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Refugee and immigrant youth in Canada often face stereotypes, prejudice, misconceptions, and racism which can lead them to feel isolated, alienated and hopeless. For example, many newcomer youth feel like they are being perceived as gang members or criminals because of their clothing style and skin color. Some feel they are seen as job-thieves, burdens on the welfare system, “illegal immigrants,” or “queue jumpers” instead of workers contributing to Canada’s economy. Often they feel they are perceived as stupid or illiterate because of language barriers or they are suspected as "terrorists" because of their religion. Gay newcomers are sometimes assumed to be heterosexual because of the myth that people of color can’t be LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer/questioning).
We all absorb implicit bias and stereotypes, and these have real impacts on how we perceive others: who we think we can trust, who we think belongs, who we think is normal...and who isn’t. But this is just a part of the equation. Myths, stereotypes, misconceptions, prejudice, implicit bias, and racism are not just about misinformation but are also part of larger societal problems. If we want diversity in our society, we have to address racism at the implicit/emotional level in addition to the formal structural/policy level.
If we don’t make a conscious effort to be aware of our implicit bias, they may influence how we interact with others, affecting not only who we chose as our friends, but most importantly who we want as our employees, tenants, roommates, doctors, politicians...even who we want to welcome as immigrants and refugees. We are all affected by individual and systemic oppression, but most importantly, we also have the power to change ourselves and these systems!
During the Fall of 2010, a few CCR Youth Network members got together to call up CCR members and discuss myths about newcomer youth. We asked what myths youth are facing and these are some of the answers that we got:
MYTH: Refugee youth take government money/get everything for free
MYTH: Newcomer youth are drug dealers or gang members
MYTH: Newcomer youth are stupid/uneducated/illiterate
MYTH: Newcomer youth cannot speak English/French
MYTH: Newcomer youth can’t or don’t want to fit in
MYTH: Newcomer youth came from the jungle, or are "primitive"
MYTH: Jails are filled with “illegal immigrants”
MYTH: Immigrants take the jobs
MYTH: Refugees are dangerous
MYTH: Newcomer youth are not LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning)
People should know that these myths are nothing like reality, that newcomer youth are just regular human beings in all their usual variety, that they have lived through particular experiences that may present specific challenges, but also contribute to making newcomer youth resilient and creative...but of course, it's not that simple, right?
Sometimes, factual information isn't enough to bebunk deeply embeded myths or implicit bias. But what can create change in people is inter-action with those who we call "others." It’s by talking to each other that we'll get to understand each other, grasp each others' realities, see our commonalities, and sympathize with one another. We need to create spaces and initiatives for inter-action. We need to give ourselves a chance to change.
Finally, it’s important to remember that anti-racism and anti-oppression is life-long work - everyone can make mistakes or not know exactly what to say. Let's not let these fears stop us, let's create change today.
Take Action :
This campaign is just getting off the ground. Here are a few suggestions on how to debunk myths about newcomer youth in your community, but feel free to let your imagination loose!
- We're working on creating public education resources to debunk these myths, but we need your help. We're looking for anything from podcasts, short videos, music videos, workshop outlines, popular theatre scripts, posters, pamphlets, Power Point presentations, and podcasts to speakers’ bureaus and online resource collections. Whatever you can think of!
- Organize a meeting with newcomer youth/allies in your community to discuss what are the myths that people are facing and decide on actions that you could take to expose the REAL experiences of newcomer youth. Let us know what you plan to do at cbeaudry [at] ccrweb [dot] ca so that we can share your story with others from across Canada and inspire people into action.
- Be a part of the solution - Join the discussion forum to debunk myths about newcomer youth!