November 27th, 2015

The ethnic issue (rant)

This is the definition of “ethnic” per the nigh-on-infalliable Canadian Oxford dictionary:
“(of a population group) sharing a distinctive cultural and historical tradition, often associated with race, nationality, or religion. 2. relating to race or culture (ethnic group; ethnic origins). 3. (of clothes, music, etc.) characteristic of or influenced by the traditions of a particular people or culture, esp. a minority within another culture or one regarded as exotic.”

These definitions aren’t as clear-cut as perhaps I would like them to be, but I do think they prove my point, often ranted about but perhaps never in this space, that EVERYONE HAS AN ETHNICITY! White Canadians, in my experience, tend to dwell on the “exotic” aspect mentioned in the third definition, and assume that “ethnic people” are the ones who aren’t white, or speak some language other than English, or perhaps wear something that isn’t sold at the Gap.

I get that many people’s families have been in Canada so long they no longer identify with the cultural tradition they came from, and that they are not religious–but that doesn’t mean that they are the water and only non-white people and recent immigrants are the fish. Other than First Nations and Inuit, we are all descendants of immigrants and Canadian culture is itself an actual thing too. Saying one has no cultural affiliation as a Canadian doesn’t really make sense in a global context–like saying one has no accent. As soon as you leave the place where you are part of the dominant culture, it becomes clear that you have both.

It strikes me as offensive when a white person looks at an advertisement featuring only other white people and says, “It’s too bad they didn’t include any ethnic people.” !!!!! Obviously, that sort of comment comes from a political correct place–the speaker is trying to be inclusive, but it also comes from a place of privilege, where the speaker considers his or her place in society so dominant and assured that it has no point of origin–it just is.

We all get to decide who we are and what culture we want to identify with, but it is very very weird to say some people have a culture and some people do not. And even if people get where you are coming from and aren’t offended from a cultural perspective, I guarantee that if an editor hears you, s/he will be a seething over the improper use of language.

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