Culture, memes and intercultural competency

It is likely that if you are reading this blog post, you already know what a “meme” is; but do you know about “culture-jamming?”; and what does that have to do with memes? Long before memes became a staple of internet browsing, anything that disrupted the mundane nature of everyday life and the status quo with surprising, often comical or satirical acts or artworks fit the description in the 1980s.  Scholar Henry Jenkins notes, “culture jamming has now broadened its scope beyond parody ads and altered billboards. Culture jamming tactics are being used not only to contest consumer culture, but also to intervene in politics and social movements.”

Fast forward a decade or two and culture jamming is thought of almost exclusively as political statements about consumerism being portrayed through memes. According to  Kalle Lasn, one of the founders of Adbusters, the best culture jam is one that introduces a meta-meme, a two-level message that punctures a specific commercial image, but does so in a way that challenges some larger aspect of the political culture of corporate domination. There are however some like some researchers like Fink and DeLaure who harken back to the basic meaning of “meme” as” an image, word, or idea that is easily altered and repurposed and spread. They note that, yes, memes can achieve high levels of visibility and rapid, widespread reach … but as for their potential to disrupt or subvert, that depends on the specific content and context.

One aspect of context that needs further exploration is the ability (or not) of memes to reach outside of narrow cultural contexts. Perhaps we do not live in a completely globalized world.  This summer, student in my Introduction to Intercultural Communication (CMNS 180) course took on this question.

A submission by student Emili Kaplin takes on the topic living in the Fraser Valley, its agricultural focus and localized climates. She says of the “local june produce season” meme, the “People that live in climates that are always hot or always cold can not relate to local June produce season. Certain areas of the world can also not relate to the winter depression that one feels in a very rainy climate, when you don’t get much sun and therefore vitamin D. Also, it’s originally derived from the ‘are ya winning, son‘ meme, which adds a funny layer to it” and that’s a whole other story that you might have to look up 🙂 Maybe that one is more global – what do you think?


On the other hand, Tom Wilson says of the cooking “starter pack” meme, that people of cultures around the world can totally get it. He states “I’ve often walked into kitchens and said this exact thing, dreaming of some elaborate, potential meal, only to realize that the cook is simply browning onions and garlic. It has also become something of an inside joke between my friends and I. So I hope you all enjoy! This meme might be hard to interpret for people unfamiliar with the “starter pack” meme format, which attempts to boil down the essence of a particular subculture, celebrity, or individual into a series of related images. It would also be difficult to parse for anyone who isn’t familiar with garlic or onions or has never had this experience. (An aside: is there any cusine that doesn’t use onions or garlic?). Of course, the fact that it’s in English might also be a barrier to understanding the meaning of the meme.”

“I have used this meme because I feel like this meme applies everywhere around the world”, submits student Sandy Sidhu. He goes on to explain, “This meme represents how even though everyone tells you to love your skin tone. But still there are some ads that tell us white skin is superior; that every country has been under the influence” and goes on to explain that even his home country India give more importance to white skin superiority and there are so many companies which give promises to get a fair white skin in a short time period. “This is a issue which could hurt someone mentally and make them uncomfortable with their own skin.”

The Covid pandemic is certainly of global concern and Jimmy Brar says this meme that plays on the toilet paper hoarding phenomenon expresses more about our attitude towards life than about the actual pandemic. He says “you can have all the money in the world but you won’t be as happy as those who make just enough to enjoy life. Having too much money just messes with your mind and makes you think you are happy but in reality, you’re the sad one because if you get cocky all your relatives start to avoid you and leave you out of the group.” This is probably something that people globally can identify with even if toilet paper hoarding might not have been.

It is no surprise that one of these hard working students took on the topic of education with a meme about the struggle of studying vs. thinking about your future. [Sarah] notes that she chose the meme for this very reason – “because it relates to most if not all students around the world including myself. I feel like I am spending most of my time thinking about both short and long term future instead of focusing on the moment 🙂 especially at this time of the semester when it is about to end. It relates to how we overthink rather than work hard to earn good marks which might lead to bad consequences. Don’t do it :)” While the image may not represent everyone’s reality of studying, she feels the inner feelings are global and crosses over lines of culture.

Our final example for this blog was submitted by Jenna Duffin on the topic of “glamorizing” and is a good companion to the one above about studying. Her submission features an illustration of characters just hanging out and enjoying life with the full caption being: “Stop glamorizing the grind and start glamorizing whatever this is.” She says the meme is ultimately about “rejecting the hard work associated with “the grind” and taking pleasure in the simple things, like relaxation.”

She does think that, “The meme uses messaging that could confuse individuals who are not in-tune with North American online culture. The meme refers to “the grind”, a phrase that has become synonymous with working hard to get something that you want, particularly at your job or place of work. Someone who does not know what “the grind” is will probably not understand the meme without an explanation.” She goes on to explain that, “My friends and I are all in university or have recently joined the workforce. We all find ourselves pretty burnt out and overworked at times and this meme really resonates with us. It relates to how we would like to be living our lives (relaxing & being together in nature) but cannot, due to the expectations of society.

We don’t have any hard and fast answers on the question of whether memes can generally be interpreted across cultures but I think they certainly give us great insight into what is on the minds of our UFV students.

Further reading:

Fink, M. and DeLaure, M. (2017). Culture Jamming: Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance (Eds.). NYU Press.

Public deliberation in B.C.: An audit of municipal website gateways

Guest blog and research by Caitlin Garfias-Chan 

Supervised by Marcella LaFever, Associate Professor CMNS 

Ever wish you could change something where you live but feel like nobody would listen anyway? Deliberative democratic theory has caught the attention of many public officials interested in improving their communities and the last 15 years in British Columbia has seen growth in municipalities creating processes for public participation and deliberation for community planning. Often, the entry point for participation in such initiatives is through municipal online portals. The two questions for this current research project were to investigate: 1) extent; and 2) ease of access for participation processes throughout British Columbia. 

