In the US, racism is a very familiar issue. Racism manifests itself in various ways including police brutality against minorities, racial profiling and affirmative action. Issue like the history of slavery and the rising resentment against immigrants are also quite well known. The truth is, racism is not a thing of the past. Perhaps it has reduced in the past century, but it is still quite alive today. Eradicating racism is one of those processes that cannot happen in an instant, but they happen over a long period of time. Slowly, but surely, we are moving in a positive direction.
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Low self-esteem has become a frequently repeated explanation for social and personal problems ranging from young people’s involvement in violent crimes to personal failures and racist behaviors. According to psychologists who have researched the topic, racism is about real power, it is not just something that people randomly think about. Social issues like racism are quite complex and multilayered. It partly has to do with issues of economics, political power, and domination. It is also based on how people perceive, interpret, and value differences. Basically, people act in ways that align with their perceptions. People define circumstances in ways that are real to them and also according to the values that they were raised with.
It is true that racial groups have things that make them distinct; however people sometimes dwell on negative distinctions as opposed to the positive ones. We humans tend to emphasize stereotypes that relate to our most closely held values. For instance, a group that values intellect may be quick to see another group as inferior in intelligence. Similarly, if loyalty is valued by a group, then it may label others as disloyal. It seems that racism helps racists feel good about themselves and their racial group by focusing on comparisons with other groups. These issues are what give these groups an identity.
There are many ways in which people try to feel better about themselves; as individuals and as a group. Seemingly, everyone likes to believe that their racial group is unique but people tend to overestimate the level of positive attributes present in the group. On the other hand, when it comes to negative qualities, people tend to underestimate those. Racism can develop because of limited information. As humans, we find ourselves putting people in categories like good versus bad and friend versus foe. Without these generalized concepts and categories, getting through the day would be highly demanding. Categorization helps us take shortcuts and helps us become more efficient in making decisions. Also, racism towards other groups often leads to feelings of anxiety when we encounter the members of other racial groups. When we are anxious, we tend to avoid what makes us anxious. We simply avoid contact with individuals by hiring someone else for a job, striking up friendships with someone else we feel more comfortable with, and sitting down at the lunch table with those who seem to be more like us.
Racism may help us feel better about ourselves, we avoid challenging our thinking. In other words, we become defensive and protective of our opinions and only reluctantly question our thought patterns. And these ways of thinking helps protect not only our self-esteem, but also privileges and benefits that we have as members of a racial group. For example, racist discrimination which in the past has limited slots available to minority groups at universities has benefitted the majority population by making more slots available to its members. So, maintaining our racist views of others allows us to feel better about our own group and to avoid challenging unfair social practices that benefit us.
Furthermore, we as humans seem to put effort into maintaining our views of the world. For example, we may pay attention to information that supports our views. The more strongly we hold a stereotype, the more we tend to remember confirming information about that racial group. For instance, the more we believe that Asian people cannot drive, the more likely we will remember incidents which seem to support these views. We also discount or rationalize information that is contradictory to our belief system. People who do not act according to our stereotype of them stand out to us as different. For example the Black person who is intelligent & articulate and the Asian man who is a good driver become exceptions to the rule, but the rule remains. It is almost like when we see someone from a different racial group, we look for those stereotypes that align with our thinking.
Racism, Violence & Immigrants in the workplace
The U.S. legislative system is currently battling over the Immigration bill for workers. Resistance is fierce in the House of Congress to any plan to legalize the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants or to create a program of millions of guest workers who would in turn be put on a path to citizenship. No one accuses House leaders of acting out of racism, but some say they are responding to constituents who are. The House leadership needs to show some progress on the immigration issue to soothe angry anti-immigrant forces in the country. But the President and Senate want guest workers and a path to citizenship as part of any deal.
The Democratic allegations of racism may sound like just another political strategy, but there certainly is a case to be made that racial fears are fueling some of the debate on the immigration policy. The political demand to seal the U.S.-Mexico border, and the President’s new proposal to send 6,000 members of the Army to help, is supposed to be based on national security. But why then is no one proposing sending additional troops to secure the U.S.-Canada border?
Most people want to know if the U.S. is trying to stop primarily undocumented Mexican workers rather than terrorists from crossing the border. Figuring out just how many immigrants, Hispanics or otherwise, to let into the country each year is exactly what lawmakers ought to be trying to do as they undertake immigration reform. Setting immigration targets that are in the country’s interest is, after all, the point of having an immigration policy to begin with. Policymakers should be asking questions like: what kinds of skills does America need to import? And how many of them do they need? What advantage is there is in allowing family members to join new citizens, as is currently the policy? Just as important, the debate could address the issue of race head-on: should ethnicity be a factor in granting citizenship? But until politicians define the goals of American immigration policy; who and how many do we want and for what reason, it will be impossible to eliminate the influence of anti-immigrant forces who, whether racist or not, draw dubious conclusions and make misleading statements.
