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Mesclun Mix- The Myth of Canadian Multiculturalism

My sister and I are second generation Canadians. We were born and raised in Toronto, but both our parents immigrated to Canada from Ghana some 20 odd years ago. Being  raised in Canada, especially Toronto, you are taught from the time  you are old enough speak  in complex sentences  to cultivate a strong sense of pride in  Canada’s racial and ethnic diversity,  without being made to think  critically about what living and being a part of a multicultural/racial  society  means.  In my experience, a lot of the time, discussions on diversity in Canada rarely go beyond the basic fact that in some parts of the country, (often the most populated regions of eastern Canada, specifically, southern Ontario and Quebec or Coastal BC, out west) statistically, the combined population of visible and ethnic minorities sometimes out numbers that of white Canadians of (predominately) European descent.  Frequently,  this is the  only piece of evidence  offered to substantiate one of the most pervasive  myths of Canadian multiculturalism;  that the children of immigrants will (usually  by achieving  high levels of educational attainment)  grow up to succeed economically in a way that is indistinguishable from  white Canadians. But as many first and second (and even third and fourth) gen Canadians of colour may already know, this, in many cases, simply hasn’t happened. But according to journalist Joe Friesen of the Globe and Mail, it seems that others, including academics and public intellectuals, are beginning to realize this as well.

Friesen’s piece “Canadian Born Visible Minorities Earn Less,” questions this assumption in light of a study conducted by Simon Fraser University economics professor Krishna Pendakur. The findings confirm what many Canadians may have already suspected, that, on average, white Canadian men earn much more than their POC counterparts.  According to Pendakur, these findings may require policy makers, economists and Canadians in general to start thinking more critically about why increased racial diversity and time has not yet led to racial economic equality.

What’s most interesting is that these differences persist even when adjusted to include factors such as education and experience. According to a recent StatsCan study, white men earn 18% more than men who are visible minorities with the same level of education and experience. For women, the gap is substantially narrower. A white woman, on average, earns 3% more than a woman who is a visible minority with similar experience and education. But this should not be greeted as good news, because according to StatsCan, as of last year, women with less than a grade 9 education earned approximately  51%  of what their male counterparts  earned,  and women with university degrees were paid, on average, 68.3%  of what men with similar degrees were. Disturbingly, these figures represent a drop in salaries for women.  In 1971 women who had dropped out of high school before completing grade 9 earned 55% of what men with a similar education profile did, and in 1990 women with university degrees earned about 86.6 % of what men with similar degrees did. So over the past 40 years there has been a 4% to 19% fall in women’s salaries.  What this means is that even though the wage gap between white women and women of colour in Canada may be significantly smaller than that between white men and men of colour, this may only be because women are already earning considerably less then men.

While men of colour may earn 18% less than white men nationally, on average, Friesen is quick to point out that there are both regional as well as racial specificities that should be taken into consideration when interpreting the data. For instance, in Montreal the pay gap between white men and men of colour is about 30% (so nearly double the national average) whereas in Toronto and Vancouver the gap is much lower at 15% and 10% respectively. Also the gap in pay between second generation Chinese Canadian men and white Canadian men at 8%, though still significant, is much smaller than the national average and the gap between South Asians and blacks of the same generation, at 13% and 19%.

One possible explanation for this difference is that the types of networks that minorities may inherit from their parents are less likely to lead to higher paying jobs. Another could be discrimination.  There is evidence that proves that people with ” foreign sounding names ( like myself)”, even if they are Canadian citizens, are less likely to receive call backs for job interviews. Also, there is a StatsCan study that confirms that  second-generation black Canadians are paid, on average,  less than white Canadians despite having achieved higher levels  of educational attainment and tend to live in large [urban] centres.

Though these figures may be discouraging and are a reason for concern, they may help push Canadians to examine the social and economic implications of multiculturalism and multiracialism in greater depth.



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