Research by Knobloch, Gastil, Reedy, and Walsh (2013) define success in participatory processes as including analytic rigor (ensuring that decisions are based in facts and weighing all options; democratic discussion (ensuring that participants and process are relevant for the full diversity of the population); and well-reasoned decision (processing information from the, often conflicting, values and viewpoints of all affected parties). They also created a framework that defined and operationalizing six components: the context of the event, project design and setup, structural design, the discussion itself, experiences of the participants, and the output or product created.  

Online participatory processes being used as a part of the effort to increase the ways that residents can be part of democratic decision-making impacts especially on two of the measurable components of the framework outlines above, the context of the participatory event and in project design related to diversity of participants and the inclusion pf processes for intercultural communication (LaFever, 2009). We decided to start by quantifying the number of municipalities across British Columbia, whether they used online portals to invite public participation and how easy those links were to find. 


The first step in determining our sample was to define how many municipalities would be included in our analysis. After finding a list of B.C. municipalities we decided to include cities, towns, districts and district municipalities with a population of 10,000 or more (as per the 2016 census). The list included 91 entities for analysis. We note here also that the list did not include First Nation communities. 

Next was finding the data necessary and creating the criteria based on analysis. Using a spreadsheet, links to websites were used; both home pages and any engagement sites had dedicated spaces. At the same time, screenshots were used to emphasize further and provide proof of any possible engagement. The criteria are based on the opportunities given and how easy it is to find those same opportunities. It was noted that while some have an abundance of engagement projects, it was sometimes difficult to find them due to the website layout.  


Data shows that out of 91 municipalities, 35 have ongoing/active public engagement opportunities noted in their online presence (surveys, meeting the mayor events, engagement websites). These included municipality sizes from as large as Vancouver at a population of 631,486; to medium sized such as both Abbotsford and Chilliwack; to the smaller sized Mission at 38, 833 and places like Fernie and Creston with just over 5,000 population. Out of the 35 municipalities, 21 had their engagement tabs accessible in obvious ways at the top of the page and with wording that was directed at residents. And with very few clicks to get to a link that noted online public engagement opportunities. 14 had engagement sites that required a search through several “community” tabs or at the bottom of their homepage in small print. 

On the other hand, the majority, 50 municipalities, have no public engagement opportunities listed or only in ways not related to this research (i.e. speaking at council meeting). The additional six municipalities had some engagement in the past but had been inactive for several years, and of these only three have an easy-to-find archive page of those initiatives.   

Of 91 BC municipalities, only 38% are actively promoting projects and thus promoting public engagement within their communities. And only 60% of those municipalities are easily accessible through their website. 


As a first step this analysis was essential to a larger project to look at whether online portals are effective in increasing overall public participation in deliberation related to community planning. However, there are many gaps that can only be answered through a more in-depth look at specific projects across a spectrum of these communities. There are both smaller and larger communities that have online portals which will be an aspect to investigate in the next stage of the research, asking if there are significant differences in the various measurable components. The biggest issue may be determining whether the resultant deliberation events ensure that both participants and process are relevant for the full diversity of the population.  

References and additional resources 

Knobloch,K. R., Gastil, J., Reedy, J. and Walsh, K. C. (2013) Did they deliberate: Applying an evaluative model of democratic deliberation to the Oregon Citizens’Initiative Review. In Journal of Applied Communication Research 41(2).105-125 

LaFever, M. (2009).  9P Planning. Overcoming Roadblocks to Collaboration in Intercultural Community Contexts. Proceedings: International Workshop on Intercultural Collaboration (IWIC). International Conference; Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. Retrieved from 

Things we forget to remember: 10 Memes for workplace writing

Having just completed teaching our Professional Report Writing course, CMNS 251, I am reminded once again of ten common business writing practices that many of the learners in the course need to have reinforced several times throughout a semester before they seem to stick. These ten are not the entire list but let’s not get too heavy here, right?

Why are these things so difficult to remember? My guess is that it come from three understandable places – thus why we teach such a class:

  • In our very first experiences with writing we learn to give lots of space between letters and sentences so that our rough attempts can more easily be read and corrected;
  • The academic practice of double-spacing is also meant for “corrections” and publisher notes
  • Workplace (aka business/technical) writing is about speed. No time to waste trying to figure out the “bottom line” as they say. A new concept for our post-secondary level writers.

Given the need for speed in the business world, the message has to be succinct, accurate for the audience, with high readability (ease of understanding the main message), and ultimately bring a positive result. With these principles in mind, these ten memes just might help us remember.

#1: Single (not double) spacing is the default

single spacing and left alignment are the defaults for business writing

OK, no problem, but of course this does not stand alone. Single-spacing will take up less pages but it also has to come with shorter paragraphs to create what is called white space. White space (the parts of the page that do not contain text, make the text easier to read). Thanks to the computer age, single spacing also comes hand-in-hand with the use of left-alignment and no paragraph indent (replaced by a single line space to designate a new paragraph (ah more white space).


This leads us to #2: Succinct Section Headings

Remember speed as a principle? The reader needs to be able to “glance” through a memo, letter, or document and pick out important information. No time for flowery prose here – make headings obvious with very few words that say exactly the focus of a particular section. Bold is best. Making the heading stand out is good but don’t overdo it. Just use bold, not italic or underline and for goodness sake don’t use a combination (horrors).

Of course headings only really make sense if they are configured in line with #3 Follow a Logical Path. Make sure that one section leads to the next. It is fairly common for inexperienced writers to just put their thoughts down as they are thinking without ever trying to organize them ahead of time.

Maybe a meme about making an outline first would be handy. OK – next time. Organizing my thoughts was something I certainly had to be reminded to do even in graduate school and I continue to remind myself regularly when I write. That being said, even the most logical route will not be enough if we don’t give clear directions to the reader on what to expect next on the pathway.

#4 Use Transitions as road signs. Almost every time I ask a class what they need for a good road trip, they say “snacks.” It takes us a while to get to “navigation tools” like maps and road signage. Those are just things we expect to be there but NO, somebody had to design them at some time and they did it for good reason.

