Multiculturalism and Ghetto Mentality

by Audrey Nolin-Sotiriadis

Recent events have led me to wonder whether we are more tribal than we are ready to admit and whether Canadian multiculturalism has to be re-defined.
Last week, Montreal newspapers reported on a police operation instigated by reports of potential violence between “old-stock” Quebecois students and students of Arab descent in a Laval high school. The riot squad intervened and considerable protests brokeout at the school.
A few months ago, I witnessed a grotesque scene of violence behind the Villa-Maria metro station. A teenage girl of Arabic origin was beaten up by a teenage girl of African origin. There were racial overtones because a mob of black and Arab kids were encouraging their “ethnic sisters” in the battle. The crowd went so far as to kick and spit on the girl who was losing the fight. A policeman, whom I spoke to, confirmed that there was definitely a racial basis for this eruption of violence.
Here at Dawson, we have witnessed some recent debates about the unflattering ethnic designations of our three cafeterias.
I realize it is comfortable for people to socialize with those who are similar to them. However, officially, we live in a so-called “multicultural” society. Canadian multiculturalism is based on encouraging people of different ethnic origins to retain their cultural identity while becoming united as Canadians. We are also taught that we live in a pluralist society. However, sometimes, I can’t help but think that Canadian multiculturalism is a utopia or perhaps, overly ambitious. For example, it is still commonplace for even second and third generation Italian, Greek, and Jewish Canadians to try to marry within their communities. Last September, Toronto’s controversial Afro-centric school opened to black students only.
These are just two examples that show how human beings still migrate to their own groups. Now, I have read that there are some very good reasons for opening an all black school and I realize that if people marry “their own,” it will be easier to maintain the culture of their ancestors. But, when teenagers and young adults are beating each other up, organizing street gangs, or designating CEGEP cafeterias along ethnic lines, I think it’s a reminder that human beings are fundamentally tribal, and to blindly promote an official ideology of multiculturalism is naïve.
I truly believe it is important to allow and even encourage people to maintain the cultural distinctiveness of their ancestors. It creates diversity. However, multiculturalism should not encourage a ghetto mentality, since that is not what diversity is supposed to lead to. It is supposed to result in mutual understanding and tolerance. When you create a ghetto mentality, it increases the potential for intolerance and the type of violence and herd mentality we have witnessed in just a few recent events. Is that the kind of multiculturalism we want? Not me. How about you?

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