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Amrita Sandhu Headshot

Why I Speak Up Against Prejudicial Thinking

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I feel like everyone can pinpoint that one moment or conversation that sparks something in their mind that begins a change in the way they think. For me this was during my first year of university in my English 1100 class. The professor liked to begin our lessons by discussing current events or media topics. On this particular day she brought to school a newspaper on which the entire front cover was a picture of a big house taken from a low angle to make it seem even bigger and rather unappealing. The heading read "Monster Houses Taking Over." She asked us how this made us feel.

Everyone looked at one another and shrugged and said they really had no reaction at all. She asked us what the use of the word monster suggested. Being the keener of the class I raised my hand (though unsure what she was getting at) and said that it's meant to suggest these houses are something negative and something we should be afraid of. She responded that "I was on the right track" but she wanted more of an explanation into this insight.

She then wrote two words on the board with the standard hyphen between them as always. INDO-CANADIAN. She said what does this word look like to you? Everyone read it aloud. She said, "Look at the word itself. It literally reads that you're Indian minus Canadian. You're not really Canadian you must be differentiated from the "REAL" Canadians -- the Caucasian-Canadians. You don't see or hear the term Caucasian-Canadian a whole lot do you?"

She explained to us that in predominately Caucasian areas houses such as the one pictured in that week's paper would typically be called "mansions" or "beautiful dream homes." But because it is "Indo-Canadians" making these large homes, they are now something negative. They're intrusively gaudy structures,taking over the city, changing the look of things and the status quo. As if the owners of these homes are setting up shop in an area that doesn't truly belong to them.

The stereotypes and prejudices had me surrounded. I couldn't help but feel like I was being barricaded by them.

These subtle but detrimentally damaging messages in the media are what contributes to the mentality that prejudice, stereotyping, and racism -- in a not so blatant manner, is acceptable.

That discussion in the first five to 10 minutes at the beginning of that class was it for me. That's what opened my eyes to the underlying hints of racism and stereotyping in our everyday lives. The difference of perspective portrayed in mass media, which then seeps into our minds when we least expect it. Before having it pointed out to me that it is important to not just passively receive information but critically analyze all that you come across, I was walking around with my mind turned off to such prejudices. And now that I saw it, there was no way it could be unseen, it was now everywhere.

I noticed it in the way the grocery teller said "you people" to me in regard to how Indians seem to buy a whole lot of milk. I noticed it when customers at the retail outlet I worked at as a teen asked where I was actually from and weren't satisfied when I kept answering "Prince George." I noticed it at the doctors office when receptionists would speak extra slow and loud to my grandfather, who understood English perfectly. The stereotypes and prejudices had me surrounded. I couldn't help but feel like I was being barricaded by them.

So, as an ethnic minority, and a inhabitant of one of these monster homes, I began to answer back. Sarcastic annoyed remarks to anyone who I felt was belittling me because of my race or being small minded towards my culture. I became overly sensitive and defensive in a lot of scenarios in which it probably would've just been easier to let it slide. But having something to be vocal about helped me come out of my shell. It helped me develop enough of a passion to care enough to speak up and not shy away from setting people straight when need be.

Unfortunately, I don't see a whole lot of that happening. So I wonder, for those individuals who just sit tentatively being the inferior minority and being OK with it -- while their homes and identities are being attacked by ignorance and negatively, have they just not had that eye opening moment yet? Or perhaps it doesn't bother them enough? Why do so few people care to correct what is wrong and fight against this shadow of oppression which follows us and is so embedded in our everyday lives. Is it so common that most of us don't even notice it anymore?

Not a single soul who has worked tirelessly to create the life and home they have dreamed of deserves to be made to feel unworthy of creating the life of their choosing -- especially if it really doesn't harm anyone else. Some people choose to place precedence on saving money for travel, others spend as it comes, and certain individuals wish to invest in creating big beautiful homes which they couldn't have dreamed of making let alone living in at one point in their lives. The majority of the South Asian community members who make these "monster houses" are those who have come from next to nothing in Northern rural areas of India. So now that they have the means to a better life, who's to stop them?

So the next time you hear someone speaking in a belittling manner about all those darn huge ethnic minority owned homes sweeping the cities of B.C., just keep in mind that living with joint family is a norm in the Indian culture. Naturally so, the larger the family, the more the preference to live in a larger sized home. Perhaps once we begin to view all Canadians as inclusive members of society then we can begin to break the psyche that immigrants are some how "invading" and disrupting societal norms of Canada. By being vigilant to pinpointing prejudicial thinking, we can begin to tackle issues which are all too often swept under the rug and left for fantastic university professors to bring up to clueless introductory level students in the hopes of setting off that spark in at least a few of their minds.

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