the same opportunities in life due to their ancestor’s experience with racism. Other people can also be affected indirectly by racism. For example, children might feel pressured not to be friends with a black child if others around them are racist. Nowadays, white people also feel they are suffering from racism and they are responding by blaming affirmative action for not getting jobs.

Racism can affect black people everyday in every aspect of their life. For example, if a black person needs to move they can never be sure of having the opportunity of renting or purchasing a house in an area which they can afford and in which they would want to live. They can never be sure that new neighbours in such a location will be neutral or pleasant towards them. They can hardly ever turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of their race widely and positively represented. They cannot go into any supermarket and find the foods that fit with their cultural traditions or into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut their hair. If they swear or dress in second-hand clothes, people will often attribute these choices to the ‘bad morals’, ‘the poverty’ or ‘the illiteracy’ of their race.

On the other hand, if they do well in a challenging situation, they are often called a credit to their race. They can be pretty sure that if they ask to talk to the person in charge, they will not be facing a person of their race. They can never be sure that if they need legal or medical help their race will not work against them. They are never sure that standards of behaviour where they work or go to school will be set by people of their race and that they will be judged on their behaviour not on their race. So in short, racism can attack them at any point in their daily life. Many researchers have also found that racism is a source of stress for Blacks that negatively impacts physical and psychological well-being (James W Clarke, 1998).

Emergence of the social problem

The late start of the word ‘racism’ has led some to believe that the phenomenon itself must be relatively new. But contrary to this belief, racism has been around for a very long time. Racism can be traced back to the Columbus invasion of 1492. In order to get the gold and silver of the native Americans, and later to use their land for the establishment of plantations to grow sugar, tobacco, and rice for commercial export to Europe, the European colonists killed enormous numbers of native Americans. As a result, the European plantation owners faced a shortage of labour.

Some system of labour was necessary to bring workers to the new lands and to force them to work for masters. At first the land relied on the servants or serfs from the mother countries. But there was one major problem. Unless they were marked, if they ran away they could not easily be distinguished from free colonists or their masters. It became increasingly urgent to find new, more abundant and more easily identifiable sources of forced labour.

The African slave trade came to the masters rescue. Black slaves could be purchased cheaply and brought in unlimited numbers from Africa. The colour of their skins made them easily identifiable, stopping them from escaping and merging with the rest of the colonial population. The colour of their skins became the sign of servitude. This was the origin of racism. Contrary to popular belief, slavery was not motivated by racism. Racism, the view that those with non-white skins were inferior to those with white skins, was gradually elaborated to justify the particular form of slave labour. (Ormond McKague, 1991)

Even though racism has always been present, it is only recently that it was recognised as a social problem. In 1960, the Canadian bill of rights was written. The bill of rights says. It is hereby recognised and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

(a) The right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

(b) The right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;

(c) Freedom of religion;

(d) Freedom of speech;

(e) Freedom of assembly and association; and

(f) Freedom of the press.’

Before this date, racism was very accepted and even expected in some situations (Canadian Bill Of Rights, www.laws/justice.gc.ca) The only people who saw racism as a problem were people belonging to minority groups, the people experiencing the effects of racism first hand and the rare non-racists.

People have different opinions concerning racism and its history, some will say it was never a problem. What changed peoples ideologies concerning racism were different black activists who decided to speak up and let their country know they had had enough. The best example of someone who fought for equal rights till the day he died was Martin Luther King (1929-1968). After half a century of black activism, the result we saw was the end of segregation in 1954. Another decade of protest and activism led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Within twenty years, the federal government began an era of affirmative action retrenchment. There has been much improvement in the lives of Black Americans yet we still see racism everyday (www.MLKonline.com).

In Canada there was an anti-slavery movement that went on approximately between 1830 and 1870. The abolition of slavery also brought the racism problem to attention. At this point people started to see that it was wrong to treat people terribly simply because of the colour of their skin.

The current attitude towards racism today is unclear. It obviously still exists but people still express surprise that there is a race problem in Canada. Discrimination today might be more subtle than it was in the past, but it is present, affecting where we live and work. For example, in 1994, a study gave white and black applicants equal skills and sent them out to look for jobs and rent apartments. In almost every case, the white applicant was given better treatment. In the same study, black males noted that no matter how professional they looked, when they walked into an elevator with a white woman, she would clutch her purse in fear. Despite the progress in culture, science and technology, racism has been mainly responsible for the death of over 62 million human beings in the last 100 years. (http://www.crr.ca/en/Publications/ePubHome.htm)

Most Canadians today consider racism a social problem even though some do think it is a problem of the past and is now rare. For example, direct victims of racism will say that it is a current problem. Blacks, Arabs, Jews, etc. They are daily victims of atrocious abuse: verbal, physical and emotional. Non-racists also consider racism a problem. For this reason, many programs have been started in hopes of stopping racism. Sociologists also consider racism to be a problem because the characteristics fit under the characteristics of a social problem and social workers everywhere have also been working in hopes of preventing and ending racism.

