Though I have experienced racist slurs on the train and buses, but I have always ignored those as coming from uneducated, uncultured, ignorant, and unlettered people. But my concern is when you experience racism and discrimination at work and you are ignored for promotions just because of your ethnicity and not for your experience or education.
By Dr Neelam Batra-Verma
Most Chinese living in Canada, believe that they are the only victims of racism because, I can vouch that even South Asians, and I am talking here not about the visible South Asians who wear turbans but regular people like me, who absolutely do not look or dress like them, are also targets of racism and discrimination, on the streets as well as workplaces.
Though I have experienced racist slurs on the train and buses, but I have always ignored those as coming from uneducated, uncultured, ignorant, and unlettered people. Therefore, instead of taking their comments seriously, I just tune out. Instead I feel pity at their narrow-mindedness and their upbringing. As an example, I meet this woman every day on the train, who first made some dirty comments and when I did not react, even pushed me once. Before I could realize what happened, she ran towards the elevator. Anyway, now I stare at her every time I see her, without saying anything. She merely looks away and hasn’t uttered a word since, her guilt written large on her face.
Those are people I would never worry about. But my concern is when you experience racism and discrimination at work and you are ignored for promotions just because of your ethnicity and not for your experience or education. My first real job in Canada was with a school district. My just 18 months there, I felt that the secretaries in the office were issued a memorandum that they had to harass me so I quit. Every day, I got emails from the bosses, about things I got wrong and no matter how hard I worked, I never did anything right. I was never shown any other way nor I was given an opportunity to give my point of view. It was either their way or the highway. Of course, I had no choice but to take the highway. I later learnt that they had hired me in error. They thought I was Korean, as my name has a “Lam” and were shocked to learn that I could not speak Korean. Because the District was expecting a surge of Korean speaking people coming to learn English, they wanted to hire one who could speak both languages – English and Korean, which meant vacating the position I was hired at. The hiring manager had misjudged, as of course, during the interview process, they are not mandated to ask your background. But do I look Korean? All my life, people have judged me as being from Europe, Iran or Middle Eastern country but never from Korea!
Disgusted with the attitude of employers, who are supposed to be Equity Employers, I fled. I picked up a job with the government and not once in so many years, felt disrespected or discriminated. But I failed to realize, and it took me foreever to understand that it was due to my ethnicity, I was never promoted. Newer and less experienced employees were given opportunities and promotions and I was always surpassed on lame excuses like – operational requirements, a better qualified candidate than me got hired, you are in the pool etc. I refused to believe “better qualified” than me? Really, who else in the department has a Ph.D.? But the best one came this past month when I was told that I wasn’t given a promotion because of my English.