Jama Hagi-Yusuf was barely out of school when a Kitchener financial services firm told him he wouldn't be working for them.
In its rejection email, J. Sandy Matheson of Integral Wealth Securities informed him that his application was being denied — and in doing so, he cited Hagi-Yusuf's Somali background, saying he had read about how the country has a "culture of resistance," reported CBC News.
First, Hagi-Yusuf laughed. Then he became angry. And a year after the rejection, he filed a complaint against the company with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming he was discriminated against based on his race.
Jama Hagi-Yusuf. (Photo: LinkedIn)
"For a lot of black people, we know that job discrimination happens, but no one is foolish enough to write it in an email,” he told The National Post, adding that he felt angry and dehumanized.
Hagi-Yusuf applied for the job as an investment advisor's assistant after finishing a science degree at the University of Waterloo.
It was only a few hours later that he received this response:
“I have read stories about how Somalia has a culture of resistance to authority. Such a culture would be quite different than the Canadian culture sees makes cutting ahead in a lineup as a great social error.
“The investment industry is a subculture with its own rules and traditions. It is normal for people to train for entry into this field. While your academic career suggests the training would be well within your competence, there is no demonstrated enthusiasm in past experience for entering this subculture.
“Due to lack of background, I must decline your application.
“Good luck with finding a suitable position.”
The note, which was signed by Matheson, now has Hagi-Yusuf seeking an apology and monetary compensation.
The University of Waterloo campus. (Photo: Facebook)
When asked about the rejection letter, Matheson told CBC News that the pair spoke over the phone before he sent it — a conversation that Hagi-Yusuf denies ever took place.
Matheson said the call showed the candidate was not suitable due to attitude and “norms within the industry that he was not meeting." As for the remark about Somali culture, Matheson claims not to have known that Hagi-Yusuf was Somali, according to CBC.
"It made me angry ... I was dehumanized."
Complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario have to be filed within a year of when the alleged discrimination occurred.
Hagi-Yusuf told the Post he waited to file because he was concerned about how it might hurt his job prospects.
He will start a master's degree in molecular biology at Concordia University in the fall.
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Even teens with the same identity -- be it racial or gender -- can be guilty of bullying and discrimination. Ontario's Ministry of Education defines bullying as "a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation."
Social media can be a platform for bullying to continue even after school is out. Cyber bullying occurs when young people take malicious actions online. through chat rooms, email, social sites and instant messaging.
"You don't need to go into full confessional mode, but have fun with it, if that helps. Or be perfectly honest," Author Jonathan R. Miller said. Miller pens e-books with multi-ethnic characters and themes. You don't have to talk about all the nuances of your family tree every time you're asked about your background, He said. That can be exhausting. Find something that works for you personally.
"I like the word 'mixed' because it's a messy word, and in my experience growing-up mixed is exactly that," Miller said. He suggests that it's important to allow yourself to truly wrestle with questions of identity in environments you consider safe.
If you are struggling with your identity, you don't have to tell the whole world, but confide in a friend that you trust. Having someone to confide in is important. "If you can, find someone who you can talk to about your most honest, ever-evolving, often-messy answer to the question, "What am I?" Miller said.
"Maybe you don't have anyone trustworthy to talk to honestly about your experiences. Write about them. It helped me, sometimes, to get those out," Miller said. It may not make a lot of sense initially and it might feel uncomfortably personal, but write. Keep a journal, write short stories and rename the characters, try your hand at poetry -- whatever feels best.
"You are likely being told at different times, more or less, to hurry up and get off the fence, pick a side and get on with it," Miller said. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be unsure of who you are, even if your peers seem to have their acts together, he said. Teenage years are discovery years. Miller also quoted author Rainer Maria Rilke: " 'Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. ...live in the question.' That's good advice. Difficult to follow, but good."
When it comes to mixed heritage, "you don't have to be 'both' or 'other' or 'all of the above' all of the time. Sometimes the only way to figure out what you are is to choose one thing and be it for a while," Miller said. Explore how it feels to fully embrace a single aspect of your identity, for short period of time. See "what stick and what slides off." It's simply learning, Miller said.
"I can't tell you how many multi-racial people I've met who have chosen a single race or ignored race entirely and been perfectly content with the decision. A biracial friend of mine used to tell me, 'I'm black and white, yes, but I'm black. Period,' " Miller said. He said he knows many people have chosen to identify with only one aspect of their multi-background, while others have embraced the blend.
Find creative ways to occupy your time, Miller said. Join a group or do an activity (with others) where you are empowered to be who you are, instead of having to act how others think you need to be in order to fit in.
Take pride in your ethnic (culture, colour or religion) heritage. You have no control over your heritage, and you can't change that fact that this is who you are. So embrace it and learn as much as you can. "You may feel like it would be an insult to your heritage to embrace one aspect of yourself above the others, but trust me, it wouldn't be. This is important: it is not your job to uphold, with perfect equity and grace, all of the elements that went into your making," Miller said.
"Often they're the 'gatekeepers' that decide whether you're 'in' or 'out.' But what you can do is have a ready answer for the 'charges' they level against you. Whether you use humour, earnestness, or self-righteous anger, it helps to have your defense lined up and ready," Miller said. Sometimes people think all the "members" of their cultural or ethnic community must behave, dress and think a certain way. But as an individual, you can do whatever you want and find your own identity.