Causes of Racism

Many theories have been developed concerning racism, one of them is the conflict theory. The conflict theory originated from Marxism and Carl Marx’s beliefs. The basic principle of the conflict theory is that the natural evolution of societies is described as a series of clashes between conflicting ideas and forces that at the end of each clash, a new and improved set of ideas emerges. Both Marx and this theory agree with the idea that when members of a class see themselves as individuals with only individualistic needs rather than members of a group with collective needs and fate, it limits any constructive change. This can be applied to racism. (Hamlin, J. 1996)

A second theory used to explain racism is the frustration-aggression theory. To understand this theory we must first understand frustration. Frustration is a feeling of tension that occurs when our efforts to reach a goal are blocked. Frustration can lead to feelings of anger, which in turn can become feelings of aggression and aggressive behavior. This theory has been used to explain a lot of violent behavior over time. This theory explains racism as a type of relief from frustration. A scapegoat is chosen and becomes the object of aggressive behavior.

This is often because one cannot take out their feelings of aggression on the person directly concerned. For example, someone who is frustrated with their job cannot express feeling of aggression towards their boss or co-workers so they redirect their frustration and act aggressively towards others. However, this cannot be an adequate explanation because it neither explains the presence of racism when there is no frustration nor does it explain why the scapegoat is chosen based on their race as opposed to perhaps gender, class, etc. (Yassine, A. 2001)

The next theory is the theory of authoritarian-personality. The authoritarian personality is one whose personality makes the person more susceptible to racist ideologies. Adorno (1950) suggested that authoritarian parenting style created the authoritarian personality. The authoritarian style creates aggression, frustration and hatred, which is then directed towards chosen scapegoats. When this parenting style is used, The demand for good behavior is excessive and uncompromising.

There is intolerance of behavior and things that are different. Adorno reported a direct relationship between authoritarian personality and prejudice. Other studies have shown relations between authoritarianism and xenophobia If prejudice and discrimination are directly related with the authoritarian personality, then authoritarianism may explain negative put-downs, oppression and racism. But on the other hand, some studies replicating Adorno’s work found no evidence to support Adorno, and in some cases they found contradictory results. (Brown, R. 1995) People with an authoritarian personality exist in large numbers in every society, and it is probably manipulation by them that give racism its strength. But once again, this does not really explain racism any more than it explains non-racism, because people with authoritarian personalities could be non-racists, and this would have the opposite effect, diminishing racism.

The last theory is a very simple one, and the most common one. This theory says that racism is learned. It originates from Fraud’s idea of being born as a blank slate. This means that every child is born neither good nor bad. Every behavior is learned from the child’s parents and surroundings. This theory was examined and proven with many experiments. The most popular one being an experiment done by a third grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa. The teacher divided the class into two groups: blue-eyed and brown-eyed. Each group got the same special privileges and praise on alternate days while the other group was put down and deprived in different ways. Within a few hours, they started to act negatively towards each other, starting fights and insulting the children from the group who was not favored that day. Friendships were easily forgotten and hatred started to stir up in the schoolyard. Before hand, these students had no reasons to dislike each other until they were given one. They were told by an authority figure how they should be acting towards people with different colored eyes. They were taught to be prejudice. This study proves that humans seem much better at learning prejudices than math.

A similar study was done by Sheriff. He designed a boy’s camp in hopes of studying group relations. The camp was separated into two groups. Members from each group did everything together. Then, Sheriff had the groups compete against each other in various games such as tug-of-war. The friendship and group spirit within each group was evident and at first, there was good sportsmanship between both groups. But soon tension and animosity developed. There was name-calling, fights, and raids on the “enemy” cabins. After seeing these results, Sheriff tried to get the two groups together for good times. Good food, movies, etc. But nothing could be done, the anger continued. The two groups had learned to hate each other. The groups threw food at each other, shoved, and yelled insults.

Next, the camp set up several situations where the two groups had to work together to get something they wanted. There was a break in the water line that had to be fixed (or camp would be closed). The food truck broke down and it took everyone’s cooperation to push it. When they worked together on these serious, important tasks, they didn’t fight. Friendships developed. Just as competition led to friction among equals, cooperative work led to positive feelings. This also shows that any behavior, good or bad is learned and can easily be erased by the next thing the child is taught. This brings along a serious question. When was the last time our country cooperated with other countries to help those in need? Maybe the solution to racism isn’t so far away. (Tuker-Ladd, C. 2000)

Social Intervention

Since 1966, the United Nations has recognized The 21st of March as the International Day for the Elimination of racial Discrimination. In 1989, the department of Canadian Heritage launched its annual March 21st Campaign.

