Southeast Asian Refugees' Perceptions of Racial Discrimination in Canada

By Beiser, Morton; Noh, Samuel et al. | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Southeast Asian Refugees' Perceptions of Racial Discrimination in Canada


Beiser, Morton, Noh, Samuel, Hou, Feng, Kaspar, Violet, Rummens, Joanna, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


ABSTRACT/RESUME

This report examines levels and types of racist experiences reported by a large sample of Southeast Asians refugees resettling in Canada, the determinants of their perceptions, and methods they employed to cope with these experiences. Twenty-six per cent reported at least one racist experience, more often subtle than overt. Loyalty to the heritage culture, receiving at least some education in Canada, and extensive use of Canadian media were each associated with an increased likelihood of reporting experiences of discrimination. Context and community size affected perceptions of racism. Chinese living in ethnically dense neighbourhoods were particularly likely to perceive racially based discrimination; however, ethnic enclosure appeared to protect Vietnamese and Laotians from these experiences. Faced with racism, the refugees were more likely to react by forbearance, rather than confrontation. Acculturation level and ethnic commitment were both directly related to the tendency to cope through confrontation rat her than forbearance.

Ce rapport examine les degres et les types d'experiences racistes rapportees par unimportant echantillon de refugies du sud-est de l'Asie venus s' installer au Canada, ainsi que les facteurs determinants de leurs perceptions et les mecanismes d'adaptation. Vingt-six pour cent des refugies interviewes ont signale avoir eu une experience raciste, le plus souvent subtile plutot que flagrante. La fidelite a la culture patrimoniale, le fait de recevoir au moms une partie de leur education au Canada et le vaste recours a la presse canadienne etaient tous des facteurs lies a une plus grande probabilite de signaler les experiences de discrimination. Le contexte et la taille de la collectivite ont eu un effet sur les perceptions de racisme. Les Chinois qui vivaient dans des quartiers ethniques particulierement denses etaient davantage portes a percevoir une discrimination raciale; il semble toutefois que l'enclave ethnique a protege les Vietnamiens et les Laotiens de ces experiences. Confrontes au racisme, les refugie s etaient plutot portes a reagir par abstention que par confrontation. Le degre d'acculturation et d'engagement ethnique etaient tous deux directement lies a la tendance d'y faire face par la confrontation plutot que l'abstention.

INTRODUCTION

Visible minority immigrants and refugees are an increasingly significant presence in North America. As recently as 1981, Canada was 95 percent white. However, if current immigration, fertility and mortality trends persist, visible minorities will. by the year 2016, constitute 20 percent of the country's adult population and 25 percent of the child population (Kelly, 1995). Demographic trends are also altering the complexion of the United States: according to Bureau of the Census (1992) forecasts, non-whites will numerically surpass whites in the United States by the year 2050.

Diversity can threaten inter-group harmony. To combat divisiveness resulting from ethnoculturally based discrimination (Avery, 1979; Thompson, 1996; Lieberson, 1982), Canada has adopted the goal of a culturally tolerant society. This vision is embedded, for example, in the country's Multiculturalism Policy dating back to 1971, as well as in more recent legislation such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982, and the Multiculturalism Act of 1988. Although conceptual and methodological flaws limit its interpretability, a national survey (Palmer, 1997) does at least suggest that Canadians consider themselves to be a tolerant people, accepting of diversity. It would be comforting to think that a combination of good will, policy, and legislation have wiped Canada clean of racism. In some ways, however, Canada is a bit like Dorian Gray, the eponymous protagonist of Oscar Wilde's famous novel. Although the blemishes of overt racism are disappearing from the country's public face, a truer, meaner por trait hangs in the Canadian attic (Angus Reid, 1991; Head, 1975; Henry, Tator, Mattis, & Rees, 1995). …

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