Culturaljam ’13: From religious symbols to cultural appropriation and everything inbetween

Ryerson School of Journalism

Attempting to define multiculturalism invokes thought-provoking debate.

As part of Ryerson University’s Culturaljam ’13, the RSU hosted a panel discussion that challenged student’s perceptions of multiculturalism in their community.

Attendees came to the consensus that it means different cultures living together with tolerance, diversity, and openness.

Ryerson’s vice president of equity, Rajean Hoilett, focused the discussion on the significance of these words.

He challenged the characteristics set out by panel-goers by comparing them to how multiculturalism plays out in society.

“This idea of multiculturalism is the reason why people think we’re post-racism,” he said. “We’re stuck in the novelty of these words.”

Hoilett attacked the word tolerance because he says it implies people are just tolerating other races without actively including them equally.

“[Tolerance] has become the politically correct way of sweeping [cultural inclusion] under the rug,” said Hoilett.

The event drew fewer than 10 people, but what it lacked in quantity it made up for with quality.

One guest was concerned about the ban on religious symbols for government employees by the Bloc Québécois because of its bias against minority religions.

“You can’t change the size of a woman’s hijab, but you can change the size of your cross,” said a woman who attended the event.

Lately, mainstream media has been incorporating different cultural aspects for profit and entertainment. Selena Gomez did a Bollywood-inspired music video, and many people dress as Native Americans for Halloween.

“The problem is they don’t talk to the people about using their cultural artifact or practice and so it can get taken out of context,” said Hoilett. “They’re making a profit off of other people’s cultures, and they’re not giving any of it back to them.”

Not everyone who was at the panel felt the same, though.

“I don’t think [cultural appropriation] is really an issue,” said Will Blahut, 20, a teller from CIBC. “I don’t know if moccasins are really significant but I don’t think it’s a big deal if people wear them.”

Blahut said he thinks discrimination in hiring practices starts before applicants apply for a job.

“If there’s nine white guys and one black guy that apply for a job then there’s only a one in nine chance of the black guy getting the job to begin with,” said Blahut.

He noted that if the ratio is skewed that badly, then the problem starts long before the interview process begins.