Immigration cuts not seen as racist by most, global survey shows

November 3, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

Racism. Immigration.

Few topics can combine to ignite such anger, contempt and division.

It was not always this way. The belief that it is racist to want to reduce immigration has only been a significant viewpoint since the 1960s for some in the West. It’s still not a common belief among people in Asia.

A Vancouver-raised demographer has discovered that people of good will, across nations, use the word racism differently. Their disagreement over the meaning has lead to often-bitter, possibly unnecessary, polarization.

Fascinating research by Prof. Eric Kaufmann of the University of London, Birkbeck, breaks new ground showing the contrasting ways people in 18 countries understand the hyper-charged term, racist.

With the federal Liberal government announcing this week it will again raise immigration rates, Kaufmann writes in the academic journal, Foreign Affairs, there is sharp disagreement among people in the West, but not so much the East, over whether it’s racist to want to protect one’s own ethno-cultural group.

His research grew out of an article by the Brookings Institution’s Shadi Hamid, in which Hamid contends white “racial self-interest” should be distinguished from white racism.

Hamid believes protecting one’s ethno-cultural group, one’s “people,” is an age-old phenomenon, which is different from actively discriminating against others out of a feeling of group superiority.

Kaufmann’s research sheds light on immigration-values conflicts that are riveting the West. Those events include Britons’ vote to leave the European Union, the rise of Donald Trump, outbursts of extreme white nationalism, the strengthening of nativist parties in France, Germany, Italy and Austria, and frequent campus showdowns over free speech and identity politics.

Kaufmann’s findings also might illuminate how Canadians could approach immigration trends, such as those revealed last week by Census Canada, which showed whites have become a minority in the metropolises of Toronto and Vancouver.

In the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, for instance, the ethnic Chinese population has expanded in a few decades by more than 80,000, while the white population has declined by more than 30,000.

In a nutshell, the Kaufmann-led Ipsos-Mori survey of 14,000 people in 18 countries found that a majority “do not think it’s racist to want less immigration for ethno-cultural reasons.”

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