To Be Pluralistic In the Face of Adversity

The following post was kindly re-published with permission from Change Tomorrow’s World.

My naive side loves Canada – a country that encourages  its people promote pluralism and acceptance for different cultures and ethnicities. I love that I can walk in the streets of Toronto and be proud of my culture and heritage, and be able to be excited to share – with the world – my thoughts, ideas and attitudes stemming from my religious and cultural background. I like to learn from others about their customs, and I believe Canada is a country that discourages racism.

Unfortunately, my naive side seems to not quite have an accurate picture of this country of which I am so proud. A recent trip to Windsor opened my eyes to the racism that is ever present in our forward-thinking society. While sitting on a bus (public transit), a young woman dressed in traditional Muslim clothes – long sleeves blouse and long skirt and a traditional head scarf known as a hijab – got on the bus. Her face was visible, and she was a beautiful young lady, who sat quietly on the bus, waiting for her stop. I couldn’t catch all of what transpired next, but here was mostly how it went.

The gentleman next to her said “Hello”. She smiled quickly at him, but didn’t engage in conversation.

“Where are you from?” He asked.

“Pakistan” was her reply.

“Oh, I know some people there, I worked there briefly”.

She smiled quickly at him in response.

“I have something to say – can I tell you something?” he asked.

It was obvious she was uncomfortable (frankly, I was too) but she politely said “sure, go ahead”.

“Well, I feel this personally” came his response. “You know, people dress like you, men dress like you and then they rob banks”.

Whoa. Hold on a minute. Excuse me?!

Instantly, her face closed down. The emotion was gone, she sat uncomfortably, looking straight-ahead, as this man continued to berate her.

“I mean, you people, you can’t walk around like that any more. This is Canada – you need to dress Canadian. Men walk around in your clothes and rob banks and cause problems…”  I couldn’t catch all of it, and I wanted to stick up for her, but I recognized that it wasn’t my battle to fight. I figured there was a reason she wasn’t fighting her own battle…but I felt horrible for her. What really broke my heart was how she sat there and took it – like she was used to that sort of talk, like it was common place to be berated and singled-out not for what you were doing, but simple what you were wearing. And worst of all, no one on the bus stopped the man, and told him that what he was doing was wrong. We all just sat there. I was ashamed of myself.

I got up to get off at my stop, and the man pointed to me and said to the young lady “You should be dressing like her. This is Canada.”

Whoa. Hold on a minute. Now you waved the red flag in front of the bull.

“Excuse me, sir” I said, rising. “Thats the point. This is Canada. Everyone has the right to dress how they like. This is a pluralistic society, and no one should feel bad for how they dress, or who they are.”

“Well, I am entitled to my opinion” he said, challengingly. (yeah, but aren’t the rest of us entitled not to have to listen to it?)

“Exactly. You are entitled to your opinion, and she is entitled to dress how she wants to.” I said as I left the bus.

I couldn’t believe that kind of backward thinking. Hundreds of people have robbed a bank wearing a hoodie and sunglasses, or a ski mask. We don’t go around to every person in a hoodie and sunglasses and tell them they look like robbers, and to dress more appropriately. Should all the skiers stop wearing ski masks because some idiot decided to use it to rob a bank? The skiers are not responsible for the inappropriate usage of their attire, and neither was the young woman who chose to express herself and her religion in her choice of clothing. She can’t help it if people use similar clothes inappropriately. She wasn’t harming anyone, she wasn’t doing anything – there wasn’t even a concern of her identity, as  her face was clearly visible. She had the right to sit peacefully on the bus like everyone else, and not have some uncivilized individual impart a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude upon her.

I was just appalled by this man’s behavior, and I am writing about it today because I think it is so important to share with you all. This is what Change Tomorrow’s World and (our sister-blog) Surviving Studenthood are all about. Its about encouraging individuals – especially the younger generations who will become the leaders of tomorrow – to think about the world holistically; to treat others more than tolerance, but with acceptance; to act in way that will encourage others to be open-minded, to be educated and objective when forming opinions and imparting them on others.

You are the future. You may not be able to change today, but you can change tomorrow.

Fariya Walji

CEO and Founder of Change Tomorrow’s World

p.s. Kindly share your thoughts, ideas and opinions below. I look forward to your insight.

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