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HomeOpinionsRacism just as complex for international students

Racism just as complex for international students

By David KumagaiOpinions Columnist

My voice fluctuates during my journalism ethics class. My classmates and I are trying to navigate the awkward issue of race. The tension hits a high note when one class member unintentionally insinuates that Albertans are bigots. The class jumps all over the slip, finally finding a simple case we can almost unanimously condemn. Still, I know I occasionally think it, my class was proof others do too: Alberta’s kind of like Canada’s Texas right?
Our professor, David Swick, sardonically recalled a documentary on American white supremacists called Blood in the Face, where one person calls on people from all white supremacist areas to unite. After circling different places in the States, the person includes southern Alberta.
I’ve never been to Alberta, so I know little first-hand about what it’s like there. After doing some research, I’ve found almost no statistical evidence that substantiates this apparently common assumption about the prairie province.
According to a report commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2007, Alberta has more anti-racism initiatives than any other province and fewer complaints – proportional to its population – of racial discrimination than both Nova Scotia and Ontario. Is the rodeo the sole reason we associate Alberta with the perceived capital of American ignorance? Maybe it’s the tarsands. As usual, it’s probably more complicated than I can even allude to in this column.
But the in-class debate made me curious about Nova Scotia’s reputation both within Canada and abroad. I’ve spoken to a number of international students from Rhode Island, Antigua, the Bahamas and Poland; they have all been able to cite an encounter with racism here. The police, other students and university administrators were named as culprits.
One student recalled an evening where she was walking past Howe Hall and a group of students, who she guessed were drunk, said a number of racist comments to her and her friends.
Of course, Halifax has a poignant history of racism – from slavery to Africville to segregated schools to the more recent racism at Dartmouth’s Shoppers Drug Mart, when the store was caught keeping many of its black hair products locked up. Racism seems to be as big a problem here as it is in the much-lampooned province of tomorrow.
How do newcomers rate Halifax’s open-mindedness? Some of the people I’ve spoken to lauded the exposure to diverse communities in Halifax, such as the prominence of the LGBTQ community, while they are neither thrilled nor appalled by their reception as internationals.
I’ve mentioned the lack of Canadian geniality towards internationals in earlier columns, and have suggested that the entrenched support of the cultural mosaic has made us apathetic toward engagement with international visitors. The debate in ethics class made me question that suggestion. Is the distance between international students and domestic students a racial issue rather than a cultural one? As is usually the case, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Either way, it’s an obstacle that needs to be overcome, from the tarsands to Peggy’s Cove.


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