In Canada, immigration reform needs to take place especially to protect long-term care facility workers who are immigrants. Long-term care facility workers include nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, administrators etc. Canadian long-term care facilities are violent and dangerous workplaces. This need not be the case, a study found that 43% of personal support workers endure physical violence at work on a daily basis, while another quarter face such violence every week. Most are women, and many are immigrants or from minority racial groups. Violence is a constant and ongoing part of their job. In contrast, they found that levels of violence are much lower in Nordic countries, indicating that the high level of violence in Canadian facilities is exceptional and not a necessary feature of work in long-term care.
The study is part of a larger project comparing Canadian long-term care facilities with Nordic European countries. Violence in long-term care is not just a workers’ issue. It is an immigration issue. The vast majority of care-giving staff are women, many of whom are immigrants and women of color. Personal support workers are the ones who suffer the most. The fact is that much of the violence occurs during direct care activities. Because personal support workers provide the bulk of direct care, they are most frequently exposed to violence. This does not imply that violence does not have an impact on other workers. In fact, the researchers found that 16.8% of registered nurses and 24.6% of licensed practical nurses, and registered nursing assistants experience violence on a daily basis. These numbers are shocking, but they do not come close to the prevalence of daily violence for personal support workers (43%).
Workers at 71 unionized long-term care facilities in Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia were surveyed about their experiences of physical violence, unwanted sexual attention and racial comments. They also took part in focus group discussions. The workers were nearly seven times more likely to experience daily violence than workers in Nordic European countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Researchers also identified racism and structural violence. This stems from severe working conditions for caregivers who are committed to caring but robbed of the resources to do so. The researchers concluded that long-term caregivers work under conditions that not only foster violence but also render it invisible. Most violent incidents go unreported. Workers are afraid to report violent incidents, fearing that they will be blamed. Or they simply do not have the time to do so because of the paperwork involved.
The verbal violence experienced by care workers often includes threats, screaming, cursing, racial insults, and demeaning remarks. The physical violence experienced by care workers typically includes being slapped or hit with an object. It frequently involves being pinched, bitten, having one’s hair pulled, being poked or spit on. Having one’s wrists painfully twisted is also common. Unwanted sexual attention was also frequently experienced by those surveyed. Approximately one third said they experienced unwanted sexual attention on a daily or weekly basis.
Over 11% of the staff said they encountered racist comments on a daily or weekly basis. According to the research, this is likely an underestimation of workplace racism. A large number of workers from minority groups work in large urban centers with high likelihood of racism. Also, the questionnaires were available only in English and workers were required to fill them out alone, so workers with language barriers are underrepresented. In focus group discussions, many workers reported that they personally experienced or overheard racism at work.
Long-term care workers link violence and racism with working conditions. Having too much to do, working with too little time and too few resources places workers in dangerous situations. Working short-staffed is a major contributor. Canadian personal support workers reported that they routinely work short-staffed. Almost half say they do so every day. And over one third felt that they are too often left alone to care for residents. When these working conditions were compared to those of the citizens of Nordic countries, they just could not match up. Immigrants and minorities are simply not treated the same as non-immigrants and non-minorities.
What can one person do?
I recently read the story of a lady who currently resides in Canada but was born in the Philippines. A few years ago, the woman had a very difficult decision to make. She gave birth to her son in Canada and had the impossible choice between an impoverished life for him in the Philippines, or leaving him with strangers in Canada. Now Salvador, a Filipino migrant domestic worker in Montreal, is campaigning against what she calls the systemic racism and sexism of the Canadian government’s Live-in Caregiver program.
Salvador entered Canada in 1995 as one of thousands of Filipino workers in the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). The LCP is an initiative of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, allowing foreign workers (almost always women) to enter Canada as domestic workers living in their employer’s home. Salvador earns $271 for a 49-hour week and after taxes takes home $221. After completing 24 months of work within 3 years of arriving, caregivers are allowed to apply for landed immigrant status.
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For Salvador, the choice to come to Canada was a matter of life and death for her family. She felt that she had no choice but to move to Canada. Even with the LCP, applicants pay fees to their own government, to the Canadian and Quebec governments, to the employment agency, and for their travel. For Salvador this amounted to over $4700 Canadian. This was such a large sum of money for Salvador and she struggled to gather the money.
Colonialism and global capitalism have created a situation in the Philippines where its economy is dependent on transnational corporations, where low-wage contract work, poverty and unemployment are rampant, and where 2000 workers leave the country daily in search of a livelihood. It seems like the Canadian government’s need for cheap labor and the Labor Export Policy of the Philippines makes the LCP a functional system. The government of the Philippines systematically pushes Filipinos out of the country, so that they can earn money abroad. Meanwhile, there are millions of dollars being sent back to the Philippines by these migrants.
Salvador has been elected vice-chairperson of Pinay, a Filipino women’s advocacy and support organization. Pinay gives caregivers information, advice, and guidance through the problems they may encounter with employers, agencies, and the government. Many of its members are current and former caregivers who call strongly for the LCP to be overhauled or abolished. The Canadian Filipino community in general also wants the program scrapped and campaigns across Canada on the issue.