It is pretty easy to find resources on line that offer hundreds of suggestions for writing a variety of types of transitions. These remind the reader where they have been, where they are headed next, how far they still need to go, and where they will end up.

# 5 Use Plain Language unless your audience is well-versed in a particular workplace jargon (specialized technical language). Using plain language is a not about dumbing down information, it is about making sure the message is clear for a broad audience. Along with the inherently multi-lingual nature of North America, Canada is fortunate in having a culturally diverse settler/immigrant and refugee population that offer a rich global experience and bring hundreds of languages into daily life. For many people English may be not only a second language but probably a fourth or fifth language at the least. Using plain language helps everyone have a better communication experience whether in speaking or writing.

#6 Use Past Tense in most cases when writing reports.

Why? because by the time your audience is reading the report is finished, therefore in the past. The most common bad (but natural) habit is to use a progressing/continuous future tense (i.e. you will read about an analysis of…). Present tense is also common (I am writing about…). Past tense is more accurate “For this report I analyzed..”

#7 Know your audience and your purpose.

This one really should be #1 but hey, we usually get there without as much trouble as 1-6 above. Those seem so simple but turn out not to be.

Identifying your audience takes time and thought. Audience demographics (location, age, gender, cultural background) are a great place to start but do not stop there. Ask yourself some more questions: Who cares? How do they want to get the information? What will they expect to from a particular time of document or mode of message transmission?

Know your purpose before designing your message.Why do you think this message is important to get out? What is it about this information that would get the attention of the audience you have identified? What do you want the audience to do in response to what you are writing?

Match your answers to these types of questions with the audience you have identified to double-check that you have a clear picture of what your message will be. Develop a short statement about your purpose to include in the introduction. This will help the reader but it will also have the bonus effect of keeping you on track.

#8 Know and honour the difference between a fact, an opinion, and your bias. Reports are no place for opinion. Even your conclusions should be based in the facts you present. Provide a source for everything you present as a “claim of fact;” and do your best to ensure that you acknowledge and account for bias (something we all have but often need to be more aware of).

I know that citing facts are the bane of all student existence but I promise that after a while it is the funnest part (my opinion lol). In the Communications department we most often use APA citation style because that is what academic journals in our discipline most often require. Plus the APA Style Blog is always a handy resource for all the cases that occur from rapid changes in digital information sources. In business writing it is more common to see something like Chicago (note and bibliography style) which demonstrates conventions similar to those used for Wikipedia style. It is more digital friendly for social media as well.

#9  Reports do not use salutary openings and complimentary closes. This one seems a bit picky but it will help you to identify the type of document that is best for your purpose. Is your audience just one individual? or written in a personal tone? You probably want to use a letter format (seems old-fashioned these days but still relevant in many circumstances). If so, please DO use salutary openings and complimentary closes.

Otherwise, remember that in professional/business/technical writing, speed it the thing. Greetings and closings slow both you and the reader down.

Tip #10 seems so, so obvious but one more time won’t hurt – PROOF READ before you send. If you have the time and resources, have someone else also proof your writing as a set of fresh eyes. Another trick is to have your device read out what you have written. This is a great way to listen for moments when you think “that doesn’t make sense” or “wow, where did that come from.”

Thank you for your time and now I need to go back and proofread one more time. Please let me know if I missed anything 🙂 Happy report writing to all.

A special Thank You to “Boo” the grizzly who lives and works at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in the Dogtooth Range of the Purcell Mountains, Columbia Valley, Golden, British Columbia.

Also to Terry Curts for the meme ideas and image search

Additional resources:

Social Categorization and COVID_19

covering up anti Asian graffiti in Vancouver image from CBC News

Last week in CMNS 180 (Introduction to Intercultural Communication), for an assignment related to our unit on Culture, Communication and Social Categorization, I asked the class to:

  • Find a current news article or broadcast  about Canada’s experience with Covid_19 that demonstrates some element of  ingroup/outgroup; othering; or social categorization
  • Provide a link to the item
  • Provide your take on how the situation in the news relates to this topic

After reading all the responses, very pleased with how the took on the assignment, I sent them this email and I thought other people might like to see the list too.

Dear Class: “I thought you might like to see the broad range of topics and articles that were submitted to me for the Canada Now – Covid_19 assignment.

This is just the links with none of the related comments which I found really fascinating with some things that I hadn’t thought of and with so much direct relationship to communication. Some of this variety included things like ageism, finances, border crossing, conspiracy theories, racism and racist graffiti, Indigenous communities, partisan politics, and many more – have a look.

The down side? our society has a lot of work to do to be better.” Regards, M

Here is the list of links:


International and domestic students: Breaking the divide at UFV

Students in the Global Lounge

Guest blog by

  • Erin Pilla,
  • Joban Sidhu,
  • Paige Senft,
  • Sumanpreet Kaur

Intercultural Communication considers the impact that culture has on the way that people create and decipher messages; how they come to understand meanings through interactions with culturally different humans.

Why is Intercultural Communication Important

Learning to become interculturally competent is important in order to eliminate stereotyping and the judgment against other groups based on the lack of knowledge that people have on other groups. At the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) we have the privilege to delve into the world of intercultural communication, where we as students can lean each other and support each other through our educational goals.  There are many opportunities to get involved with intercultural communication at UFV; there are different social groups, intercultural events, support groups and counseling to help international students settle into their lives at UFV and in Abbotsford. Students from all over the world come here to complete their post secondary education or to study abroad to gain that experience of living in another country.

UFV has partnerships for the Abroad program  from all over the world. Some of the countries include:







Czech Republic





Hong Kong

















Each of these countries offer different post secondary education programs to give international students a chance to grow in their education and chase their passion. The programs that are available to students range from Business and Social work to open studies, to language studies.  All of these programs are offered between multiple Universities in the countries mentioned. These different groups experience each other’s way of life and become acknowledged about their traditions, cultures and norms.

