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Myth… confirmed

There is a bit of ‘wisdom’ about stereotypes that says that they have a basis in truth. Reader and regular commenter mynameischeese* referred to a particularly insightful observation:

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once pointed out, the problem with stereotypes isn’t that they’re untrue; it’s that they are incomplete. If you go to Mexico, you can find a guy in a sombrero playing mariachi music. He does exist. But he can’t represent all of Mexico.

It’s an instructive way to think about stereotypes – as a selective slice of reality that is stretched and warp to represent the totality. However, when you look with any serious scrutiny at the situation and attempt to find any truth, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find that the stereotype is woefully unhelpful.

I usually discourage the use of stereotype whenever possible. Stereotypical thinking not only often goes hand in hand with system justifying behaviours, but are often based on harmful ideas that can ‘other’ minority groups, even if that dehumanization is unintentional. Stereotype-based thinking is the antithesis of a skeptical mindset, and can lead us to make really poor decisions. Plus, the fact is that the more we learn about reality the more interesting life becomes – living in a world where everything adheres to a stereotype is boring.

That being established, as we said off the top, sometimes there’s truth in even the most cliched stereotype:

Inventively titled Who Drives a Taxi in Canada, the study of 50,000 cab drivers concluded that half are immigrants. Two hundred are doctors or have PhDs, compared with just 55 of their Canadian-born counterparts. Twenty per cent have undergraduate university degrees or master’s, compared with 4 per cent of Canadian-born drivers. One of every three taxi drivers is born in India or Pakistan. They may be well qualified to navigate chaotic traffic, understand the mechanics of a meter and deal with unruly customers. But only 6 per cent of immigrant drivers listed as their field of study “personal, protective and transportation services.” Most had backgrounds in business, engineering and architecture and are clearly underemployed.

Now, I have been waiting forever to have a post in which I bust a myth so I can use this one particularly splendid animated .gif that I’ve been saving up, but sadly this myth is confirmed. The stereotype about the nuclear physicist who moves to Canada and can’t get work in hir field so ends up driving a cab just to pay rent isn’t just one of those colourful stories that bleeding-heart liberals use to guilt people into… liking immigrants? I dunno. Usually when someone uses the words ‘bleeding heart’ I tune out. At any rate, the .gif will have to remain in its folder, awaiting the great bustactular day I get a chance to unleash it.

Here’s the particularly crummy part of this story - nobody wins in this story:

This is a dramatic loss of economic potential. The study found the occupation-education mismatch was replicated in other areas, and that it worsens for recent arrivals. Ottawa’s efforts to overhaul the selection criteria with an increased emphasis on language ability and pre-arranged employment is long overdue. These newcomers can contribute much more to Canada’s productivity if their education and job experience can be converted into the Canadian job market.

Now I don’t agree at all with the means by which Ottawa is overhauling Canada’s immigration system. It is being executed with this government’s expected level of assholishness:

A group of lawyers is trying to stop the Conservative government from deleting a massive backlog of 280,000 immigration applications, saying the move is unfair because people have been waiting to come to Canada for years. The government announced its decision to wipe out the application backlog in its March budget, saying it is a necessary part of modernizing the country’s immigration system.

(snip)

Lorne Waldman, an immigration lawyer based in Toronto, says that breaks a promise to applicants who followed all the necessary steps to come to Canada. “They’ve been waiting in the queue for years and years, and now [Immigration Minister] Jason Kenney is saying, ‘Yeah we told you to wait in the queue, we told you that was the right way but that’s too bad. Now we’ve changed our mind and there’s no longer going to be a queue for you.’

As with many things, I don’t disagree with the necessity of a massive overhaul of the inefficient system that created the backlog in the first place. Where I do disagree is when that overhaul is unthinking, uncaring, and does real damage to Canada’s international reputation. of course, thinking, caring, and giving two shits about the international community are all things that the current regime don’t really seem to place much emphasis on, so I guess I can’t exactly be surprised that this is the route they chose.

But there is a lesson to be learned in all of this: if we fail to look at stereotypes – either to confirm or challenge them – we may find that we end up hurting not only those who are already one the receiving end of the direct consequences of discrimination, but ourselves by extension. It is simply not enough to “leave well enough alone” – we can and must find better ways of integrating new Canadians into their new home.

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*Usually I don’t say anything about online aliases because… well because it’s really not relevant. However, this time I am going to take a moment to goggle at the internet-based absurdity that is referring to the ‘the poignant and instructive lessons we’ve learned from philosopher and scholar Mynameischeese’. Say it out loud. It’s funny.

P.S. I’M POSTING IT ANYWAY