Saturday, September 12, 2009

Canada is a Vertical Mosaic

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Various degrees of inequality are present in every part of the world, including Canada. Some people argue that Canada is based on multiculturalism, which recognizes and respects the existence of different cultures within the country. Others, however, believe that Canada is not really pluralistic but rather a vertical mosaic, where race, gender, and social class may create disadvantages for certain people (Macionis, Jansson, & Benoit, 2009). According to Fuller and Vosko (2008), there are social divisions based on gender, race, ethnicity, and immigrant status. Race is defined as a “socially constructed category composed of people who share biologically transmitted traits that members of a society consider important”, while ethnicity is simply a “shared cultural heritage” (Macionis, Jansson & Benoit, 2009, pp. 283-284). When visible minorities (Asians, Arabs, East-Indians, etc.) and others come to Canada, they have to make a choice between assimilation and maintaining their ethnic identity (Beiser & Hou, 2006). If they choose not to assimilate, they may face segregation, as well as being more susceptible to prejudice and discrimination. However, race and ethnicity are not the only reasons for discrimination and segregation. According to Blackburn and Jarman (2006) “there is a degree of occupational gender segregation in the more industrialized countries (such as Canada)” (p.289). Lastly, a person’s original social class may create additional barriers to social mobility. In this essay, I am going to discuss the presence of racism, sexism and class inequality in Canada.

First of all, ethnic and visible minorities face prevalent economic inequalities and are consistently disadvantaged (Kovacs, 2007). According to Sager and Morier (2002), recent immigrants, especially those of specific ethnic origins, are selected into occupations of low skill and low wages. Sager and Morier (2002) also state that stereotypes and social exclusion may be the reasons for the ethnic hierarchy in Canada. Therefore, new immigrants and visible minorities are more likely to hold blue-collar occupations, which require more physical work for a smaller wage as opposed to the white-collar occupations. Also, “proponents of the ethnic inequality thesis have argued that the Canadian education system has been a mechanism to reproduce social inequality and that educational opportunity was not equally accessible to all groups” (as cited in Lian & Matthews, 1998, p.463). Even if all ethnic groups had equal access to education, Lian and Matthews (1998) argue that there are significant differences in the “returns for education” among various racial groups. Those of British and other Western European backgrounds earned significantly more than visible minorities at all levels of education. Gosine (2000) also states that “it is clear that visible minorities do not enjoy the same returns from their investment in human capital as white Canadians” (p.89). Although Canada is not explicitly racist, some elements of racism are causing the social and economic inequalities.

Another aspect of Canada’s vertical mosaic is sexism, “the belief that one gender is innately superior to the other” (Macionis, Jansson, & Benoit, 2009, p. 260). According to Macionis et al., “males remain dominant in many areas of Canadian life” (p.260). The dominance of males over females is known as patriarchy. Women, just like any other minority, are often disadvantaged when it comes to employment (Cornish, 1996). For example, “women are not promoted to the top academic rank, full professor, at the same rate and speed as men” (as cited in Side & Robbins, 2007, p.168). Side and Robbins (2007) also state that “the increasing numbers of women among full-time faculty appointments and their movement through the ranks have not secured their equal consideration as promising or established scholars, let alone as research experts and senior academic decision makers” (p.168).Women tend to hold lower-paying jobs in the tertiary sector of the economy, such as food services. Not only do women have low-paying jobs, but they are also more likely to live in poverty. The idea that women make up a large proportion of the poor is known as “feminization of poverty” (Macionis, Jansson, & Benoit, 2009, p.221). Although the employment equity laws attempt to decrease the income disparities between men and women, gender stratification is still present in Canada.

Lastly, class inequality is definitely present in Canada. According to Macionis, Jansson and Benoit (2009), “even in affluent Canada, families go hungry, live in inadequate housing, and suffer poor health because of wrenching poverty” (p.220). The low-income families will most likely not be able to send their children to university. Therefore, the cycle of poverty may continue for generations to come. Also, children born into poor families are more likely to have a shorter life span than those born into rich families due to the amount and type of health care they receive. Then, there are the privileged families in Canada whose yearly incomes are at least $135000 (Macionis, Jansson, & Benoit, 2009). They have the means to send their children to prestigious schools and universities, which allows the children to become as affluent as their parents had been. The rich people also have more power, which allows them to have more influence on the society. On the contrary, “society segregates the lower class, especially when the poor are racial or ethnic minorities” (Macionis, Jansson, & Benoit, 2009, p. 216). Therefore, social class is definitely the limiting factor for some people.

In conclusion, there are several pieces of evidence that show Canada is a vertical mosaic as opposed to a tolerant, multicultural nation where everyone has equal opportunities to reach his/her full potential. First, various visible minorities are consistently disadvantaged when it comes to employment and education due to some degrees of institutional discrimination and prejudice. They earn significantly lower wages and are also used as scapegoats when the rest of the society faces an economic downturn. Women are another group of people facing similar disadvantages to those of the visible minorities. Despite the attempts to decrease the gender inequalities, elements of patriarchy still linger in Canada. Also, one’s social class at birth can be a determinant of one’s future. For example, if someone is born poor he/she most likely will remain poor. Therefore, according to the intersection theory, a woman of color born into a poor family is disadvantaged on many different levels. Undoubtedly, Canada’s laws are attempting to create equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of race, gender, and social class, but more work needs to be done in order to make the vertical mosaic disappear.


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