How Does it Impact UFV Students

Intercultural communication allows for UFV students to expand their cultural knowledge, and meet new people to share information. University is the time of your life to explore and have new experiences, why not learn about a new culture and experience something new. Learning about each other’s cultures  can reduce culture shock amongst the international students that are here for an extended period of time. Also, these opportunities let the domestic students learn about the different cultures if they do not have the opportunity to travel. They give students and faculty a chance to communicate in a variety of ways. Communicating across cultural norms allows for open mindedness, especially when considering the difficulties that some international students may face, such as: language barriers, trying to open up and not being confident to introduce themselves. The social groups and peer mentoring help the international students to be more comfortable in a new country, new environment, and new learning atmosphere.

Intercultural Communication 101 at UFV (no not the course)

Some tips on how to achieve intercultural communication:

What are Universities Doing to enhance Intercultural Communication?

The University of Fraser Valley also has peer to peer mentoring to help the international students. On their website, you can look at the profiles of the mentors and see which of the mentors match your personality the best.

 Here is an example of a Student:

Courtesy of: Connect With a Student International 2020


Resources page fromm UFV’s Teaching & Learning Centre

 Additionally the UFV centre for Teaching and Learning offers a page full of great resources and notes about what you can glean from them. This resource is intended for everyone at UFV; students, staff, administration and faculty.

Near to home, the University of British Columbia has a website page that helps international students

Navigate find their way in life in Canada. Where they can find tutors, how to budget, how to find a doctor, and much more

Courtesy of: Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation University of British Columbia 2020
Courtesy of: International Student Guide University of British Columbia 2020

Additionally, the University of Toronto has a website page dedicated to tips that professors can use in the classroom that will help international students with learning the material during lectures, which in turn will also help the domestic university students. 


Let’s get personal; A UFV International student experience from one of the authors:

Q. How do you find UFV as a school?

A. UFV is a good school, more than I expected. International group lounge was very helpful in my adjustment here, the group lounge is particularly for international students to meet each other.

Q. Was your transition to UFV Easy?

A. It’s not so easy transitioning here from India, missing family and friends, and being in a new culture. Living alone and having to grocery shop, manage rent are all new things for me. I have difficulty finding a job and making new friends. UFV has many opportunities in helping make friends, different groups to join and meet people.

Q. What are some gaps you find in North American culture compared to Indian Culture?

A. There are many differences such as clothing, food, language, different styles of learning, celebrations,  and different ways of greeting each other

Q. If you knew about intercultural communication when you moved to Canada, would it have made a difference in your transition? 

A. YES 🙂

Activities for Communication in a Classroom

Activity #1 – Create a Poem

“ Where I’m From”

“Creating a “reflection” that communicates an affirmative personal, cultural, and linguistic identity is likely to benefit all students in class, but this pedagogical approach has been seen as particularly impactful for English language learners, whose home cultures and languages may be perceived as inferior in the mainstream social and educational environment.”

Allowing the students to write about where they are from, and the different cultures/ identities was able to help engage the students learning english as a second language a chance to give them each something to talk and show where they are from. Allowing them each to write about themselves and the place they came from gave them a sense of empowerment

Activity #2 – What Would You Do?

Time Required: 45–60 minutes: 30 minutes for activity and 30 minutes to debrief

 Objectives: 1. Describe a range of “appropriate” responses in a given scenario. 2. Explore the diversity of communication styles within the group.

Materials: Post-it notes Pen or pencil for each participant Communication Styles Handout (distribute after step 3) Four pieces of poster-size paper: Each with a situation

Process: 1. Ask participants to read and decide how they would respond to each situation. 2. Have them record individual responses on Post-it notes and place them on the appropriate situation chart. 3. Ask participants to choose one charted situation to stand next to. Balance the four groups. 4. Ask each group to examine the responses to their situation. 5. Distribute the Communication Styles Handout. Review the style preferences listed on page 33. 6. Cluster responses into “style” preference.

Example Scenario: “You see someone using racist terms”

Example Response: “Say that you are not OK with that”, “Get somewhere safe”, “Get help” 

Activity #3 – Personal Reflection for Transition

Time required: 75-95 minutes ( 5 minutes for setup; 20-30 minutes for completing worksheet; 20-30 minutes for small group discussion; 30 minutes for debriefing 

Objectives: 1) for participants to let go of their current locations and psychologically moving on to their new location, and to reflect. 2) for participants to recognize that transitions are a process, not distinct events, and they can move on with conscious intent. 3) for participants to relax and get additional perspective and inspiration during what is typically a challenging time.

Process: answer questions about their departure and their transition into the new space. 

To follow up: talk about the answers, and help the participants feel better.

References and additional resources:

Baldwin, J. R., & Levy, S. (2014). Intercultural communication for everyday life. Wiley-Blackwell.  Berardo, K,. Deardorff, D.K,. Building Cultural Competence: Innovative Activities and  Models. (2008) Retrieved from:

Byram, M., Nichols, A., Stevens, D.,Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice:  Languages for Intercultural Communication and Education.(2001). Retrieved from:

Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (2020), University of Toronto Retrieved From:

Connect with a Student (2020) International Students, Retrieved From:

Georges, S. V., & Huan, C. (2018). International Student Involvement: Leading Away from Home. Journal of Leadership Education, 17(4), 17.

Global Engagement Volunteers, International. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Gunawardena, H., & Wilson, R. (2012). International Students at University : Understanding the Student Experience. Peter Lang AG,

International Student Guide, (2020) University of British Columbia, Retrieved from:

Ivanova, R. (2019). Using “where I’m from” poems to welcome international ESL students into U.S. academic culture. TESOL Journal, 2.

London School of English. (2018, October 31). Learning a language – A gateway to intercultural competence. Retrieved from

Muscato, C.(2020) Intercultural Communication: Definition, Model & Strategies Study.Com. Retrieved From:

Person. (2020, March 5). 5 Actions You Can Take To Gain Intercultural Competence. Retrieved from

Poitras, D. (2019). Welcoming International and Foreign Students in Canada: Friendly Relations with Overseas Students (FROS) at the University of Toronto, 1951–68. 100(1), 22–45.

