How to cross the racial divide on Canadian campuses

Aug 06, 2014 | J.R. Manubay

On June 18, 2014 University of Toronto Alumni Tamie Dolny authored a blog entitled “Racism Runs Deep and Rampant Throughout College Campuses” on open-thought forum ThoughtCatalog.com. The author explores her experience that, “racism is so deeply rooted in the university culture that it is accepted as mainstream.” 

When the article started making its rounds on Facebook, we were curious to hear local Toronto Staff member J.M.’s response. If Dolny’s criticism is accurate then as Christians we must respond, and respond well. Thanks J.M. for bringing the gospel to bear on the issue of racial divides on Canadian Campuses. – Editor


I belong to that population Statistics Canada classifies as the “visible minority.”

In the 1980s, my parents immigrated from the Philippines to Canada where I was born and raised. And like many first and second generation Canadians, I have lived that strange tension of being perceived in dual terms:

insider/outsider, local/foreigner, national/international, and, perhaps most interestingly, as white/Asian. I have been frequently described by friends as “the whitest Asian” they know – ethnically Asian with primarily “white”/Caucasian sensibilities. (I’m not offended; it’s pretty much true.)

Racism at the University of Toronto

When I read “Racism Runs Deep and Rampant Throughout College Campuses” by University of Toronto student Tamie Dolny, I realized that many of the racially biased and discriminatory sentiments expressed were not just solitary aberrations, but ones I am familiar with – ones that I’ve heard, that I’ve jokingly and thoughtlessly thrown around, that have been directed toward myself and my friends.

Moreover, as someone who grew up in Metro Vancouver and who attended a Canadian university with a large Asian population, I could recognize the reality of a certain distance between people of different ethnic backgrounds, however unintentional.

For me, this is personal.  

In her piece, Dolny shares her experiences concerning race on a campus and in a city lauded for its inclusiveness and ethnic diversity, revealing lingering tensions, ingrained racial stereotypes, social hierarchies and segregations, hurtful utterances and actions, and, perhaps most concerning, the prevailing attitude of apathetic acceptance among her peers.

She arrives at this conclusion:

 Let me tell you the cold, hard, brutal truth – that Toronto’s status as multicultural does not automatically deem it devoid of racism. That there is a horribly deep, entrenched status divide between the Asians and the whites at the University of Toronto. And that I do not know how to fix it.1

But we’re multicultural! Right?

In Canada, we may think we are beyond the ugliest and most violent cases of racism – the catastrophic forced assimilation of Canada’s aboriginal and First Nations populations; the pre-Civil Rights Movement lynchings, beatings, and injustice that stained America; and the systematic murder and destruction of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

We may look at our progressive immigration policies and believe that we have evolved to become global-minded, cultured, and concerned citizens, incapable of harbouring a racist thought.

And yet, it is clear that the mere coexistence of diverse nationalities and ethnicities has not brought the definitive end to racial division that so many had hoped for.

The problem, it seems, is not our policies, but ourselves.

Comfort zones and sinful hearts

Often, we are quick to condemn the blatant racist, but fail to see our own complicity.

However, as demonstrated in Dolny’s piece, even on our very own university campuses, there can exist a sad estrangement between those of different cultural backgrounds – a distance that feels chronic and insurmountable, that can widen misunderstandings and breed hostilities.

In our fear of the less familiar, rather than risk potential rejection or discomfort, we default to surrounding ourselves with only those we most easily identify with, those most comfortable and similar to us.

We are often unwilling to displace ourselves from our comfort zones.

We hesitate to do the hard, patient work of learning to identify with others, to take the time and effort to develop a depth of friendship that will cultivate a genuine love in our hearts for those who, at first glance, seem so different.

Rather than extend ourselves toward others over the gap of difference – whatever the difference may be – we shrink back into ourselves, to the known and the comfortable and the so-called “safe”.

In the end, the sin of racism, however varying in degree, finds its source in our own sinful hearts. We violate what Jesus identified as the second greatest commandment: We love ourselves more than our neighbours.

Jesus and the racial divide

How then should we as Christians respond to racism, that “explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races”2 on our campuses?

In the end, the sin of racism, however varying in degree, finds its source in our own sinful hearts.

When we take an honest, vulnerable look at our hearts and encounter ugly beliefs or deluded thoughts of superiority, where should we turn?

We should look to Jesus Christ who did not shrink back, but who, through his death and resurrection, willingly extended himself over the divide for us. The divide Jesus crossed was horribly deep and entrenched, wrought by our own sin, our rejection and rebellion against God who created us.

God — who had every right to leave us estranged in our sin, stumbling around in deep darkness, forever separated from Him — instead chose to send His only beloved Son, innocent and holy, to stretch His bleeding and broken body over the cross, so that we might be restored to rightful relationship with Him.

Destroying superiority with the gospel

Any notion of superiority is destroyed when we remember with humility what it cost Jesus to forgive us of our own ugly sins.

God’s kindness to us through Jesus is sweet and life-changing, freeing us from petty fears. Because of God’s grace toward us, we can choose to end cyclical bitterness, division, and demeaning treatment (Ephesians 4:31) and choose instead to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22Ephesians 4:32) and to love (Matthew 22:39).

As we depend on Christ, we can embody the beauty of the gospel, extending ourselves over the gaps sin creates, no matter what doing so may cost us.

And out of the extravagant love we ourselves have received from God, we truly can love our neighbours by actively pursuing friendships across cultures and languages and differences in all areas of our lives.

            … remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).

 


Sources:

1 “Racism Runs Deep and Rampant Throughout College Campuses.” Tamie Dolny. Thought Catalog. 16 June 2014.

2 Definition used by the Presbyterian Church in America (2004). As quoted on page 18 in Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. PDF. 10 July 2014.

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About the Author

J.R. Manubay

J.R. is on staff with P2C-Students at York University.

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