A testing moment for Ryerson students

By Pat Watson Wednesday March 18 2015 in Opinion
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A visit to the website for the Racialized Students’ Collective (RSC), an equity service centre of the Ryerson Students’ Union, will present you with a definition of racism that reads: “A system of advantage based on race; the ability to act on the belief that people of different races have different qualities & abilities, and that some races are inherently superior or inferior.”


As is all too familiar to those who do anti-racism work, there is eventually going to be a clash of “cultures” as anti-racism activists contend with the very system they oppose.


For RSC, one such incident arose recently when they asked two journalism students to leave a closed meeting. The meeting invited “racialized students who are interested in action and awareness-raising for a more inclusive campus” and was described as “a space to voice concerns and barriers affecting students of colour”.


According to an account, the journalism students when questioned responded that they did not have any experience of being racialized. Additionally, their purpose for being at the meeting was as a class assignment.


But here is the way the incident was introduced in the Ryersonian: “Two White students were barred from a meeting of the Racialized Students’ Collective March 11.


First-year journalism students Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope were told that because they were not victims of racialization, they were not allowed to stay in the meeting room and report on the event.”


Well, it is a good “hook”, but at the same time, inflammatory.


Whoever wrote the piece for the Ryersonian did not get a quote from anyone at RSC, leaving the account as the perspective of the two White future journalists. And yet we wonder why print media is losing ground.


The salvation in ethnic media is that they provide spaces, especially in a city as culturally and ethnically diverse as Toronto, for the various communities to see themselves and their stories reflected through their own experiences and not through the well-worn narratives that often appear in mainstream media.


A recent Canadaland audio interview of Jonathan Kay, who used to be at the National Post and who is now Editor-in-Chief at The Walrus magazine, and another earlier interview with Andrew Coyne, the National Post’s new editor of the opinion and editorial pages, held the same message of exclusivity. Which was essentially that they have no particular drive to invite in the bright lights currently writing who are, shall we say, racialized. The comfort with which these gatekeepers expressed the way it is and will be in the mainstream was revealing. Is it any wonder that a group such as the RSC aims to create safe places for racialized persons to share their experiences and determine ways to best respond in this climate?


Imagine what a service it would be to society as a whole to have broad availability and access to a range of voices on a range of issues.


Within the Ryersonian article there was no statement that the writer or writers had even attempted to get a quote from RSC. So what perspective would they have presented about what transpired? Exactly.


The Progressive Conservatives under the leadership of Mike Harris took anti-racism education out of the curriculum back in the mid-1990s. This was a clear failure by that government of the people of this province. That legacy remains for all who take the time to observe the effects.


A note on the fear factor…

The American Journal of Political Science is offering up some interesting information on genetic research that suggests a person’s political leanings could be attributed – at least in part – to how they experience fear. The journal notes people who have a more fearful disposition tend to lean toward more conservative politics, and are less tolerant of difference, that is immigrants and people of ethnicities not of their own identification.


The nature versus nurture argument always follows these findings closely, so that there is no one factor that decides the outcome of a person’s political affiliation. However, this information does help to shine some light in the way Canada’s current prime minister and his ilk view the world and the actions they take in reaction to it.


Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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