Procter M. (2001) Ways to help your ESL students … and Everyone in the Process

Quinlan, O., Deardorff, D. K., (2020)  How universities can teach their students to respect different cultures. Retrieved from

Shapiro, S., Farrelly, R. & Tomas, Z. (2014 ). Fostering International Student Success in Higher Education. Alexandria, VA

Stringer, D.M,. Cassiday, P.A,. 52 Activities for Successful International Relocation.  (2014). Retrieved From: from: 

Stringer, D. M. & Cassiday, P. (2009) 52 Activities for Improving Cross-Cultural Communication. Boston: Intercultural Press.

Zhang, M. M., Jie Xia, D, & Zhu, J. C. (2016). Managing Student Diversity in Business Education: Incorporating Campus Diversity Into the Curriculum to Foster Inclusion and Academic Success of International Students. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 15(2), 366–380.

Racism in Canada: We still have a lot of work to do

Guest blog by Lisa Oyston and Paden Harris

Do you think being “colourblind” is a solution or that historically oppressed groups should just “get over it?”  In this piece we explore what racism is, some history of government sanctioned racism through laws and Acts, the Canadian denial of racism, and what the government is doing to combat racism. Through this blog and the links we provide we hope you learn a bit about racism in Canada and how it shapes the Canada of today and inspires you to use that knowledge to shape the Canada of tomorrow as a country that values all its citizens and welcomes their contributions.

What is Racism? 

Racism in Canada seems to get swept under the rug so first, let us try to answer the what is racism? Charlotte Reading, in her article Social Determinants of Health: Understanding Racism, written for the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Rights, explains that term definitions such as race, racism, ethnicity and ethnocentrism, and topics of interests such as ideology of racism, forms of racism, epistemic racism, structural racism, social exclusion, symbolic racism, embodied racism and the concept of “colorblindness.” There is obviously a lot to learn when it is time to answer the question of “What is racism?”

One of the concepts that we found it useful to explore for our piece is the concept of “colorblindness.” Something that on the surface seems perfectly reasonable – not judging people by the colour of their skin; that if more Canadians became “colorblind” our society would become more accepting, allowing minority groups, immigrants and aboriginal peoples to feel more welcomed in a place that they call their home.  In reality this is not anywhere near the answer. As Canadian scholar Robyn Maynard states “One of the reasons that racism persists in Canada is because our commitment to the perception of racial tolerance and harmony seems to be prized above the actual lived experiences of people.”

Charlotte points out that believing that ignoring skin colour will solve all our problems fails to consider the very real experience of racismthat occur in daily life. As a result, this attitude actually helps to maintain inequities. While people put into the category of “white” continue to access unearned priviledge based on their skin colour, racialized people continue to experience discrimination and oppression.  Rather than promoting social justice, colour-blindness is simply a new form of racism that becomes even more subtle and indirect. Forms that slip through the net of Canada’s laws and Acts of Parliament that are meant to stop racism.

Canada and a Government Sanctioned History of Racism

Currently, Canada has many laws that prohibit singling out people of a certain race or ethnic origin for discrimination. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has a section that deals with equality and rights. It states that people are to be treated equally no matter their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion but this hasn’t always been the practice. In the past the Canadian Government has enacted laws that single out a race or ethnicity for exclusion. Some examples of this are the Continuous Voyage Legislation, Indian Residential Schools, the Chinese Immigration act, and the WWII internment of Japanese Canadians.

Continuous Journey Regulation

In 1908 and until 1947, the Canadian government Immigration Act included was was called the Continuous Journey Regulation. It stated that in order to be eligible to immigrate to Canada a person must complete their journey from their country of origin without any stopovers, or in other words a continuous journey. Without stating it, this regulation was specifically aimed at immigrants from India and Japan who, due to the technology of the time, were unable to sail to Canada without stopping at another country.

This regulation was challenged numerous times and was up-dated several times. One of the challenges, the Komagata Maru Incident of 1914 that happened in Vancouver, led to the death of twenty passengers and the imprisonment and execution of most when the ship landed back in Budge Budge, India. In 2008 the Canadian Government apologized for this incident.

Indian Residential Schools

Residential schools were Canadian Government funded school administered by religious bodies. They first opened in 1830 and the last one closed in 1996. The stated goal of these schools was to educate and convert to Christianity Indigenous youths so they could integrate into “Canadian” society but to accomplish this the method was to separate them from their families and culture and destroy their identity. Or as one government official said to “kill the Indian in the child.” Many of the children suffered years of abuse, neglect and death. The outcomes of this school system left generations trapped between two worlds.

Chinese Immigration Act and Head Tax

Due to the demand for cheap and exploitable labour to build the Canadian Pacific Railway (as well as for mining, fishing, and forestry) the Canadian Government encouraged the immigration of Chinese labourers. The cross-Canada railway was finished in 1885and in that year the Canadian Government passed the Chinese Immigration Act which applied a “head tax” of $50 per person of Chinese ethnic origin as well as limiting the number of Chinese people a ship could carry. In 1900 the head tax was raised to $100. In 1903 it was raise to $500. Then, in 1923 the Canadian Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which banned the immigration of people of Chinese ethnic origin all together. These discriminatory Acts not only prevented Chinese immigration to Canada but also broke up families by preventing the wives and children to join the men who came to help build Canada.

Japanese Internment Camps

After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 during WW2 the Canadian Government created a “protected zone” along the coast of British Columbia in which there was to be no one of Japanese descent due to the distrust of anyone who “might have” Japanese loyalties … even if they were Canadian by birth. People were forcibly removed from their homes. Any possessions they could not carry were taken into government custody and sold. This included their homes, businesses, fishing boats, and even personal property. Men, women, and children were interned in camps in the interior of British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba. In 1946 when the war was over many were forced to return to a war devastated Japan. Even after the war, the people who remained in Canada were not allowed to return to their former homes.

