As a black woman I am very aware of the political and social uses of labelling. Back a few years, my people were part of the nigger /nigra /negro continuum. Later on they were the "darkies"; still later they were rendered "coloured." In the turbulent sixties and seventies they became "black."
Contemporary writings inform us that they are "people of colour," Afro-Americans, or the most visible of the "visible minorities."
In spite of the variety of labels and regardless of the social and political reason for the changing definitions, it is undeniable that the Canadians who are now marginalized have paid their dues to our society. These people descended from ancestors who helped to break the frontiers of Eastern, Central and Western Canada, who worked on the railroads, fished in the coastal waters, ploughed and gathered in beet fields, potato plots and fruit vineyards, farmed in obscure communities in some of the harshest climatic conditions, and gave unconditional love to generations of "white" Canadian children. In more recent times many of the "visible minorities" have come to Canada as students, domestic workers, professionals, skilled trades people, sponsored spouses and relatives, and as refugees. In short, these people are old and new Canadians and they have served and they continue to serve this country in very positive ways.
Given this perspective the questions that need to be answered include the following: Why does Canadian society find it difficult to create a climate in which all its citizens find justice? Why is it necessary to have employment equity programs for women, the disabled, Native Canadians and the so called "visible minorities"? Does the definition of so many Canadians as "visible minorities" obscure the real problems of injustice and racism in Canadian society? Does the targeting of such diverse peoples as one group result in equity or does it create a "hierarchy of the oppressed"? Who are truly the most disadvantaged people in Canadian society?
I have no answers to these questions. What I do know however is that Canadian society is changing at a very rapid rate. Whether we live in isolated northern communities, in rural townships, or in teaming urban centres such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, or Winnipeg, we cannot escape the following documented facts: more and more Native peoples are becoming urban dwellers; one in three Canadians are neither English nor French; one in four Canadians fill the category of "visible minority"; immigration rates will rise in line with the government's plans and projections; and the majority of new immigrants will be from Asia, Latin America, and South America.
Given these facts it is important for the society to concentrate less on exotic definitions and more on solutions to the social and economic inequities that cause so many Canadians to seek redress for historical wrongs. The challenge is to pay attention to the sons and daughters of the "visible minorities." These are the youth of tomorrow and they are Canadians who know no other land. They expect justice; they will demand justice; they will fight for justice. They will challenge this society in ways that it has never before been challenged.
Let us plan for the future and come to terms with injustice rather than spend too much effort in the creation of new and meaningless categories of Canadian citizens.
Glenda Simms has recently been appointed as president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She is a founding member and a continuing Board member of the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada.