Content Frame
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Home  arrow Chapter 14  arrow Chapter Overview

Chapter Overview


  1. The Social Significance of Race and Ethnicity
    1. Race
    2. Racial Typology
    3. Ethnicity
    4. Minorities
  2. Prejudice
    1. Stereotypes
    2. Racism
    3. Theories of Prejudice
      1. Scapegoat Theory
      2. Authoritarian Personality Theory
      3. Cultural Theory
      4. Conflict Theory
  3. Discrimination
    1. Institutional Prejudice and Discrimination
    2. Prejudice and Discrimination: The Vicious Cycle
  4. Majority and Minority: Patterns of Interaction
    1. Pluralism
    2. Assimilation
    3. Segregation
    4. Genocide
  5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada
    1. Social Standing
  6. Special Status Societies
    1. Native Peoples (First Nations)
    2. The Québécois
  7. Immigration to Canada: A Hundred-Year Perspective
  8. Race and Ethnicity: Past and Future
  9. Summary
  10. Critical Thinking Questions
  11. exercises and Applications
  12. Sites to See



Being black in Canada in the 1940s sometimes meant being treated less civilly than a German prisoner of war. While segregation has ended today and race relations in other portions of the world are far worse, racial discrimination is not unknown. The Social Diversity Box (p. 346) outlines a history of racism in this country.

Ethnicity and race can be sources of group unity but they are sources also of conflict and subjugation. This chapter investigates the meanings and consequences of race and ethnicity.



A race is a category composed of people who share biologically transmitted traits that are defined as socially significant. Common distinguishing characteristics include skin colour, hair texture, shape of facial features, and body type. Over thousands of generations, the physical environments that humans lived in created physical variability. In addition, migration and intermarriage spread genetic characteristics throughout the world.

Racial Typology

During the 19th century biologists developed a three-part scheme of racial classification, including Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongoloid. Although research confirms that no pure races exist, cultural definitions still operate as if the differences are meaningful, especially if they support a system of social inequality. The Social Diversity box (p. 340) outlines how I.Q. tests have been used to justify systems of social inequality. Recently in Canada we have attempted to measure our racial composition but because of biological mixing the attempt is, at best, an approximation.


Ethnicity is a cultural heritage shared by a category of people. Objective criteria are those of ancestry, cultural practices, language, and dress while subjective criteria are those involving the internalization of a distinctive identity. Sometimes the objective components may be lost through assimilation but the subjective identification remains. Ethnicity is cultural and race is biological, but the two often go hand in hand. Also, ethnicity is sometimes lost; people simply lose touch with their ethnic origins.


A racial or ethnic minority is a category of people, distinguished by physical or cultural traits, who are socially disadvantaged. Table 14-1 (p. 347) presents 2001 data on the approximate sizes of different racial and ethnic groups in Canada. Minority groups have two distinctive characteristics: they maintain a distinctive identity, and are subordinated through the social stratification system. While usually they are a relatively small segment of a society, there are exceptions, for example blacks in South Africa and women in Canada.


Prejudice is a rigid and irrational generalization about an entire category of people which can be positive or negative in nature and vary in intensity.


Stereotypes are sets of prejudices concerning a category of people. They involve inaccurate descriptions of a category of people even when evidence would contradict the description. Because it involves strong, emotional attitudes, a stereotype is difficult to change.


A powerful form of prejudice is racism, or the belief that one racial category is innately superior or inferior to another. Racism has a long and terrifying history globally and in Canada. For example, Canada has treated Natives as if they are innately inferior. Overt racism appears to be declining in this country, and Canadians exhibit more sensitivity toward visible minorities than Americans.

Theories of Prejudice

Scapegoat Theory

Scapegoat theory suggests that frustration leads to prejudice especially on the part of people who themselves are disadvantaged. A scapegoat is a person or category of people unfairly blamed for the troubles of others.

Authoritarian Personality Theory

The authoritarian personality notion, first suggested by T. W. Adorno, holds that extreme prejudice is a personality trait linked to persons who conform rigidly to cultural norms and values. Such people typically have little education and were raised by cold and demanding parents.

Cultural Theory

This view suggests that some prejudice is embedded in cultural values. Emory Bogardus developed the concept of social distance to measure the attitudes of Americans toward different racial and ethnic groups. His findings conclude that prejudice is operative throughout American society.