Racism and communities of African descent in Canada

As Matthew McRae (2020) tells us in his piece “The Story of Africville” the history of Black people in Canada goes back at least to where there were communities in Nova Scotia  since before the founding of the city of Halifax in 1749. Then after the American Revolution, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, large groups of Black settlers came, many of them former enslaved people who had been promised freedom and land. Instead they faced attitudes of superiority and segregation. Despite this they build vibrant communities that were routinely excluded from being provided proper municipal services of all kinds. Eventually in 1964, the community known as Africville, a part of the City of Halifax was destroyed under the guise of relocation and homes destroyed with little to no notice. They continued to face racism in their new homes. Robyn Maynard in her recently published book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present delves in to the legacy of such actions and government policies.

Denials of Racism in Canada 

Sadly we still experience widespread and disgraceful denials of racism in Canada. Trevor Gulliver  (2018), in his article Canada the Redeemer and Denials of Racism does an amazing job of explaining this in his chapter Denials of Racism. According to this article there are many different ways that Canada uses to be shielded from accusations of racism. Strategies includes minimizing incidents (it wasn’t that bad) or acknowledges to a limited extent (its just some individuals) but, even then, it is posited as in the past and better now.

What Strategies has Canada Implemented to Stop Racism?

One such strategy is the Anti-Racism Strategy created by the Government of Canada in 2018.  The strategy focuses on three principles “demonstrating federal leadership, empowering communities, and building awareness and changing attitudes.” This also includes what is called the Anti-Racism Action Program which provides help to religious minorities, racialized communities and Indigenous peoples having issues with employment, justice and social participation. This website is very important to read and to become familiar with to become educated about the laws and regulations Canada has set in place to combat racism.

Another anti-racism initiative is through the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This website shows the different human rights laws and systems used to provide information on and address discrimination. This website provides the reader with the description of the human rights code which “provides for equal rights and opportunities and freedom from discrimination.” This website also provides the description of racism and racial discrimination because many people confuse these terms. Racism is “a belief that one group is superior to others” whereas racial discrimination is “the illegal expression of racism.” This website also defines systemic racial discrimination and lastly identifies and addresses racial discrimination. To understand racism this website really helps and makes it easier to identify and stop these types of discrimination from occurring. 

By learning about these and other discriminatory acts and understand how they came to be through fear and the blame game, where you pick an easy target rather than looking for the root cause of your fears and troubles, we can be better prepared to meet the challenges of today, fairly, for all Canadians. Not only will our children and grandchilden be proud of us but we can build a strong united Canada that values all its citizens and welcomes their contributions.

We hope this blog and the links we provided will motivate you to look at racism in Canada with open eyes. There are so many stories of perseverance and courage, both in Canada’s past and present. Hopefully this will motivate you to go out and join the fighters and make a difference. Knowledge is power. Use it wisely.

Additional References and Resources (Books available from UFV Library)

Canadian Encyclopedia. Residential Schools.

Dere, G. W. W. (2019). Being Chinese in Canada: The Struggle for Identity, Redress and Belonging. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McKintyre

Downie, G. (2016) The Secret Path (The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack)

Este D., Lorenzetti L, & Sato C. (2018). Racism and Anti-Racism in Canada. Winnipeg, MB:  Fernwood Publishing

Gulliver, T. (2018) Canada the Redeemer and Denials of Racism. Critical Discourse Studies 15(1) 68-86

Kazimi, A. The Continuous Journey [documentary film] available in the University of the Fraser Valley Library.

Legion Magazine. Japanese Canadian Internment

McRae, M. (2020) The Chinese head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Canada Human Right’s Museum.

Nakano, T. U. & Nakano, L. (1980). Within the Barbed Wire Fence: A Japanese Man’s Account of his Internment in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Reading, C. (2013). Understanding racism. National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health.

Spear, W. K. (2007). Muffins for Granny: 7 stories from Indian Residential School survivors.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2013).

Wawahte: Stories of residential school survivors.

The intersection of accessibility, gender roles and stereotype: Increasing your communication competence

Rainbow Crosswalk at UFV CEP

Guest blog by Tristyn MacLeod and Bryan Dyke

Understanding the struggle of how someone manages daily life with physical challenges or deals with the hardships of stereotyping is not something you can truly understand as an outside observer. Until you have experienced what it is truly like to live in their shoes, you can only speculate on the physical hardship and emotional turmoil that can occur on a frequent, daily basis.

Using the resources we have available through both online and physical research articles and interviews, we can learn more regarding the struggle that everyday communication can be for people who live with these kinds of challenges and those who are subjected to ridicule based on misplaced stereotypes and potential language barriers.

With our growing use of online communication and interaction with members of the general public worldwide, we are afforded the chance to communicate while avoiding the risk of interacting based on stereotypes. Ware (2011) offers the premise that technology mediates social discourses and offers a way to have discussions in multiple ways. This means that someone with their own biases may now be required to interact or discuss someone else’s work purely on the content that they have created and not based on the person themselves. This means of interaction provides many marginalized group members with the chance to grow and develop without the fear or external judgment or ridicule.

Societies have also started to shift towards becoming more inclusive environments as well through technology. In television shows or movies such as Wicked, Maleficent, and Game of Thrones, characters with physical challenges are being portrayed in positive ways rather than positions of inferiority or isolation as stated by Donnelly (2016). While this is a good start, there is still progress that needs to be made. Modern day advertising still plays a large role on how we believe people should act. Mensa and Bittner (2020)) gives the example of Latin American countries still depicting women in a sexualized way. They are seen as decorative objects, doing activities outside the home in social contexts, but still removed from roles of power and completeness. With women often shown the same in domestic, maternal, and romantic roles, there is little opportunities for them to escape the feelings and acts of gender stereotyping (Litosselity and Sunderland, 2002).

Another area that has deeply imbedded stereotypes around gender but is starting to change in the media and in daily life is in the perception of non-binary gender. Acceptance of a broad range of gender identities is something that may seem new to our culture however, third genders have been around for longer than we might think. According to Souerbry (2020) many different cultures have had third genders with evidence that dates back to 2000 BCE. Wakashu also known as “beautiful youths” is a widely accepted third gender in Japan. The Muxe is another third gender that originated in Oaxaca, Mexico. Muxes are usually men who identify more as women however they may just be people who don’t fall into the traditional male-female or gay-straight categories. Two-Spirit, a term created for a modern understanding of third-gender understandings of Indigenous peoples of the North American continent is another example (Neptune, 2018). It’s important for us to understand that even though modern culture may just be getting used to the idea of gender binaries, our ancestors already thought of this idea as normal and even had their own definitions of it.

