17 November at 03:00PM
A Story of Bias - Odd One Out
My name is Garry. I’m 37yrs old, born and raised in Scotland, and after living in Japan for 15yrs, I moved to Canada in Dec 2019. I’m a Project Manager in Supply Chain. In Feb 2020, I joined PMI Toronto and passed the PMP exam in Aug 2020.
Note: I am aware that a white man writing about diversity & inclusion may strike some people as wrong or clumsy, but please give me a chance!
During my lived experience in Japan, I was a Visible Minority:
- I had people get up and move when I sat next to them on the subway.
- I had wait-staff and store staff ignore me and stare at my wife or my Japanese friends, waiting for them to talk on my behalf (they could hardly process that a non-Japanese-looking man was speaking fluent Japanese to them)
- I was rejected for apartments because the landlord didn’t want foreign tenants.
- I was prevented from entering some restaurants and bars because non-Japanese customers were not allowed.
- When checking into hotels, tourists must let the front desk make a copy of their passport. Residents don’t need to do that (we don’t even need to show ID). I was often requested to show my passport because a foreigner couldn’t be a legal resident in Japan–which I was!
Those last three actions were illegal at the time, but nobody cared.
I imagine these experiences might be similar to what minorities might face in Canada.
I can understand if you have faced similar situations in Canada.
It’s not a fun feeling.
One major reason behind choosing to move to Canada was diversity. My wife and I wanted to stop living in a country that thrived on sameness. We wanted to move to a place that acknowledged and cherished being different.
We realised we were in the right place three weeks after landing when we went to see a Toronto Raptors game.
In Japan, a sports crowd will be uniform; the homogeneity will make me stick out. The Scotiabank Arena crowd was a huge mixture of people. When the lights would come up during breaks, the audience all looked different. The only sameness was the Raptors gear many wore!
Diversity came to life right before my eyes in the arena! This was the Canada I yearned to be a part of.
One month after arriving, I took a bridging program (a course newcomers can take to help adapt their profession or education to Canada). My class was made up of 18 people, representing 13 different countries.
I was the only white person there. I was the only European, but the instructor told us to look around at each other and recognise that “this is what Canada looks like.”
It reminded me of that Raptors crowd, and I could feel how correct she was.
I’m a newcomer to Canada, but as a white European male and a native English-speaker, I could be considered an “Invisible immigrant.” I don’t stand out; I speak the language smoothly, and applying or interviewing for jobs is straightforward. Through easy conversations and small talk, I can easily cross over the infamous “Canadian Experience” barrier that many immigrants face without breaking a sweat.
But it’s not all plain sailing! I don’t have a strong Scottish accent, so when I meet new people here, they automatically assume I’m Canadian. Until I stop people in the middle of a conversation to ask something obvious (to a Canadian), a question like “Why does milk come in bags?”, or “What is a Timbit?”. Then my “other-ness” comes out! But why does that matter?
It matters because I have recognised that many of the advantages afforded to me, as a white, native-English speaking man, would not be extended to many of my classmates back in the bridging program:
- For women, there is a wage gap, as well as an expectation around gender roles
- For less-than-perfect English speakers, people can decide you are not worth listening to and interrupt or cut you off.
- For People of Colour, you might get looked at differently on the street
- For people of different religions, you might be viewed with a disdainful gaze.
- Depending on your profession, it might not be respected compared to your previous rank at home.
- For people with unfamiliar names, you might be recommended to “choose an English name.”
All of those things are unfair, but until society:
- Recognizes these biases exist, and
- Decides to change them all; it’s up to me (and you) to do something.
Since I get to benefit from all of these implicit biases presenting in the form of subtle privileges, I need to:
- Change things
- Help everyone who doesn’t benefit from them.
That “A” is a big job, but I can do my part for “B”.
If you are “at the top of the ladder”, it is your duty to help your fellow humans.
Reach down, extend a hand, and lift everyone struggling in your small way.
Let’s work together to make our home a better, more inclusive home for everyone.