The relationship between cultural literacy and social justice in Canada

No matter where we live in the world, we face similar social justice issues. Many of them – like racism, inequality and Indigenous rights – stem from a failure to appreciate the customs, values and beliefs of other cultures. Often, this lack of cultural understanding reinforces stereotypes and discrimination, creating a vicious cycle.

When we improve our cultural literacy, we can help break this pattern. Strong cultural literacy allows us to better understand different cultures, including traditions, customs, activities and histories. As we become more culturally literate, we become better at addressing stereotypes and are more proactive about finding solutions for social justice issues.

Below, we look at the relationship between cultural literacy, cultural stereotypes and social injustices.

What are cultural stereotypes?

Canada is well known for being home to numerous diverse cultures, earning a reputation as a multicultural nation. But while the country celebrates the richness of its many cultures, it also faces challenges. As much as Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism, many citizens still experience cultural oppression and discrimination.

With so many diverse cultures in one nation, there are often false ideas about people. Known as cultural stereotypes, these beliefs about people or cultures leave out the uniqueness of each individual.

Cultural stereotypes are usually formed from a limited understanding of a culture, and have the potential to impact biases, strengthen prejudices and fuel misunderstandings and discrimination.

All stereotypes are harmful – whether they be negative, positive or neutral. When we base our opinions on what we’ve heard about cultures, we aren’t allowing ourselves to understand the complexity of each person.

The consequences of cultural stereotypes

Cultural stereotyping can have damaging, long-lasting impacts on people. They can strengthen harmful attitudes and biases toward specific cultural groups, leading to further discrimination and even social exclusion.

Cultural stereotypes can deny people access to education, employment, housing and other opportunities.

When cultural stereotypes happen, an entire society can become divided. As a result, there are power dynamics, systemic inequalities and barriers to social inclusion. As a result, a broken class system gets created.

Innovation and creativity within society also suffer. Rather than encourage differing points of view, cultural stereotyping limits creative thought, reducing the opportunity for development in various fields.

Challenging stereotypes and reducing social injustices

The first step to challenging cultural stereotypes is to identify them. To do so, you’ll need to become more aware of your thoughts.

Stop yourself when you find you’re making assumptions about another person based on experiences with others from similar cultures, and find out the truth instead. Have conversations that allow you to learn firsthand about others’ lives and opinions and practice active listening. At the same time, become more respectful of others by avoiding offensive or insensitive remarks and language.

Try to increase your interactions with people from cultures different from yours. Try new food, celebrate new holidays and participate in local cultural activities – like visiting museums and attending multicultural festivals. Read diverse media that accurately portrays various cultures, and travel to different places to immerse yourself in the culture.

Educating yourself is also important. Increase your awareness of the problem and ask challenging questions rather than avoid them. Follow reliable social justice activists and scholars on social media, read books on social justice issues from various perspectives, and get motivated to apply change.

Cultural workshops and programs can help you develop better methods for effective cross-cultural interactions. Studies show that learning to resist common cultural stereotypes makes us less prejudiced and stereotypical.

Cultural literacy and cultural stereotypes: What else to consider

If we want a more inclusive, empathetic and equal society, we must continue to challenge cultural stereotypes and improve our cultural literacy. Continuous learning is vital. Cultures continuously evolve, and it’s up to us to remain open to learning and unlearning about people different than ourselves.

At ABC Life Literacy Canada, we offer countless free resources for literacy practitioners to improve the literacy skills of their adult learners, including their cultural literacy abilities. Learn more about our programs today.