Accessible path
Photo by Bryan Dyke

For those who are faced with the physical challenges of daily life as well coping with stereotyping, the struggle is immense. As one of the author’s of this piece, from person experience with being bound to a wheelchair for several weeks due to a broken leg, I can relate that every small task turned into a large project. Thankfully there were people who went out of their way to give assistance but there were many chances for people to help when they chose not to. I was lucky to only have to experience this for a short-period of time, many people are not so lucky.

Just in passing people by, a person’s non-verbal communication can express much of their views. Alberts et al. (2010) share the fact that while may people are not aware of it, people who struggle with accessibility or gender stereotypes are generally well versed in non-verbal communication. They experience these biased perceptions of themselves on a daily basis and it plays an integral part of how communication will occur between the parties.

In the end, behaviours by groups or individuals can influence and change our cultural systems. Our brains are wired to stereotype. Most patterns of stereotyping are socially constructed by our cultures, which means that we can change the patterns and train our brains (Nguyen, 2017). As our societies and cultures shift towards inclusiveness, the general population will also continue to take the right steps in developing healthy relationships with members from every group and cultural and strive towards a better understanding.

References and additional resources:
Alberts, J. K., Nakayama, T. K., & Martin, J. N. (2010). Human communication in society. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Donnelly, C. E. (2016). Re-visioning negative archetypes of disability and deformity in fantasy: Wicked, Maleficent, and Game of Thrones. Disability Studies Quarterly, 36(4).

Litosseliti, L. & Sunderland, J. (2002). Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis.Gender identity and discourse analysis. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins

Mensa, M., & Bittner, V. (2020) Portraits of Women: Mexican and Chilean Stereotypes in
Digital Advertising. Communication & Society, 33(1), 63-78.

Neptune, G. (2018). What does “Two-Spirit” mean? retrieved from

Nguyen, P. M. (2017). Intercultural Communication: An interdisciplinary Approach: When
Neurons, Genes and Evolution Joined the Discourse. 15 – 110.

Pilkington, H. (1996). Gender, Generation and Identity in Contemporary Russia. London, UK: Routledge.

Shi, X. (2006). Gender, identity and intercultural transformation in second language socialisation. Language and Intercultural communication, 6(1), 2-17.

Souerbry, R. (2020, January 21). These Third Genders From Cultures Around The World Prove It’s Not As Black and White As People Think. Retrieved from Ranker:

Intercultural Competency Important for Employers

A global workforce

Guest Blog by Nicole Weipu Liu

One of the advantages of a proactive policy of hiring people of different cultures is that it strengthens the employer’s place in the market.  Employees from different cultural backgrounds bring with them an understanding of their new host culture and their original culture.  They already have experience in dealing with the inevitable frictions between the cultures and are in a perfect position to interpret the advantages of dealing with their employer.

These intercultural employees are able to guide other host culture employees in the proper direction when dealing with potential clients.  In the Narver (2018) video it is made clear that it is very easy to have an unconscious world view that is ethnocentric. Having employees from different backgrounds helps overcome that and positions the company to succeed in the international market place.

The Varner and Beamer (2011) book provides specific advice on raising skills on areas like business socializing in different cultures and handling controversies and various moral and ethical issues in various cultural settings.  Working side by side with employees from different cultures raises everyone’s skill level as they observe each other maneuver different challenges.

My own experience in working with a range of cultures was in China.  After I earned my first university degree in Chinese Culture, I was hired by Hainan Airlines to help the company cope with integrating its workforce from many Chinese sub-cultures.  Hainan is China’s fourth largest airline with over 500 routes servicing many different ethnic regions in China. The airline is based in the city of Haikou which is populated by Mandarin speaking Han Chinese similar to the Chinese in Beijing.  The airline services other far away cities such a Urumqi which has a large Uyghur Muslim population and Shenzhen which is a center of Cantonese culture near Hong Kong.

I was part of a team whose mission was to build an efficient and happy workforce which could work together.  Our larger goal was to give the population of the various regions of China the feeling that Hainan Airlines was their airline and understood their needs.  We developed strategies of cross training so that employees had to do each other’s jobs as part of a learning exercise.  We would deliberately mix the cultures from all over China for this training.  The object was not to foster a sameness but to build understanding of the different cultures in the group.

We also looked at the market for clients and created marketing messages suited to the cultures we were dealing with.  For example, a marketing message for people from Urumqi might show a Muslim family traveling, and an advertisement for Beijing might depict young professionals.  The skill was in getting the message just right and this required input from intercultural employees.

Developing skills of intercultural competent communication is vitally important for both the employees of national companies and international companies in this era of globalization.  It simply makes sense to take advantage of the breadth of experience available from an intercultural workforce.


Additional Resources:

Duggan,T. (2018).  Strategies for Dealing with Intercultural Communication.  Retrieved from:

Faris, S. (2018). Why is Intercultural Communication Important in the Workplace? Retrieved from:

Miron, A. (2013). The Importance of Intercultural Skills.  Retrieved from:

Narver, D. (2018).  Research on Cross Cultural Team Performance and International Resources.

Varner, I., & Beamer, L. (2011) Intercultural Communication in the Global Workplace.  Cultural Rules for

Establishing Relationships,  pp 251-288.

A personal journey towards intercultural competency in the workplace

Guest Blog by Jake Jude

Although the concept of a Caucasian male speaking on integrating as a minority in the workplace seems odd, I was afforded the opportunity to learn through the research done for this project, as well as experientially through my internship work in Africa, in order to improve my intercultural competency in the workplace.

