State of the Diaspora: Canada is acknowledging its racism. Time to name its source (white supremacy)
Kevin Kapenda // Columnist
Admitting your mistakes is never easy. Acknowledging you treat different groups poorly because of their race is even harder. Thankfully, Canada is finally naming its racism.
Whether it’s anti-black racism, repeatedly legislating niqab bans or approving energy projects that violate Indigenous sovereignty, the scope of racism in Canada is as diverse as our racialized populations. While the importance of naming the various kinds of racism cannot be overlooked, it is just as important Canada acknowledge the universal source of racism – white supremacy.
Without white supremacy, anti-black racism, Islamophobia and contemporary colonization of indigenous peoples cannot exist. I am not claiming that most white Canadians are supremacist or believe they are superior to visible minority populations. White supremacy is not epitomized in marches, movements or policies. It is a belief system that is as deep-seated and subconscious as the various forms of racism in Canada. In essence, white supremacy is the parent of racism.
Unfortunately, “white supremacy” has ironically been appropriated by some of its most culpable perpetrators to denote explicitly racist events, groups or societies. By this logic, Canada, notwithstanding the reserve and residential school system, is not white supremacist, but Apartheid South Africa (who based their regime on ours), the KKK and recent fascist movements throughout Europe and North America are.
The problem with this thinking is that it only focuses on what is being said or done, instead of the belief systems and values that are informing these explicit demonstrations of racism.
White supremacy, in both its implicit and explicit forms, is two-fold. It grants both entitlements and exemptions. White supremacy is what has constructed the perception of certain groups as criminal or dangerous. As Toronto Mayor John Tory wrote in June, anti-black racism is why certain people are “followed in stores.”
In addition to being perceived as a thief, being associated with poverty is also why I don’t get the same service in stores than people who are presumed to have more money. In this case, I am not entitled to assistance nor exempt from suspicious eyes. However, it’s important to understand that white supremacy’s not always that clear-cut.
American researchers have discovered that realtors typically show white buyers more properties than blacks or Hispanics. This is not because realtors don’t want to sell as many properties, or are Trump supporters. Rather, it’s because socially constructed defaults of who is most likely to be more accomplished when you know nada, but the colour of their skin or immigrant-sounding name.
White supremacy’s role is to subtly reinforce whiteness as the most important human feature, and at times, explicitly determine the conditions of life for racialized peoples through laws and disproportionate oppression. Yes, this can lead to over-policing and streamlining in schools, or frequent interrogation when crossing borders and travelling. Sometimes though, you get lucky, and only need to deal with security guards staring you down in grocery stores, or retail associates that become mimes upon seeing you.
As Canadians, we idealize truths of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism, until the experiences of racialized people expose them as lies. In Quebec, their new religious neutrality law is a great example of implicit white supremacy in Canada. Quebec wants Muslim women to show their faces because Quebecois do, and the “privilege” of living there requires that you live like them. Indeed, this struggle over the right to see a Muslim woman’s face epitomizes the familiar saying of “I’m not racist, but…”
Sometimes I ask myself I’m being too pessimistic. After all, Prime Minister Trudeau has committed Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures to pursuing reconciliation. Reconciliation, among other components, was de ned by Trudeau as an unending process based on decolonization and mutual respect.
That is, except when Canada calls “time-out” to approve controversial energy projects that have no respect for the health, sovereignty and sustainability of Indigenous populations. Canada’s white supremacy is so ingrained that our governments are contradicting themselves in the name of resource extraction.
The reality is Canada is a country founded on explicit white supremacy, which is increasingly more implicit and thus harder to identify. One of our most dangerous tendencies is to falsely spectrum our racism, and argue we aren’t as bad as other societies, such Australia, much of Europe, the US and our greatest student, Apartheid South Africa. Problem is, these models are too focused on minority groups in relation to themselves, rather than racialized groups in relation to whiteness.
From Australia to Brazil, Canada to France, UK to the US, black people are viewed as inferior to whites, and all other groups that have been designated as more desirable. Yes, police in the US shoot to kill, but all those countries still incarcerate blacks at disproportionately high rates.
By naming the various types of racism in Canada, we are opening the door to discussing their source. However, as any doctor will tell you, it’s much easier to treat a patient’s chronic symptoms, than it is to get them to address things they clearly don’t want to. We’ve already come this far. Acknowledging our white supremacy may be too much.