Racism: why yes, now that you mention it, it is everywhere

Student panel to try to find it. We bet they will.

A medical textbook that calls black people’s hair thick and kinky and Asian hair smooth and silky exemplifies Eurocentric teaching materials at Ontario’s colleges and universities, a forum exploring campus racism heard Wednesday.

Such textbooks are woefully inadequate when it comes to teaching how to care for visible minority patients, nursing student Liana Salvador, 24, told the panel as it launched provincewide hearings.

“They use white as the reference point and everyone else is pigeonholed or extra,” said Salvador, a student at Ryerson University, who cited an example from one textbook that discusses hair type.

“It said, ‘black people have kinky, thick hair that is often dry, and Asians have smooth, silky hair.’

“Just the way that it’s written and the language that it’s written in often can encourage stereotyping.”

Committees need to be struck that have broad representation, including students, when it comes to the selection of teaching materials for post-secondary programs, Salvador told the panel.

The forum at George Brown College was the first of several the Ontario chapter of The Canadian Federation of Students will be holding across the province before the end of April.

The concept was born from another task force that, two years ago, examined the needs of Muslim students. Federation representative Hildah Otieno said incidents of Islamaphobia were identified at campuses across the province, but so too were incidents of racism and discrimination involving other religions and ethnicities.

“We’re trying to look at individual acts of racism, discrimination and hate, and see how that impacts those racialized students, faculty and staff on campus,” Otieno said at a news conference prior to the hearing.

“But we’re also going to try and look at the systemic way in which institutional structures may be affecting the same people.”

Although the focus of the panel’s work is racism, Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouammar — who was invited to speak at the press conference — instead focused his comments on what he called the problem of private funding to universities.

Institutions are “susceptible to blackmail” because private donors put pressure on them to “curtail and muzzle freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” said Mouammar, who did not offer any concrete examples when asked.

Mouammar made headlines earlier this week after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney threatened to slash the CAF’s funding, a move that came after Mouammar called Kenney a “professional whore” for criticizing the presence of Hamas and Hezbollah flags at anti-Israel rallies in Toronto.

Later, the panel heard that the name-calling and graffiti that often go hand-in-hand with racism are still alive and well on campus.

Last year, the Black Student’s Alliance at York University had “nigger” and “go back to Africa” written on its office door on Martin Luther King Day. At Ryerson, the bulletin board belonging to the East African Students of Toronto was set on fire.

“I find it really upsetting and pointless, and I think people that write that stuff down don’t realize the impact,” said Mike Auksi, a 27-year-old Ojibway from Lac Seul First Nation.

The Ryerson social work student told the panel about hateful epithets he’s seen scrawled on bathroom walls.

“It impacts me even if it isn’t myself that’s being targeted.”

The hearing appears next at the University of Toronto, and has other stops scheduled in Kingston, Ottawa, Guelph and Sudbury. The work will culminate in a report the federation hopes to have completed in the fall.

– The Canadian Press