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5854317818 8b22e9a706 b - Thinking Outside the Group

Flickr: k-ideas

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column is about group distinctions and how it impacts true equality.

The Bank of Canada caused quite a hullabaloo with its new $100 bills. Wanting to pretty them up, they decided to depict a scientist gazing into a microscope. Then they made their first fatal mistake. They decided to make the scientist an Asian woman. Cue the outcry: The picture is racist, pandering to the stereotype that all Asians are good at science! Then the Bank of Canada made their second fatal mistake. They changed the Asian woman to a Caucasian woman. That’s racist! You took away the Asian!

This is the sort of thing that drives me batty. People are individuals, not just members of groups, and we need to stop all of this ultra-sensitivity to supposed slights. Besides, often the people who are the quickest to yell “racism!” or “sexism!” are also those who perpetuate group distinctions themselves.

Every time there’s an election, for instance, people talk about “women’s issues”, as if we women all vote the same way. And “women’s issues” tends to be a code name for abortion. Apparently all women are supposed to vote solely in terms of how a political party feels about a woman’s right to end the life she is carrying.  I find this rather strange, since the pro-life position is held by an equal number of men and women. To call it a “woman’s issue” sounds like an attempt to silence women who disagree.

But it’s strange from another viewpoint, too. To carry this to its logical conclusion, men are supposed to vote on the economy, and foreign affairs, and tax policy, but women are supposed to vote on abortion. The price of beef and breakfast cereal going up is just as much a woman’s issue as it is a man’s issue. In fact, I don’t believe that there are women’s issues and men’s issues at all.

To assume that we would vote a certain way just because we belong to a certain group, or to assume that we would be offended by a $100 bill just because we belong to a certain group, is racist and sexist in and of itself. It is assuming that people will think a certain way simply because of what group they are in, as if we aren’t capable of thinking for ourselves.

Thankfully, I believe this “groupthink” will soon be a thing of the past, largely because most groups will soon be obliterated. When I look at my children’s friends, it’s very hard to classify many of them into neat categories. One of their closest friends is part native, part European. Another girl is half black and half white, with the most amazing red hair. Yet another is half Chinese, half Italian. My own half-brother is half white, half Asian. What group are they in? I don’t think the next generation cares all that much, and so hopefully, as they start to become the movers and shakers of this country, we will finally be able to move on.

Canada’s history is replete with shameful incidents when it comes to race. We turned Jews away before World War II. We charged the Chinese more to immigrate in the early 1900s. We treated the natives abysmally. Recognizing this history, along with other sordid incidents, is crucial. But just as crucial is acknowledging that it is indeed history, and it can end. We can move on from our racist and sexist past to embrace a society that truly values people as equals.

And that means thinking of people as individuals, not as members of a group. It means looking past the skin and the genitalia and into the character of a person. Until we do that, then we haven’t really put our history behind us. And I think it’s time we did so.

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