On Monday, March 20 in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, over 250 people attended the Examining Whiteness: What’s at stake for Canada? event at the Robert H Lee Alumni Centre on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation. This event was presented by the Equity & Inclusion Office with the support of alumni UBC; Vice President, Human Resources; Vice President, Students; and Vice President, Academic.
Racism and white privilege may be difficult and uncomfortable to talk about, but experiencing racism is even more uncomfortable. Recent racist and hate-motived incidents occurring across Canada are evidence that like the United States, racial discrimination does happen here. Reflecting on the election of Donald Trump and the implications of populism in North America and abroad, the panelists focused on three interrelated dynamics: the context of the Canada 150 celebrations, the Trump Effect, and reconciliation.
Here are 3 key takeaways from the event:
Canada is a lot like the United States
We would like to think we are a welcome and tolerant multiethnic society, but history says otherwise. Malinda Smith spoke about the “mythology of racelessness” in ‘colourbind’ Canada. Histories of settler colonialism, Indigenous erasure, and racist policies have contributed to what is known as Canada today. Dr. Smith stresses that “Canada built itself around Whiteness, differentiating itself through Whiteness, creating outsiders to the state no matter their claims of birthright of entitlement”. One has to look no further than this quote from our countries first Prime Minister to uncover Canada’s discriminatory origins. “If you look around the world you will see that the Aryan races will not wholesomely amalgamate with the Africans and the Asiatics . . . It is not to be desired that they should come; that we should have a mongrel race; that the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed by a cross or crosses of that kind” – John A. MacDonald, 1885.
Ignoring the problem will not help to end it
Handel Wright noted that “Whiteness works as the taken-for-granted essence of nationalism. It is engaged as a nostalgia for a past when Whiteness and patriarchy were less threatened”. Canadians have a “selective amnesia” about our racist and discriminatory past including slavery in Quebec, the Komagata Maru, and immigration policies. It is possible that the Trump agenda could happen here, and hateful incidents should not be individualized or seen in isolation. Wright pointed out that the “phenomenon of White fragility is a luxury that none of us can afford”. This refers to any personal discomfort in tying whiteness to privilege and racism including ignorance, denial, and guilt. He suggests that we must openly talk about these issues, especially in acknowledging privilege and understanding how whiteness operates as an ideological system.
We must remember and reflect upon the past
The UBC community has come together to make many significant advances in the way Indigenous issues are addressed, but there is still much work to be done. Linc Kesler highlighted the contrast between visibility and invisibility of “Canadians” and Indigenous communities in our histories, institutions, and the media, noting that legislation has largely restricted Indigenous life. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made it possible for Canadians to think about the effects of the residential school system and to contextualize Indigenous current issues. He concluded, “It is not our intention to make people feel bad or to make them think less of their country. It is our intention to have a discussion about the realities of our history and the things that have brought us to our current moment because in that lies hope the potential of thinking about how we want to be with eachother, how we got here, and where we want to go as we work through the issues of our shared future”.
Explore the conversation about #ExaminingWhiteness on Twitter:
Missed the event? Listen to a recording or watch the webcast:
Want to learn more about how you can eliminate and speak to others about racism? Here are some resources:
- Listen to Colour Code, a podcast on The Globe and Mail about race in Canada. Learn more here.
- Currently under construction: the Indian Residential School Centre on UBC’s campus. Read more.
- “White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. Read more.
- MTV Decoded is a weekly series using humour to tackle race, pop culture, and other uncomfortable things. Here is an episode on microaggressions.
- “How to tell someone they sound racist” by Jay Smooth. Watch the video.
- “5 tips for being an ally” by Franchesca Ramsey, host of MTV Decoded. Watch the video.
- Watch the 13th (2016), a documentary on Netflix about mass incarceration in the United States. Take a look at the trailer here.