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Inequality with an ethnic flavour

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Turning our cultural mosaic up on its end; some elements are not so romantic

Canadians have been proud of their multi-cultural society having a policy of the cultural mosaic.

This they contrasted with the American policy of the melting pot.

Each of them apply to our approaches to the assimilation of immigrants and to respect for cultural differences.

In the mosaic policy, everybody is expected to respect each others’ cultures of origin and, apart from learning enough mainstream language and culture so as to operate in Canada, maintain and respect each of our various cultural origins.

Variety is appreciated more than homogeneity and the idea that we should all be the same.

Here we must refer to the concept of ideal culture in contrast to real culture.

Canada has more melting and America has more mosaic than the different ideals would lead us to expect.

Stanford Lyman’s studies of different assimilation rates of Chinese and Japanese immigrants in Canada and the USA, for example, found that Japanese families assimilated faster than Chinese families in both Canada and the USA.

He concluded that rates of assimilation were more a function of the cultures of origin than functions of the differing policies of Canada and the USA.

It was a Canadian sociologist in Toronto, John Porter, in the nineteen fifties, who turned the mosaic concept up on end.

After describing the various categories of cultures in Canada, he wrote that there were inequalities in power, prestige and wealth associated between the different ethnic groups.

Although respect and tolerance for each others’ cultures implies a sort of equalitarian ideology, “separate but equal,” the facts show disparities between each of the ethnic categories.

During the sixties, many Canadians were proud that racism was not practiced in Canada, in contrast to the Freedom Rides, and conflicts over integration in the USA.

This was blind cultural idealism on the part of Canadians, who practised overt racism in colonial times, when slavery was permitted and practised, trying to eliminate First Nations communities with gifts of blankets laced with small pox, and laws forbidding inter racial marriage or cohabitation up to mid twentieth century.

Racism is alive and kicking still in Canada.

At the top of the vertical mosaic are persons descended from those in the British Isles and Northern Europe, and at the bottom were, and continue to be, First Nations peoples.

While the concept of "vertical mosaic" originated in Canada, it is found to varying extents in all multicultural societies.


Inequality and ethnicity are often intertwined:

Inequality and ethnicity are often intertwined

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