The time has arrived, when we shall overlook our differences, and work hard to combat the widespread discrimination many of our communities face everyday. There are many injustices that I could mention, but some of the most targeted communities include the homeless, the LGBTQ community, and a number of racial groups.
Discrimination against the homeless is a daily occurrence. Many people are guilty of thinking that “the homeless are not normal”, or that “the homeless are not capable.” In reality, this group of people is extremely vulnerable and need understanding from others who may not be able to relate to the challenges faced in their communities. Consider the fact that it is often not their fault that they are in this position, the judging has to stop: the stereotypes society has formed make it extremely hard for others to comprehend the less privileged objectively, and offer authentic empathy. Some of the labels placed on the homeless include “addicts,” “uneducated,” “lazy.” Society needs to stop seeing these folks as somehow “less”. It is only when people start seeing ones in the homeless community as individuals with as much value as any human being, that a shift in perspective and change can be created!
Next, we can act instead of just having good intentions. Although I am not directly a part of this community, I do see the impact a more privileged person like myself can make. I think that it takes those with bigger voices to start making those bigger impacts. People often forget how big of a difference a friendly “How was your day?” conversation can make. The fact is, many people in the community have been seen as different almost all of their lives: ignored, frowned upon, and avoided. Start by simply looking at them in the eyes, and saying hello. Folks in this group are not people to avoid or people to fear. They are just humans, and desire connection and acknowledgement as all human beings do. This is the most direct way to begin your journey to being a better citizen, as I am on this journey myself!
Another community that continues to suffer discrimination is the LGBTQ community. Members of the community experience harassment at every step of their lives. Frankly, you might be shocked by the intensity of the bigotry: according to a report by the Harvard School of Public Health, out of 489 lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer adults, 57% have experienced slurs/offensive comments, 57% have been threatened or harassed, and 51% have suffered violence on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. LGBTQ members’ day-to-day experiences are still clouded by prejudice. For instance, one might receive offensive comments while going to the bathroom, applying for a job, or even renting a home.
On top of this, our society often prevents these citizens from accessing health care in a fair and supportive manner. The Harvard School of Public Health report mentions that when one patient with HIV disclosed to a hospital that he had sex with other men, the hospital staff refused to provide his HIV medication. Another case took place in Michigan, when an infant was turned away from the pediatrician’s office because she had same-sex parents.
This inequality requires a systematic change, but as citizens with advantages, we can begin by simply recognizing this injustice, reflecting on the impact we are capable of making, as well as taking action. You might wonder: “How much change could I, one person, make?” One person’s words could be all it takes to turn another person’s day around. One compliment and act of appreciation could be it to changing a negative mindset. Though in the same way, one person’s negative words and actions could be enough to hurt someone or deteriorate an attitude that was already in a vulnerable place. We never know what someone is going through, so we need to be aware of what we put out and project onto others. Try and show acts of kindness! It all starts with us!
The third group to talk about would be minority racial groups. The indigenous and African-American communities have been unfairly treated through unjust laws, policing, sentencing, and parole. According to a 2014 study by the University of Toronto, only 14% of the Toronto population is black, yet they account for 40% of murder victims.
Discrimination in the workplace is also an ongoing reality. Since 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has received over 45,000 complaints directly related to racial discrimination. On top of this, racial biases also result in wage disparities. According to the U of T study, between 1979-2012, median wages rose for white women by 31%, but for African American women by only 20%.
Injustice occurs even in our own province! According to a new survey conducted in B.C., 82% of visible minorities say they have experienced prejudice or some form of discrimination, while 56% of all respondents reported having overheard racist comments.
The instances of discrimination noted above violate basic human rights for individuals of these racial groups, and is absolutely heartbreaking. Again, we can start to help by simply being aware, and making sure that our own thoughts and actions don’t reflect those stereotypes society carries.
I want to end by saying that human life is already so full of natural injustices (it is too short!); we should try our best to not compound them – and judging by the social fractures we see every day in the news, there is not a moment to waste! The way to start to transform our society is to transform ourselves: accept the reality of discrimination, reflect on the positive differences you can make, and then act on these new understandings!
Written by: Abbie Wang
*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.