Although Canadians may be more tolerant than Americans toward racial and ethnic minorities, there is still evidence of a Eurocentric bias.

Conflict Theory

This approach argues that prejudice results from social conflict among categories of people. Prejudice is used as an ideology to legitimate the oppression of certain groups or categories of people. A different argument is also presented in this context which focuses on the climate of race consciousness being created by minorities themselves as a political strategy to gain power and privilege.


Discrimination involves treating various categories of people unequally. While prejudice concerns attitudes and beliefs, discrimination involves behaviour. The interrelationship between prejudice and discrimination is addressed by Robert Merton, whose analysis is reviewed in Figure 14-1 (p. 342). Four types of people are revealed: active bigots, timid bigots, all-weather liberals, and fair-weather liberals.

Institutional Prejudice and Discrimination

Institutional discrimination refers to discrimination that is an action inherent in the operation of the economy, the educational institution or some other social institution. Notions about a persons "place" are sometimes deeply entrenched as Natives, who have sought employment at the Department of Indian Affairs, have discovered.

Prejudice and Discrimination: The Vicious Cycle

It is argued that these characteristics in our society persist because they are mutually reinforcing. The Thomas Theorem, discussed in chapter 6, relates to this situation. The stages of the vicious cycle of prejudice and discrimination are outlined in Figure 14-2 (p. 343).


Four models can be used to describe patterns of interaction between minorities and the majority.


Pluralism is a state in which racial and ethnic minorities are distinct but have social parity. Social diversity has been a source of pride in Canada, and multiculturalism is officially adopted as government policy. To the extent that an ethnic community has "institutional completeness" the needs of its members might be met within the boundaries of the group. While various heritage programs support and celebrate the multicultural ideal, some critics suggest that the policy is detrimental to the development of a shared and coherent Canadian identity and a strong social fabric. There is also evidence that Canada's "cultural mosaic" and the American "melting pot" do not produce discernable differences in assimilation, economic integration, and ethnic distinctiveness.


Assimilation is the process by which minorities gradually adopt patterns of the dominant culture. The notion of the "melting pot" is inappropriately linked to the process of assimilation. Instead of a new cultural pattern emerging, minorities in the U.S. more often adopt the traits of the dominant culture.

Some minority groups have maintained separate patterns despite the assimilation ideal in the U.S. In Canada where we officially encourage distinctive patterns, assimilation, in fact, occurs.

The process of assimilation involves changes in ethnicity, but not race. However, racial traits may diminish over the generations through miscegenation, or the biological process of reproduction among racial categories.


Segregation is the physical and social separation of categories of people. It is generally an involuntary separation of the minority groups, although voluntary segregation occurs occasionally, such as in the case of the Hutterites. Racial segregation has a long history in the U.S. De jure segregation, or "by law" has ended, however de facto, or "by fact" segregation continues. Residential segregation is a particularly crucial problem in American society, and has declined only slightly in recent decades. Canadians do not wish to view themselves as a society which practices segregation but the examples of Africville in Halifax, Buxton in Southern Ontario and Native reserves indicate otherwise.


Genocide is the systematic annihilation of one category of people by another. While being contrary to virtually every moral standard, genocide has existed throughout history.


Canada truly is a land of immigrants starting with the aboriginal peoples crossing the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska several thousand years ago. The French and English came in the 1600s and 1700s, ignored the Aboriginals and declared themselves the founding nations. They were followed mostly by Europeans. The newest Canadians have come from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and many other countries under stress by way of refugee status.

While the largest categories used to be English and French, Table 14-1 (p. 347) tells us that almost forty percent of Canadians now claim "Canadian" ethnicity. After Canadian, the largest are English and French, but the rest of Canada is made up of a remarkable ethnic diversity. Table 14-2 (p. 348) indicates diversity of ethnicity by region of Canada.

Social Standing

There appears to be in Canada a system of social inequality based upon race. Recent immigrants and visible minorities are at the bottom of the income scale as indicated in Table 14-3 (p. 350). This occurs despite the fact that Asians and blacks have higher levels of post-secondary education and participated full-time in the labour force. Part of the explanation, however, may reside in their more recent entry into the Canadian labour force. Native peoples rank at the bottom in education, labour force participation and income.


