‘Visible Minority:’ A Misleading Concept that Ought to Be Retired

Frances Woolley, Globe and Mail, June 10, 2013

In Canada, anyone who considers themself neither white nor aboriginal is classified by the government, for a number of purposes, as a visible minority. It is an artificial concept that has become unnecessary and counterproductive.

Ultimately, the dividing line is arbitrary. For example, Arabic people from North Africa and the Middle East are counted as “white” in the U.S. Census. Yet anyone who ticks the Arab box on Canada’s National Household Survey is counted as a visible minority – unless they tick both the white box and the Arab box. Then they’re white.

What we really need is a box that says, “It’s complicated.”

Indeed, there is something almost racist about the assumption that whites are the standard against which anyone else is noticeably, visibly different. That may be why the United Nations Council on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has asked Canada to reflectupon its use of the term visible minority.

The Canadian government’s official line is that the term is needed to support programs that promote equal opportunity. Visible minorities are one of four groups covered by the federal Employment Equity Act. (The others are women, people with disabilities, and aboriginal Canadians). The Act requires employers to remove barriers to employment facing members those four groups, and to “correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment.”

While promoting equity is a good thing, the Employment Equity Act does so with too broad a brush. It lumps all visible minority groups together, instead of focusing on those who really are actually struggling in the labour market. As Justice Rosalie Abella wrote 30 years ago, when she chaired the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment:

“To combine all non-whites together as visible minorities for the purpose of devising systems to improve their equitable participation, without making distinctions to assist those groups in particular need, may deflect attention from where the problems are greatest.”

Perhaps it’s time to take another look at our list. If members of a visible minority group (such as Japanese-Canadians) earn about as much, on average, as Canadians of British and French ancestry do, it’s hard to believe they need the protections afforded by Employment Equity.

Alternatively, we could abandon the term “visible minorities” altogether. One way would be to narrow it down to those non-white groups that genuinely are disadvantaged. This is the approach advocated by theAfrican Canadian Legal Clinic. They argue that, “with the notable exception of African Canadian males, ‘visible minorities’ who are native-born are for the most part not disadvantaged.”

Consequently, they argue, “policies that focus on employment or wage equity for all ‘visible minorities,’ as opposed to African Canadians in particular, or that do not focus on helping immigrants integrate into Canadian society miss the mark.”

I do not agree that employment equity should focus solely on African Canadian males. While there is a large and persistent earnings gap between African and non-visible-minority Canadians, research by Mikal Skuterud at University of Waterloo (here) and by Krishna and Ravi Pendakur (here ) has shown that some other visible minority groups also struggle in the labour market.

Rather than narrowing, we could broaden the scope of Employment Equity beyond the four designated groups. There are barriers other than skin colour that matter. Greek-Canadians earn less, on average, than most other ethnic groups (including some visible minority groups), for reasons that are not well-understood. Access to post-secondary education is a serious issue: Canadians living in rural and remote areas,boyspeople whose parents were born in Canada, and whites all have lower education levels than a typical urban, visible minority child of immigrants.

As such, I agree that we should be focusing less on programs for visible minorities in general, and more on language and skill training, recognition of foreign credentials and training, as well as programs that target truly disadvantaged groups, not the children of doctors and university professors.

If we’re serious about eliminating barriers in the labour market, we should be encouraging men to enter nursing, boys to achieve in school, non-visible-minority Canadians to study mathematics and Canadians living in rural and remote areas to attend university.

A lot of people I talk to hate having to define themselves, their friends, or their family as “white” or “visible minority.” As Canadians, we don’t have to do this. We could ask about ethnicity instead. “What were the ethnic or cultural origins of your ancestors?” is a clear, unambiguous question. It is one Canadians have been asked on the Census for over a hundred years, and is currently on the National Household Survey. We could use it on other surveys as well, instead of the visible minority categorization. That’s what Australia does with its multicultural policy .

Over the years, Canada has been a world leader in immigration and diversity policy. We’ve come up with some really good ideas, like ourimmigration points system, which has served as a model for countries around the world. We’ve also come up with some more questionable ideas. Labeling a sizable chunk of the Canadian population “visible minorities” is one of them. It’s time the term was retired.

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  • Oil Can Harry

    The reason they’re called “visible minorities” is because they’re often seen on the police blotter.

  • Not misleading, it’s stupid.

    Who and where are the invisible minorities?

    Yes, I know, Canadian public parlance says “invisible minority” and means LGBTQMIAPDLOLPLPLTH.

    • The__Bobster

      White are rapidly becoming the invisible minority. Our politicians don’t see us or listen to us.

    • Homo_Occidentalis

      Their hedonist acronym just keeps getting longer and longer, doesn’t it? Soon it will be mandatory instruction in all preschools right along with the alphabet: “Now I know my LGBTs, next time won’t you sing with me?”

      • The Official Acronym, expanding letter by letter, is becoming a catch all for any and every one who just so happens not to be a pair bonding heterosexual. While the “letters” often have their disputes with each other, the incentive they have in expanding The Acronym is to create a big tent coalition of the alternately orientated, in a “hang together or be hung separately” sort of verve. IOW, the more letters there are in The Acronym, the better off politically is each given letter.

        • Homo_Occidentalis

          I imagine it won’t be long before pedophilia and bestiality get their own “letter”. Disgusting.

  • The__Bobster

    What we really need is a box that says, “It’s complicated.”

    _____

    No, what you really need are massive deportations and tribunals for the traitors who imported the world’s detritus.

  • AllSeeingEyeSpy

    “As long as the affirmative action quota for visible minorities is met, bureaucracy is satisfied”

    Actually, strange as it may seem, they and by they I mean all western governements, they seem to be going Outside the country in order to fill up affirmative action slots. . So in essence, many employers are hiring immigrants of color over people of color who were there. In that case discrimination against people of color (and outcomes are all that matter, right) is considered A-Ok. The bottom line is, as long as white men are being displaced it’s considered ethical positive action.

  • curri
  • curri
  • MBlanc46

    On the theoretical level, we need to return to the view that the responsibility of society is to provide equality of opportunity, not outcome. On the practical level, we need to oppose the globalization that floods our countries with cheap, colored, Third World labor.

  • Dude

    Your Whites are as good as our Whites, comrade.

  • Paleoconn

    Hoserland’s EE is basically racial preferences as is our AA. And why do Greeks in Hoserland earn less than some visible minorities? Could it be because Greeks are White and therefore are discriminated against via these racial preferences.