Obama's inauguration speaks to how far we've come from racism and intolerance to minorities holding the highest office... well, in the world. But in this recent comment in the Economist's Democracy in America blog, directed at the topic of the intolerance that atheists face in America, I actually picked up more on the social conservatism of black Americans. The economist writers encapsulated the entire issue in this sentance:
"A group with such vivid and recent memories of persecution should, in a better world, have more sympathy for (if not always agreement with) other minorities just trying to rub along the best they can in America."While the issue of the disadvantaged state of atheists in America is something of mild interest, I think the more important question that comes out of here is one I'd like to pose to anyone who's interested in taking it up.
"How can we (liberals) deal with the social conservatism present in the essential stakeholders in the liberal project: minorities?"
I can only give one, kinda corny, kinda longwinded answer to the question. When we think of social conservatism in minority communities in Canada, images of fundamentalist Muslims calling for Sharia come to mind. But I immediately shoot back with a reminder that it was liberal Muslim groups such as the Muslim Canadian Congress that led the charge to ban Sharia in Canada against the more conservative Council on American Islamic Relations Canada (CAIRCan). But we can all look forward to the great Deepa Mahta's upcoming film about conservative Indian family. But if we were to table up all the arranged marriages in the Indo-Canadian community, what percentage would it be? And we have our favorite cult polygamists up for trial in the news lately, latest news flash; they're defense will be using Canada's gay marriage laws and lots of readings from the Charter. Well, I don't have anything positive to say about them. God strike me down before I read any more.
Multiculturalism has been a tricky issue for Canadians to figure out. And let's face it, as much as we embrace the notion, it's not the same as embracing all the cultures around us. I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to so much of Canada's cultural mosaic, but I still feel very ignorant about many of the minorities living around me.
My particular focus has for a long time been on China, and by extension (or perhaps, orginally!) ethnic Chinese living around me in Canada. In third year, I took a methods class for ethnography which centered around a semester long ethnography. I decided to take my tape recorder and notebook down to Chinatown to investigate the social relations in the Chinese community. At the time, I was very focused in these division in the Chinese community. I'd give this story as an example of how I see multiculturalism functioning positively.
One of my informants, an elderly Chinese-Canadian woman, who grew up when Chinese-Canadians were still subjected to institutionalized racism, told me about the changes that she had witnessed in Chinese-Canadian community over her eighty-odd years. She talked proudly of the hard fought accomplishments of Chinese Canadians of her generation who were the first to go to university and went to work for the government and CBC. The "old" Chinese Canadians, especially the 太山人 became firmly invested in the liberal project in Canada. The next two major waves of Chinese immigration, the Taiwanese and the Hong Kongers (sorry to the smaller waves that I'm leaving out), benefited from the foundation the "old" Chinese had laid. And then all these groups kind of went their own seperate ways at first, a little unsure what to do with that other alien, but also vaguely familiar culture.
But at last, it was the old Chinese, and later the "newest" Chinese, the mainlanders who started to bring the Chinese immigrant community together. It was the "old" Chinese in the 1970s and 1980s who, finally "comfortable in their own skins" (pardon the expression) were able to work up the courage to turn to their Hong Kong cousins and Taiwanese neighbors and ask them to help them rediscover their roots. This sudden (and to crackers like myself looking inwards into a supposedly homogeneous Chinese community, obvious) coming together of new communities based on a common culture, also amounted to a promotion of the Canadian multicultural ethic, in what unbeknown to other Canadians is itself a multicultural society.
This is a rather long-winded explanation for why Chinese-Canadians have been able to contribute so much to our liberal society, regardless of which wave of immigration they came from, and also an example to liberals in other minorities and Canadian as a whole about how we should embrace our more social conservative new arrivals and seek to change their minds as they seek to change ours.
That is in answer to the original comment about ethnic minorities in