Two categories of people have unique relationships in Canada with the federal government.

Native Peoples (First Nations)

There are fifty-five or more sovereign peoples who established themselves on the North American continent thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Included are the major groupings, Indian, Inuit, and Métis, a category of biracial descent, usually French and Indian.

The Indians can be registered under the Indian Act, treaty or non-treaty, depending on whether their ancestors signed treaties. They can also register under an undetermined group who may be biologically or culturally Indian but are not officially declared as such. There are perhaps 1.5 million people of Native ancestry, making up 6 percent of the Canadian population. Registered Indians who live on reserves are the special responsibility of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The relationship with Ottawa has been paternalistic and has led to a severe erosion of their cultural fabric and community life. Residential schools for Native children were a devastating blow to their culture. Non-status Indians, the Métis and the Inuit were never confined to reservations but their cultural integrity is certainly diminished. There are many Native communities who are solving their problems but many others who are in a process of social disintegration. Contemporary leaders point the way to a brighter future of self-government which was punctuated in 1999 with the creation of Nunavut, a new territorial government carved out of the Northwest Territories and controlled by an Inuit majority.

The Québécois

The French presence in Canada goes back to 1608, the first permanent settlement being established at Québec City. New France at first grew slowly but two centuries later at confederation Canada's population was 31% French. The B.N.A. Act of 1867 recognized the province's civil law, language and Catholic schools. The French and English communities co-existed and eventually bilingualism was strengthened by the Official Languages Act of 1969.

Québec at the time of Confederation was a traditional society and was ineffectively governed. The church took responsibility for education, health care, and social welfare, but was more concerned with maintaining its position than helping people adjust to changing circumstances. The economic institution was controlled by the minority English in Montréal. Not until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s was the power of the church diminished. The government of Jean Lesage focussed on education, attracting industry and integrating Québec into the North American economic structure. Québéckers eventually reached the conclusion that their language and culture needed protection in the sea of English North America. Their demand for institutional dominance led to a demand for sovereignty. Although they voted not to seek independence in a 1960 referendum, the failure of the Meech Lake Accord which would have granted Québec a "distinct society" status and the more recent rejection almost everywhere in Canada of the Charlottetown Accord has left Canada uncertain of the future of Québec in Canada.

In October, 1995 a razor-thin victory for the "No" in the separation referendum continues the uncertainty about the future of Québec in Canada. (See the Controversy and Debate Box, pp. 356-357, for a discussion of national unity).


Canada has been, and will probably remain, a land of immigrants. 2.5 million people arrived between 1905 and 1914 such that in 1913 one in every 17 Canadians was a newcomer. Most of the migrants were from Britain and were expected to maintain the British character of the country. A trickle of Ukrainians and other Europeans arrived to settle farming areas in the West. By 1931 Canada closed the doors especially to Jewish refugees because of a substantial anti-Semitism across the country. After WWII the doors opened again to meet Canada's labour needs. Although Europeans were preferred more Asians were permitted entry along with Palestinians and Hungarians in the 1950s. Not until 1962, however, was an official end put to the "White Canada" immigration policy. Educational, occupational, and language skills were the criteria which were formalized as a points system in 1965 in order to meet the needs of the labour market. These changes were followed by waves of immigration from the West Indies and Asia in the 1990s. The Immigration Act of 1976 recognized three classes of people for landed immigrant status: family class (immediate family, parents, and grandparents), humanitarian class (refugees or persecuted and displaced persons) and independent class (those admitted on the point system). This stimulated an unmanageable number of refugees and family applicants. From 1991 to 2001, Asia was the source of 58% of our immigrants, and they have settled primarily in Ontario and British Columbia in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver. The Applying Sociology Box (p. 349) describes the impact on those cities. Tables 14-4 and 14-5 (p.354) and Canada Map 14-1 (p. 355) outline the immigration picture for Canada in 1996. Figure 14-3 (p. 353), details Canada's immigration history from 1885-1999.


Canada's future will depend upon forging an identity out of diversity.

Pearson Copyright © 1995 - 2010 Pearson Education . All rights reserved.
Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Permissions

Return to the Top of this Page