By PATRICK HUNTER
The CBC National news has begun an occasional reporting on racism in Canada. Triggering the reporting is a poll they commissioned that suggests the prairies exhibit the most racial discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the country.
I suppose I should be grateful that the public broadcaster is trying to kick-start a discussion on racism in Canada; a subject that has become so taboo that I cannot help but suspect that somewhere, someone is conjuring up a legal position on why the word “racism” should be outlawed. Of course I am saying this “tongue-in-cheek” but many of us will remember (or would have heard) that the former Mike Harris government in Ontario had essentially banned the use of the term during its mandates. We have not really recovered from that as the Liberals did, and have done, their best to avoid using it. Hence, we have come up with the very tidy and less offensive “diversity”. Now that is more comfortable and unthreatening, don’t you think?
A friend who works within the Ontario Public Service (OPS) recently sent out a note that quoted the Diversity Office leadership as saying: “don’t say anything that make White folks uncomfortable, Black folks must fight racism without calling it racism”.
I have not verified the quotation but it is credible because I have heard similar strategic suggestions before from some of the most surprising sources.
It is, when you look at the facts, a very believable practice. One of the going rationale is that those in power –which happens to be White people – are resistant (a kind word) to being called racists. That causes the “discussion” to go off track as they seek to defend themselves of the charges rather than unearthing the reasons or racist practices that lead to that assessment.
Don’t believe it. That is one of the most basic strategies for self-protection – one that does in fact take anti-racist advocates, if they allow that discussion to take over, to lose their momentum.
I, in fact, have argued with other notable persons in the anti-racism field why it was necessary to give up “the get-a-foot-in-the-door” approach by using soft, supposedly non-offensive tactics to create an atmosphere that would be more tolerant of anti-racist activities. It hasn’t worked over the years, and there is no reason to believe that it will work in the coming years. If the power holders don’t experience the pain that we as racialized persons do, they need to be confronted with words that simulate some of that pain – pain that we have experienced and lived with over a few hundred years.
I attended a conference a few years ago where a motion from the floor caused a commotion. The motion called for the expulsion of White attendees (mostly from the media) from the conference. The essential argument was that there needed to be frank outspoken discussion at the conference, and having White people in the audience would curb or temper that frankness as speakers would try to spare their feelings.
I am sure you have been in situations where this is precisely what has happened – where you or someone else have softened their language for that very reason.
The first couple of reports that the CBC has aired so far in this occasional series deal with interpersonal relationships. They had the theme of mixed marriages or relationships and how they were treated.
Problems with relationships at the interpersonal level will probably be with us until the end of time – one family that does not want their offspring to marry outside of their race or religion. If they do, there could be, and often is, serious repercussions. Or, as happens in many cases, the families come to live with the reality and eventually in some cases, change their attitude.
We will have to wait and see whether the CBC’s series will take a look at the major problem of racism, which is systemic racism. And that would include a frank look at themselves. This is where the rubber, as they say, hits the road.
We are still in the breakthrough phase. That is, we celebrate the breakthroughs made occasionally by individuals, especially Black people, who make it to the rarified atmosphere at the top. Women, for example, have only recently made some of those breakthroughs. So far, Canada has had only one female prime minister. She was not elected nationally. At the next election, we expect the next prime minister to be a man – a White man.
The provinces have done better. There are several female premiers, including the breakthrough of an openly gay premier. There are no Black premiers on the immediate horizon.
The civil services, which should be leaders in promoting people of colour to leadership positions – not because of their colour, but because of their qualifications – have been found wanting. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one Black deputy minister in the OPS (there used to be two at one time). I would be pleasantly surprised if there was one at the federal level. Are you telling me that there are no Black people who are qualified to run a ministry?
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