(Image credit: Annette Teng via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
We have two competing sentiments: (1) White people are being replaced by non-whites, and (2) Systemic racism by white people prevents non-whites from advancing in their careers and lives. It is imperative to search for a resolution.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
It is perhaps a sign of the times we live in that two completely contradictory ideas exist in the same space at the same time, without the benefit of a common ground where they can be debated to arrive at a more reasonable understanding of our circumstances. Or perhaps it has ever been thus – the human condition is forever afflicted with conflicting views that cannot be reconciled. Regardless of which of these possibilities is true, well-meaning (or maybe naïve) people always try to close the gap between them.
Among the clutch of such contradictory beliefs that exist in Canada now, one pertains to the dominant sway that people of the white race automatically possess and seek to perpetuate – or conversely, are intentionally deprived of by scheming politicians. In the precise jargon of our times, these are called, respectively, ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white replacement’. While there is much debate on this – most of it heated – I haven’t seen any effort to explore the two competing issues from a neutral ground.
As chance would have it, recently I had the opportunity to attend the convocation of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Toronto. Among certain sections of the Canadian society that is active on the social media, there is a firmly held opinion that universities are bastions of leftism, U of T included. So I was curious to witness the atmosphere there. As the convocation unfolded, I noticed a pattern important enough for me to start taking notes as to the racial composition of the students passing their various levels of study (PhD, Master’s & Undergraduate degrees). The end result was that both the contentions (viz., ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white replacement’) appeared to be in doubtful territory; the operative factor appeared to be something else.
At this point, I must acknowledge that my notes may not be 100% perfect, as they were made impromptu in a fast-moving situation. My guess as to a student’s race may not necessarily be accurate. Moreover, the presence of a sizable proportion of international students would render my analysis less valid to a degree, insofar as it applies to the Canadian society. And finally, the students who had opted to receive their degrees in absentia were not part of my observation. With these caveats in place, let us dive into the numbers. Out of a total of 428 students, I counted the following numbers in each racial / religious category, with percentages in brackets:
Chinese: 209 (48.83%)
Muslim: 75 (17.52%) (Note: Includes Arab, Persian & South Asian)
South Asian / Other Asian (Non-Muslim): 66 (15.42%)
White: 53 (12.38%)
East Asian: 11 (2.57%)
Hispanic: 9 (2.10%)
Black: 5 (1.17%)
[The difference of 0.01% is due to rounding]
Initially, I did not think that the very low number of black students at the convocation was alarming, because I had read back in 2017 that U of T had started having a separate convocation ceremony for black students (see this report by CBC). Therefore, I thought that the few black students that I saw had simply opted to receive their degrees at the regular convocation. Luckily, I asked someone if this was the case – and was told that the Faculty of Engineering does not hold separate convocation ceremonies for different students; this was the only one and all the students who had passed their course were given their degrees (including in absentia) at the same ceremony.
Two of the black students were decidedly from west Africa – but they could still be Canadian domestic students. I spoke to another one who said that he was from Sudan (although when he spoke to his parents, their language was not Arabic but rather resembling Amharic). Again, he could very well be a domestic student. This left only two black students who were not recent immigrants to Canada and who had finished an engineering course at U of T.
The population of black Canadians is in the range of 4% of the Canadian population (according to this link of StatsCan, it was 3.5% in 2016). Therefore, there was definitely severe underrepresentation of the black community at the convocation, to the tune of exactly 67%. This certainly causes great concern, but is it the result of ‘systemic racism’?
Consider the fact that white students were only 12.38% whereas the overall white population in Canada is much higher than that. The exact percentage is difficult to arrive at because the largest percentage of Canadians – over 32% – report their ethnic origin as ‘Canadian’ in StatsCan surveys (which is otherwise something to feel happy about). But if we consider that ‘visible minorities’ account for roughly 35% of our population, then the remaining 65% are of European origin. In approximate numbers, thus, the underrepresentation of whites at the convocation was to the tune of about 80%, i.e., even worse than that for black Canadians.
If ‘systemic racism’ were to be at play at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Toronto, the numbers would look vastly different. Even with a level playing field (if one believes in the equality of outcomes), roughly two-thirds of the students would have been white, and with ‘systemic racism’, there would hardly be any non-white students at all. But the numbers look the way they do because, at the point of entry to the various engineering courses offered by U of T, there is meritocracy at work. Students who measure up to the criteria for admission get in. This is not to deny the financial aspect; the tuition alone for the four-year course costs upwards of $70,000 (for domestic students) or nearly a quarter of a million dollars (for international students). But as far as domestic students are concerned, financial assistance is available as needed according to the financial status of the student’s family.
When both black and white demographics are so severely underrepresented, and the ‘visible minorities’ make up some 86% of the student population (or 2.5 times their weight in terms of their percentage of population), I think we can safely rule out ‘systemic racism’ as an operative factor. This brings us to the other part of this article, viz., ‘white replacement’. The way I see it (and I could be wrong), the main thrust of ‘white replacement theory’ is that the said ‘replacement’ is being purposefully brought about by the government and other official institutions, either coercively or by engineering (pardon the pun) an environment where life is structurally more difficult for white Canadians (this is the mirror image of ‘systemic racism’).
Does that argument hold when it comes to admission to an engineering course at U of T? From my limited knowledge, it doesn’t. I think the playing field is even, and the adage of ‘May the best candidate win’ applies, at least so far. Therefore, if whites were underrepresented at the convocation, the likely causes are (a) choice of the field of education, or (b) choice of the university, or (c) ability to satisfy the admissions criteria. In a nutshell, there isn’t an external force influencing the outcome.
The student body completing their courses at one faculty of one university in one year is a very tiny sliver of the overall reality. In addition, as I have mentioned earlier, my observations and classification of students by race is imperfect. I would therefore be wary of applying the results of this analysis to derive broad generalizations about Canada. However, I believe that this exercise does provide a starting point to set us on a path of discovery that, if undertaken collectively and on a large scale, help us arrive at a clearer understanding of our circumstances. Given the corrosive nature of the sentiments on both sides of the debate (viz., the feeling of victimization via either ‘systemic racism’ or ‘white replacement’), I believe that it is imperative that we undertake this exercise.