Fixing racism: UBC's Gurdeep Parhar talks racial stereotyping

“Our subconscious bias often leads to racial stereotyping, which can result in misunderstanding, discrimination and even violence,” said Gurdeep Parhar in his recent Tedx Talk. The talk was hosted at Stanley Park in June 2016, where he talked about his emotional experience dealing with racial stereotypes in both his personal and professional life. 

Parhar is the executive associate dean in the faculty of Medicine. In an interview with The Ubyssey, he elaborated further on his Tedx Talk and the continued relevance of stereotypes — particularly at UBC.

“[Stereotyping] is always bad — not because you always think negative things about [different groups] or think a positive stereotype is a compliment. The point is, you have misunderstood that person and that's why it can never be a good thing,” said Parhar as he recollected his childhood memories of growing up with Indian parents in Kitimat, northern British Columbia.

Racial stereotypes are assumptions made on a group based on interactions with an individual from that group or the media’s portrayal of them. Despite the humour attributed to many stereotypes, Parhar explained that they can still be harmful and hurtful.

“The first step is recognizing that we racially stereotype because as soon as you do that, then you can't assume that all these … people are the same,” said Parhar.

He also explains that stereotypes function at an individual level — with no two people holding the exact same stereotypes. In the same way individuals are different by character, so is their perception of other individuals and the stereotypes they create about them.

Parhar sees the effects of stereotyping on UBC's campus.

“What I see unfortunately, and it's not only at UBC but across campuses in BC, ... is that people from the same ethnic group associate with people primarily from their own group,” said Parhar. "Diversity is great if we're actually interacting with those people that are different than us."

“In essence what we've done on campuses is we've created a whole bunch of cliques. The saddest thing for me when I walk across campus are the ethnic cliques," said Parhar. "Then I think to myself, 'am I being too critical?'… then you have to look at our history, the people who are the same hang out with the people who are like them for safety reasons because they have been oppressed or ridiculed or teased."

In his view, there are three steps to overcome stereotyping: recognizing the differences that exist between us, interacting with people on an individual level to find some commonality and understanding people as individuals.

Parhar sees these steps as initiatives that can be implemented by any student at UBC.

“What would be a better opportunity to know people other than university? We [as a university] need to create opportunities for people to interact with different people in a safe environment.”