The most important and effective solution to racism will always be education, on many different levels. Too many people are ignorant when it comes to racism. This is said in the sense that many people chose feelings over rationalities. They chose to ignore facts because they prefer to simply accept what they believe is the truth. For example, some might think that colored people are not as smart as white people are. They strongly believe this is the truth and chose to ignore facts such as black people working at NASA or working as doctors. Obviously these people are probably smarter than the average person is, black or white. The great accomplishments done by black people is solid proof that they are as capable as anybody but some chose to ignore this clear evidence. This is why they have to be educated.

A good first step is understanding history. If we can show that racism has a beginning, then the argument that racism is part of human nature does not hold much water. And if racism has a beginning, then we can argue that it can have an end. Some will also argue that racism is something that happens to people who are new in Canada. “The new kid always gets teased”. It is unfortunate, even cruel, but its part of life and it will go away in time, especially when somebody else newer arrives. The only response to this can be to take a look at the native people and how they are treated. The first People to inhabit this continent yet history shows that they were, and continue to be treated with discrimination. (McCaskell, T. 1994)

Education is also important because only when we fully understand the conditions that promote the development of racist ideas and practices will we be able to make sure they do not happen again.

All of us must also acknowledge our personal racism, our misperceptions, suspicions and hang-ups about people different from ourselves. We must avoid the temptation of anger and prejudice, even if others have wrongfully hurt us. No matter how difficult and painful it might be, no matter how unworthy of trust we might think other groups are, we must try to find our common ground and begin dialogue to heal our community and our nation

Effective racist campaigns must oppose the actual racist policies being carried out in society, such as the denial of land rights to Aborigines, racist law enforcement, discrimination in employment, attacks on the rights of refugees and immigration cuts.

Laws and policies

Today we have laws made in the hope of eliminating racism but we have to remember that not so long ago, laws were made to promote racism. For example, in Chicago in the 1940’s, African-Americans were not allowed to eat in restaurants with whites but were forced to go to the back door to place their order and then take the food home to eat. Also, in Montgomery in the 1930’s, African-Americans were forced to sit at the back of the bus or drink in separately marked water fountains than whites.

Some of he present laws include the Canadian Bill of Rights, stating laws concerning all types of discrimination (as mentioned in Part I). It is also a criminal offence under the Public Order Act 1986 to use threatening, abusive or insulting language or behavior in order to stir up racial hatred.

Preventing Racism

Racism can be prevented on a macro level like worldwide or through a country. It can also be dealt with on a micro level such as in school or in the work place. On a macro level policies can be made in order to prevent people from treating minority groups in a discriminating way. A good example of this was affirmative action. This encouraged employers to hire people of color. The media is a very powerful way of getting messages to many people at once and different types of media can have a very positive influence. It can deliver anti-racism messages to many different generations. The media is very convincing. It can also use this ability to convince people in a positive way.

On a micro level some of the things that we can do to prevent racism fall directly on parenting. Parents in our society have the primary responsibility to teach their children social skills. In our society, over 65% of mothers with children under the age of 5 are working outside the home. These mothers are so busy with work they are forgetting to teach their children right from wrong. (Tyler, D. 1999) Racism programs can also take place in schools, both elementary and secondary. Companies can also have a program in order to help prevent racism in the work place. It is never too late, it is as important to educate children as it is adults. (Cannon, M. 1995) Everybody can make a difference no matter how old. Another Micro level suggestion would be to accept people on all levels. For example, during the recent Olympic games in Salt Lake City, not a single new channel had a black woman anchor person. (Tyler, D. 1999)

Bibliography Part II


Cannon, Margaret. The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada

Random House of Canada Limited, 1995. Toronto

Hurley, Jennifer A. Racism (Current Controversies)

Greenhaven Press, 1998. San Diego

McKague, Ormond. Racism in Canada

Fifth House Publishers, 1991. Saskatchewan

McCaskell, Tim. A History of Race/ism

Toronto Board of Education, 1994



Causes of Racism, 2001

By: Abdel-Qadar Yassine


Psychology Glossary, 1999

Query: Frustration-Aggression

Conflict Theory: Sociological Theories of Deviance

Hamlin, John. 1996

Carl Marx and the Conflict Theory

By: Jennifer A. Johnson

The Blank Slate The Modern Denial of Human Nature

By Steven Pinker, 2002

Disliking others Without Valid Reasons: Prejudice

Calyton E tuker-Ladde, 2000

Understanding prejudice, racism, and social conflict.

Brown, R. 1995

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