Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interracial unions more accepted in Canada than U.S.: report

Shannon Proudfoot

Canadians -- particularly those under 35 -- are significantly more accepting of interracial marriage than Americans, according to a new report.

While 77 per cent of Americans approved of marriage between blacks and whites in a recent Gallup poll, a report released today by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby shows that 92 per cent of Canadians are in favour of such unions. A similar proportion approve of intermarriage between other ethnic groups.

The approval rating climbs to almost 99 per cent among those under age 35.

In the mid-1970s, 55 per cent of Canadians approved of marriage between blacks and whites, while 40 per cent of Americans thought the same way. By 1990, 78 per cent of Canadians accepted interracial marriage -- roughly the same proportion as Americans today -- while just 48 per cent of Americans were willing to give their blessing.

"We see ourselves as not just multicultural but really multi-everything," says Bibby. "Even if people don't necessarily agree with each other (or) don't explicitly approve of what people are thinking and doing, the Canadian way is to at least be willing to accept diversity."

This mentality extends to opinions about same-sex marriage, abortion and legalizing marijuana, he says. His data comes from the Project Canada surveys he's conducted every five years since 1975, which form the core of his latest book, The Boomer Factor.

Bibby says the differences go beyond attitudes to the way people actually live. Census data shows that 43 per cent of black Canadians who are married or living common-law have non-black partners, while just 10 per cent of African Americans are in the same situation.

"Even though interracial marriage has been legal in the United States for 40 years, there's still a legacy of racism that exists, and more often than not that legacy is subtle rather than overt," says Ken Tanabe, the New York-based founder of Loving Day, a grassroots American celebration commemorating the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision that struck down laws against interracial marriage in 1967.

The differences between Canada and the U.S. are a product of their historical experiences and multiculturalism policies, Bibby says. Canada does not have a trouble-free history of race relations, he says, but the country never had the slavery or legally enforced segregation of the U.S. He also gives much credit to Canada's official stance on multiculturalism.

"We don't support full-scale melting-pot assimilation, we support integration," says Alykhan Velshi, director of communications for Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity. "That allows new Canadians and visible minorities to maintain their identity within the context of a strong Canadian identity."

When Fran and Norio Ota married 36 years ago, they were a rarity. She was a Caucasian woman working as a missionary in Japan and he was her Japanese language teacher, but they didn't think there was anything unusual about crossing those lines for love.

"I think people weren't sure how to deal with us at the beginning," says Fran. "I was and still am the only one of my friends from growing up who's gone into an interracial marriage. I even had mixed reviews from my parents."

Her mother was concerned about the pair's religious and cultural differences (Fran is now an ordained United Church minister and Norio was raised Buddhist but doesn't subscribe to any particular religion), but her father thought they'd be fine as long as they respected each other.
The Otas have lived all over the world (they now live in Scarborough) and raised four children, some of whom have entered their own mixed relationships and credited their parents with paving the way. Though they encountered more obvious racism in the U.S., where people occasionally grilled Norio about Pearl Harbor, Fran says a quieter type of prejudice still exists in Canada.

"Canadians are more reticent about their discrimination," she says. "I think there's just as much discrimination in Canada, but we aren't as overt about it. We have this veneer of being polite and civilized, but there is still racism underneath."

Nevertheless, she says, "The more interracial marriages there are, the fewer problems there are to contend with."

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