Much of the literature that exists comments on the need for individuals to be exposed to the culture of minorities they work with, in order to find ways to work more cohesively with each other and achieve a goal that benefits everybody. It is a system that puts heavy emphasis on the reciprocity of respect in the exchange of information. Much of the research conducted found that minorities find the most amount of difficulty understanding information, directions or criticisms when the messages are coded through archaic methods of communication; communicators who still operate using ageist, sexist or even racist undertones do not attribute to a positive, efficient and safe work environment.

Participating in an internship crew meeting in Zimbabwe

Personally, I have worked in an NGO (non-governmental organization) setting, where I was working among many African born members, as well as members of the LGBTQ and several women in positions of authority. As the only member of my own culture group, I felt like a fish out of water, but learning as much as I could about the language, the holidays and the communication systems helped me to grow within the organization and ultimately as an intern and future employee.

Returning from my work in that setting and back into north American society, I have learned that patience, plain language and direct communication are extremely important when it comes to establishing a professional relationship and working together to get a job done. With respect to this project, in a group capacity, I have added to the  conversation by suggesting themes that some of my other groupmates (a white Canadian womn, an international student from the Punjab, India and an immigrant mom from China) have been focusing on related to intercultural competency in the workplace in our original plan, I volunteered to be the member of the group who pulled all of the work together into a single presentation.

As the COVID_19 pandemic hit us here at the University of the Fraser Valley and interfered with our original plans to interact with other students through displays, I hope you enjoy reading, and can learn from, our individual portions in these blog postings.

For more detailed information here are some great information sources:

Aguirre, A. (2000). Women and minority faculty in the academic workplace[microform] :
recruitment, retention, academic culture [Washington, DC : ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education]. George Washington University, Dept. of Education.

Grant, M. G. (2020). Culture War in the Workplace. New Republic, 251(1/2), 20–29.

Leeming, D. E., & Mora, M. D. I. (2016). Work Based Learning in Intercultural Settings: A
Model in Practice. In

Lüdi, G., Höchle Meier, K., & Yanaprasart, P. (2016). Managing Plurilingual and Intercultural
Practices in the Workplace: The Case of Multilingual Switzerland. John Benjamins
Publishing Company. 320.

Mickahail, B. K., & Aquino, C. T. E. de. (2019). Effective and creative leadership in diverse
workforces improving organizational performance and culture in the workplace. Chapter 4:
Leadership, Culture, and Innovation. 66.

The Need for Intercultural Competency in your Workplace


Guest blog by: Karanveer Singh Brar

With the fast pace in globalization and drastic change in the business world, there have been an increased number of people traveling to different countries in the search of better life and well-paying jobs. This has led to developing a need for adapting to the concept of multiculturism and diversity.


The concept of diversity is a burning topic in western countries where people from different rthnicities and cultures reside together in search of better life. This diversity in the workplace offers an entirely new challenge for the employers. Anyone traveling from a different part of the world has their own set of beliefs, norms, values and most importantly perspectives, for instance, colors depict different meanings in among cultures. Sometimes these differences can be stark, so it is necessary to inculcate these differences in a good way so that everyone feels respected. Effective communication at the workplace is the most essential stepping-stone for bringing together people from different cultures. This includes sharing ideas, beliefs and understanding to help adapt quickly and work productively for the organization.

Every organization defines a set of goals and has a vision towards their success, but having a set of rules in place is not the only thing the organization can rely on. It is the effective delivery of these goals and ideas to the employees that would bring a change. Since we are talking about a multicultural workforce, the delivery of these ideas have to be very clear and easy for anyone to understand. According to Graduateway (2016) “A diverse cultural community helps an organization to change their market and moreover an organization has to be familiar with the social aspects of thinking in order to reach to their desired target.”Image 2

To put this in perspective, let me take my personal experience as an example. I came to Canada as an international student, found a part time job at a big store. I had certain set of duties and tasks to perform everyday like maintaining a clean and safe work environment, being friendly to my colleagues and managers and above all interacting with customers. During the first week of my job, I found it very hard to talk to anyone. I was hesitant to initiate conversation fearing what the person in would think of me as I was from a different part of the world and wore a turban. However, my managers and colleagues were very friendly and open minded and helped me out in every task where I felt stuck. I was fortunate that I worked in an organization where people helped each other but not everyone is always that lucky.

If my coworkers would have been rude or offensive to my opinions or culture, I would have faced a lot of difficulty in adjusting to my new life and could have even quit. Concluding this, it was the friendliness, openness, warmth and understanding of my peers that made a difference. This clearly defines the important role that intercultural communication played in developing a strong and long-lasting relationship with the organization.

There are various ways through which intercultural communication at the workplace can become effective. One of the best ways is listening to the podcasts and reading books on interculturism. Recently, I found a podcast  about resolving the issues related to intercultural communication by understanding the nature of intercultural conflicts. In this video (2017), Marie Gervais, CEO Shift Management Inc. talks about the diversity in the developed countries. Followed by the discussion on the ways understanding can be improved among the individuals who come from different cultures or countries.

Communication has a deeper meaning than what we normally perceive. It is effective when it creates a friendly environment and encourages people to share their ideas without skepticism. Also, communication should make people feel comfortable about discussing their opinions with their supervisors and other higher authorities. Sometimes a person with a brilliant idea can be undermined just because they are culturally different. Thirdly, effective communication not only means communicating the message effectively but also giving an equal importance to the feedback because this will make anyone feel valued for their thoughts. As a consequence, if effective intercultural communication is practiced at the workplace, the process of adapting to a new culture would speed up for a new immigrant and they would be able to work more productively and efficiently.

Additional Resources

Gaille, B. (2014, January 28). What Colors Mean in Different Cultures. Retrieved from

Graduateway. (2016, May). Retrieved March 16, 2020, from Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace Essay Example:

Gervais, M. (2017) Intercultural Communication at Work: Understanding Cultural Conflict Styles · ShiftWorkPlace. Retrieved from

Intercultural communication in the workplace and the role of communication in an organization. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2020, from НОО Профессиональная наука:

Rouse, M. (2020, January 29). What Is Globalization? Globalization Explained. Retrieved from

Wolfe, M. (2019, February 11). Changes in the Business World. Retrieved from