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Youth and “New Racism” - Personal Reflections

Written by Shaira Tasnia

Racism seems to be a tale as old as time. With how much awareness has spread amongst my GTA Gen Z peers since early childhood, and with how diverse Toronto increasingly becomes, racism has become more and more mysterious inside my head.

 

My peers seem well-versed. Everywhere around me, I see multinational friend groups and amity, and racist mentalities seem estranged and outdated to us; a thing of the past. Although my peers and I have our blaring shortcomings as a cohort, racism does not seem to be coded red. For example, I find instead that my peers can be quite disrespectful towards elders, authority, and in general, may lack a sense of consideration towards others. Perhaps this self-absorbed nature is because of technology and social media, but this is another discussion.

 

I and many other young people have trouble wrapping our heads around how people think in such twisted ways when it comes to race. We do not get how people could ever see any other race as inferior, because we have grown up exposed to our own other-race friends and classmates. We have grown up exposed to technology, exposed to many different personalities and many different races around the world. After all, people are not born with these racist beliefs. One trip through the TTC, and we see that Toronto is filled with (people of) colour and vibrant culture.

 

If you ask my peers and I something along the lines of, “Have you ever experienced racism directed at you?”, you may hear “No” and “Not really” more often than expected. More than once, I have discussed with my friends that we think our parents have experienced racism, but not us. The few times some of us have, the racist remarks generally come from older people: most often, from the elders in our own families. Our own parents are victims of racism, but we find them harbouring their own subconscious racist beliefs from time to time. All understandable, considering they did not have the same multiracial exposure as us from a young age.

 

I am left to wonder, is my generation fine now? Is it just the older generations that need to be educated in racism, as it seems they are some of the only ones that suffer from it, with a few exceptions?

 

Answer: I’m not sure, but I have some thoughts that point towards “no.” Below I have reflected on some instances of racism that I have heard less about, that seem to be relevant to me, currently.

 

 

1. Ethnic Enclaves - Internalised Racism

 

Ethnic enclaves are areas within a country, etc. that have a high concentration of one specific ethnicity. In the GTA, my peers and I have grown up in a South Asian ethnic enclave, where most of the people around us are ethnically South Asian. I have noticed more and more that, because we grew up around many South Asians, it’s not uncommon for us to subconsciously think that it’s not special [in some cases, shameful] to be South Asian. Youth may think other races/ethnicities that they see less / that are more popular in the media are cooler (White, East Asian, etc.), appreciating other races whilst undermining their own.

 

 

2. Racism Humour

 

I have long illustrated that we may have a certain disconnect with racism, as youth. It has come to the point where racism seems so ridiculous to us, that many make it out as a joke. It is difficult to explain, and it is not always right to joke about racism, but it is a reality amongst us. In the youth inner circle, with context, racist things do not sound racist because of how ridiculous the remarks seem, so it is ultimately unserious and “funny” to act racist or to pretend to be racist.

 

I believe this may be why there seems to be an n-word problem in schools. We are so disconnected from the trauma and hardship of racist beliefs, that some do not understand that making such jokes may be funny to other disconnected youth, but hard to bear for those who have actually suffered through racism.

 

I know that humour is also a way to cope with racism, and striking a balance is quite difficult. Difficult, but possible: I have listened to many stand-up comics that seem to know how to joke about racism without being abrasive.

 

Perhaps this means that we do not have a disconnect with awareness or knowledge about racism, but a disconnect with the emotional maturity required to handle racism as a relatively unrelatable topic to many youth.

 

 

Summary

 

In conclusion, whilst Gen Z in Toronto appears accepting and diverse, overlooked issues like internalised racism in ethnic enclaves and the normalisation of racist humour suggest a need for continued education and awareness. These subtler forms of prejudice highlight the importance of addressing deeper societal issues to foster genuine understanding and inclusivity among youth.

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