It’s in the way they are spoken down to, or the guarded look in somebody’s eye.
While subtle forms of discrimination can be hard to pinpoint, both Femi Akinola and Ursella Khan can always tell when they are on the receiving end of pre-judgment and bias.
“Sometimes it’s the way people speak to you — a kind of dumbed-down talk,” said Khan. The Calgary-born teenager makes it known in a “nice manner” that she speaks English like the native she is.
Both Grade 12 students agree that they don’t feel any prejudice at their “welcoming” Red Deer school, Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, but it’s sometimes directed at them from the wider world.
That’s why the graduating students were happy to participate on Wednesday in the first International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the Red Deer school, organized by C.A.R.E. (Central Alberta Refugee Effort).
Students from social studies, language arts and leadership classes took part in special events throughout the day highlighting the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, including speakers, videos and discussion groups.
Sadia Khan, C.A.R.E.’s public awareness co-ordinator (and Ursella’s mother), hopes the students will continue these talks with their parents. “It’s always good to start this awareness at a young age, and hopefully they will take these conversations home, to have around the dinner table.”
Akinola, who came to Canada from Nigeria at age three, was pleasantly surprised by how invested students from Grades 9 to 12 were in discussing stereotypes.
She learned that even if a cultural bias is thought to be positive, it can lead to negative consequences — like pushing all Asian children into advanced classes, on the assumption it’s what they want, or can intellectually handle. “It’s so much pressure,” Akinola added.
Ursella Khan though it interesting that someone compared making general cultural assumptions to calling all Albertans “red neck.”
Since discrimination can unintentionally spring from fear or unfamiliarity, it’s good to raise awareness, she added. “It was really cool to see all these students chatting about real life issues.”
Leadership class teacher Alan Towne believes “high school has changed tremendously” from when he was a student 15 years ago. With more immigration to Central Alberta, he’s noticed a gradual softening in attitudes towards minorities.
Young people have especially become more tolerant and inclusive, he added. “You never hear all those racial slurs anymore… People at school are embracing other cultures — you actually see them embracing in the hallways.”
Grade 11 leadership student Kaden Nivens believes there’s likely more work needed on developing a culture of tolerance in the province. But “Central Alberta should be proud of welcoming refugees from all these horrible situations around the world and making them feel safe here…. this event helps with that.”