Critics of the LCP say that significant problems arise for migrant workers under the program. As caregivers live in the home, they often work unpaid overtime, including extra tasks such as cleaning, cooking and tutoring. Theoretically, live-in caregivers are granted basic rights such as access to employment insurance, pregnancy leave, overtime pay, vacations and paid holidays. The law states that people with complaints about their employers should file them with the appropriate Commissioner in Quebec. And if the caregiver is fired, they are still allowed to find another employer in the meantime.
But there is a gap between the theory and the reality that caregivers face. One problem Salvador finds with this procedure is that if a caregiver is fired, whether or not she files a complaint, the 4-6 month waiting period for a new work permit is too long. In Salvador’s case, when her employers learned she was pregnant, they fired her. She was not allowed to work between permits, eventually could not fulfill the 24-month requirement. She says some employers considered her to be unwanted. In contrast, a pregnant colleague heeded her employer’s suggestion to have an abortion, kept her job, and eventually became an immigrant.
Salvador was unable to fulfill the immigration requirements because she was pregnant, gave birth and was fired. If she was a man, of course she would have no problem fulfilling the 24 months. Salvador did not comply with her first order to leave the country, as she has filed an appeal to remain in Canada on humanitarian grounds. She met with an immigration official, however, and was told to leave the country or be deported by force.
According to Salvador’s affidavit, the immigration officer found that the applicant’s volunteer work with three local community organizations did not show integration into Canadian society, because the organizations exist to help persons of Filipino origin. When a local member of the National Action Committee of the Status of Women found out about the situation, she was outraged. She could not believe that helping the Filipino Canadian community was not considered tangible. This is pure discrimination and racism.
Furthermore, although an employer made known his willingness to hire her, the immigration officer expressed doubts that Salvador could find a job in Canada. But throughout her irregular employment, she had never let herself become a burden to the Canadian government. Neither was she ever a burden to the government of her country. Some of the caregivers were skilled workers such as nurses or accountants in the Philippines, but in Canada are confined to domestic care giving, jobs that Canadians do not want to do.
Salvador was always willing to be a care giver, as long as she is able to obtain residency status. All she wants is a better life for her family. For example, when Canada brought in foreign nurses to fill demand, they were given status. In fact, the work of care givers allows both Canadian parents to work and contribute to Canadian society. Care givers also contribute taxes and fees to the Canadian government, which is if great benefit to them. Salvador points out that the Canadian government saves money importing the cheaper labor of women from developing countries, instead of instituting a national childcare program. Basically, the government is filling a public need with a private solution.
Her affidavit states that the immigration officer suggested that her son should be left behind in Canada. It is believed that he would not suffer trauma due to separation from only one parent, as he has never seen his father. How outrageous this is. Salvador’s lawyer argues that Salvador and her son should remain in Canada for humanitarian reasons. Her son is a Canadian citizen, and as a result he has all the rights accorded to a Canadian citizen, including the Constitutional right to live in Canada. If the mother is deported, his rights would be violated, either the right to live in Canada if deported along with his mother, or the right to security of the person if he stays in Canada because he would be separated from his mother, the only parent he has ever know.
Salvador was refused an extension on her work permit. She should theoretically be granted all the rights and access to services of any other Canadian citizen, including access to health care. Salvador was not able, however, to renew her son’s Medicare card when her employment authorization ran out.
The Campaign to Stop the Exploitation of Melca Salvador has included many community members and students in research, letter-writing campaigns, media outreach, raising legal funds, organizing demonstrations, and distributing information. Petitions and letters of support have been received from migrant worker communities around the world. Their press release states that LCP critics insist deporting women live-in caregivers such as Salvador and others in several recent cases, is unjust on humanitarian grounds. These women are not disposable commodities that Canada can use and dump at will.
Demands for the Canadian government include allowing Salvador to remain in Canada with her son Richard, recognizing the rights and contributions of foreign caregivers and nannies to Canada, granting Melca and all LCP workers residency now, and abolishing the LCP as it now exists. In many cases these women are overworked and underpaid but because they have to complete 24 months of work within 3 years just to apply for residency status, they put up with it. Campaign members are organizing a Canada-wide day of protest in support of Salvador, which is Thursday, October 19th. They hope to reverse her deportation order so that she can stay with her son. Unfortunately, the federal government does not seem ready to hear their critiques of the LCP. It does not seem like there are any changes planned for the LCP, not even a re-evaluation of the program’s impact. Recently, several Canadian Filipino activists insisted on meeting Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to discuss their concerns.
By changing our behavior, for example, putting ourselves in close situations with members of other racial groups, we increase our familiarity with these individuals. As we become more familiar with them, we naturally see that we are more alike than different. Not all contact will lead to positive attitude changes. It seems the contact is best if structured; encounters among equals who are cooperating to achieve a common goal. These kinds of behavioral activities are some of the most effective ways to change prejudice against people of other races.
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