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Understanding Other Cultures When You’ve Had Zero Exposure

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               Lewisporte is a town in the center of Newfoundland. The population is 4000 people, with 14 different smaller communities feeding into it for groceries and high school. The high school, between the years of 2010-2014 saw two people of colour. Everyone knew their names. There were two different Chinese families, both of whom ran rival Chinese restaurants at opposite ends of town. At one point there was a doctor there from the Middle East, his wife was known for being a terrifying driver.

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In one diversity class we discussed the importance of incorporating diversity in the early childhood education scene. We talked about teaching children about different cultures. As someone who lives in an area of Toronto that is mostly populated with people who have immigrated from Bangladesh or the Caribbean, I can see how children would benefit from learning that there are certain social cues that are different between cultures. Children in Toronto would have the opportunity to practice engaging under those circumstances almost every day. But how are you supposed to explain cultural differences to a group of children whose greatest exposure to other cultures is the stereotyped versions of them that are found in the media? This issue goes way beyond race, but that is what I’m going to discuss.

The problem lies in lack of exposure, which goes back many generations. Settlers from Scotland, Ireland, and England traveled to Newfoundland a very long time ago for the fishery. The indigenous peoples who existed on the island at the time were the Beothuks, which the very white settlers quickly killed off completely in an awful genocide. From that time the population grew through the mingling of the white Scottish, the white Irish, and the white English; fortunately in this mix there did exist some indigenous populations that came from the mainland and Labrador. Unfortunately, the island was not exempt from residential schools and racism. The racism that existed all over the world continued to be the norm in Newfoundland because it took much longer for it to be seen as an issue because the diverse population was not there. Parents continued to pass on their prejudices to their children and as a result there are young adults who grew up in the 21st century and hold racist views that existed in the early 1900’s. Fortunately, the internet is offering some assistance in this area by exposing people to what is happening in the rest of the world, and what views are no longer socially acceptable.

If Canada had an opportunity to go back in time and reintroduce anti-racist views to a fresh audience, would we have done it differently? How can we teach children about diversity before they even experience it? With that, how can we also correct a generation of adults who still think that someone who is a different race from them is something to be afraid of? I think that someone who has a far greater understanding of what it means to share diversity needs to rethink how it could be taught in these situations.

 

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