Ben Pires: How I deal with discrimination

This is my personal way, one person’s way. You may have a different approach and I respect it.

First, I recognize that discrimination has existed since the beginning of humans on Earth. It exists in every country.

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In India, my country of birth, there is even the despicable and vile caste system that, though outlawed, exists to this day, where the “lowest” caste is referred to as “untouchable.” Discrimination exists because we are humans with many weaknesses.

We cannot eliminate it, but we can only lighten, reduce and temper it.

Second, I try to avoid the term “racism” because it perpetuates the divisive, long-held myth — and a human construct — that humans belong to different “races.” Sadly, even our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom uses the term “race.”

I submitted my DNA to National Geographic’s Genographic Project and found that while I was born in Mumbai, India, only 1.5 per cent of India’s population belong to the same DNA group as mine while 30 per cent in the country of Georgia, 14 per cent in the Island of Sardinia, eight per cent in north central Italy and seven per cent in Turkey were in the same DNA group as me.

This confirmed my belief that there are no “races” of human beings.

As former U.S. president Bill Clinton has said: “If you just look at our genome, we are all 99.5 per cent the same. We spend 99 and a half per cent of our time fixating on that half of a per cent.” Instead of the term “race” I prefer “ethno-cultural ancestry,” instead of “racism” I prefer “discrimination,” and instead of “racists” I prefer “bigots.”

Third, I try not to identify and pigeonhole people by their skin colour. Our skin is generally only about 0.5-millimetre thick and its colour is mostly due to the pigment melanin. I try to avoid the descriptive words like “white” (who is “white” anyway? Only albinos have a pale, milky skin), “black,” “brown,” “red,” “yellow,” and the offensive term “people of colour” [as who is without colour?].

These descriptive terms for human beings are one of the instigators of discrimination. Hopefully the media, police, politicians and others, including those who have a self-interest in these terms, will stop using them.

Fourth, I do not allow myself to feel victimized by discrimination, a baggage or a chip on my shoulder that I do not want to carry because it will affect my full enjoyment of my short life on Earth. Instead, I feel sad — even compassionate — for the person who discriminates against me because it just shows their ignorance of the beauty of diversity.

I have umpteen examples of discrimination against me and my children. I have lived through the continuum of people’s hate toward me; discrimination in hiring, employment and promotion; denial of differences; intolerance; tokenism; insistence to integrate or “melt” in the community’s culture, which no one can define; and mere acceptance for me.

However, I am continuing to work towards a respectful and full inclusion of not just me but all people in our community.

I realize that some of my appointments to volunteer boards were tokenism to present them with a multicultural facade, but I accepted them because it provided an opportunity to inform and educate them about the importance of my culture, the whole of my everyday life, where my invisible values, it is said, make up 90 per cent while my visible behaviour make up 10 per cent.

Fifth, to keep myself from feeling victimized by discrimination, I joined a variety of types of organizations, some in leadership positions, to be kept busy, involved and to make a difference by speaking my mind: Royal Oak Ratepayers Association, Claremont Secondary School Parents’ Association, Bayanihan Cultural and Housing Society, Victoria Filipino-Canadian Association, InterCultural Association of Greater Victoria, B.C.’s Advisory Council on Multiculturalism, Provincial Capital Commission, Capital Health Region board, 2007 UCI BMX World Championships committee, Victoria 2008 National Historic Fair committee, UVic’s community and public relations committee, UVic’s Task Force on Civic Engagement, 2009 Provincial Heritage Fair committee, board of Craigdarroch Castle Historic Museum Society, Catholic Foundation of Vancouver Island, UVic’s Civic Engagement Steering Committee, Leadership Victoria, Community Partnership Network and the Greater Victoria Local Immigration Partnership.

I embraced the unknown. I trusted my instincts. I embraced diversity.

Finally, my family learned extensively about the cultures of people by hosting nearly 70 international students from many countries over three decades, some from the Pearson College of the Pacific during their study breaks.

Discussions with a number of them were intense and deeply productive. Some regard themselves as our extended family members to this day. Travel to more than 70 countries also helped us to learn about humans throughout this world: We are all the same in many ways yet also different.

To deal with discrimination, we opened our minds to learn about others.

Ben Pires has been involved in the community since coming to Victoria in 1971 as legislative reporter for the Canadian Press.

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