||Race And Ethnicity Round-Up
by Gordon W. E. Nore
Why `us` and "them`must become `we`
THE LAST SEVEN OF MYMIDDLE AND SECONDARY SCHOOL YEARS WERE SPENT IN an all-boys Catholiccollegiate in Toronto. The school had a large Italian-Canadianpopulation, which 1 and many of my "Canadian" friends referred tosimply as "Italians."
One day, one of my"Italian" classmates asked me, "What are you?"
"Canadian," 1replied, as if the answer was as obvious as my eye colour.
"No, but what areyou, really?"
It was the first andlast time 1 have been asked the question. It had never occurred to me that 1was anything but Canadian. But for my Scandinavian surname, 1 seemed to bewhatever a Canadian was. My paternal grandfather had come from Norway some 50years before at the age of 10, and my mother`s people had been in Newfoundlandfor generations before that. Now, more than 20 years later, if asked again, 1would still answer that 1 am Canadian, but what special privilege allows myidentity to go unchallenged?
Several recent booksattempt to unravel the difficult question of race, ethnicity, nationalism and,ultimately, what it means to be a Canadian.
Take Becoming Canadians (Harbour, 160 pages, $29.95 cloth), for example. Picture a coffeetable book ofphotographs and stories of immigrants to Western Canada in the early 1900s.There are pictures of people standing in front of factories, churches, schools.Sound familiar? Now picture this: every woman, man, and child is a Sikh.
Subtitled Pioneer Sikhs in their Own Words, Sarjeet Singh Jagpal`s record of his ancestors` struggles is aquintessentially Canadian history book. It has scores of photographs andanecdotes typical of the genre, and, best of all, stories about the kind ofconstitutional wrangling familiar to all Canadians.
The early 1900s brought5,000 Sikhs to British Columbia. As British subjects, they had the right tovote, although the B.C. government, fearing that the newcomers would shift their allegiance to aparty more concerned with human rights, revoked it. Later, when Sikhs weredrafted in the Second World War, they successfully fought for exemption fromservice. Although many served voluntarily, their fights as citizens were notrestored until shortly after the war. The book concludes in the 1960s, whenOttawa abandoned strict annual limitations on non-Europeans.
By the mid 1960s, othernon-European immigrants were flocking to Toronto. The transition from asystem that favoured Europeans and instead allocated points based onlinguistic, educational, employment, and other criteria opened the doors tonewcomers from the Caribbean. According to the 1991 census, Canada is home tomore than 250,000 West Indians, the majority of whom currently reside inToronto. The experience of the city`s Caribbean-Canadian inhabitants is thesubject of Frances Henry`s The Caribbean Diaspora in Toronto: Learning to Livewith Racism (University of Toronto, 297 pages, $22.95 paper).
Henry, a professor atYork University in Toronto, combines participant observation, interviews, andquantitative data to explore the "differential incorporation" ofCaribbean Canadians and its relationship to racism. The breadth of her researchis impressive. And while this book is clearly intended for the universityclassroom, it is worthwhile reading for anyone seriously concerned aboutracism. In the preface, Henry explains her intentions:
... by demonstratingthat some Caribbean cultural traits create barriers to incorporation inCanadian society, I am not using a "blame the victim" approach, norshould the data presented be interpreted in such a manner. Both the empiricaldata ... and my own personal convictions ... convince me that racism is themost important factor inhibiting incorporation [of Caribbean immigrantsHowever, some transplanted Caribbean culrural patterns not only inhibit theimmigrants` mobility but also feed and reinforce racism.
Henry doesn`t want thereader to think that Caribbean Canadians are to blame for the discriminationagainst them, but, sadly, some readers probably will. Henry discusses, forinstance, the family patterns characteristic of her subjects. Homes arefrequently headed by the mother, who may be caring for the children ofdifferent fathers, often with the assistance of the children`s grandmother oranother relative. This is because Caribbeans place a high value on havingchildren. Men may father children from more than one household without livingin any household. They will visit with gifts and money for the mother andchildren and to have their laundry done and food prepared.
My concern is that suchrevelations may serve as ammunition for those who use social-science dataas the basis for morally dubious conclusions; Philippe Rushton, the Universityof Western Ontario professor who told us that Blacks trail behind Caucasiansand Orientals in intellect and sexual restraint, immediately comes to mind.This is not Henry`s intent, of course, and I make this observation with somereluctance, since no scholar should be held responsible for the possiblyerroneous interpretations of others. However, what needs to be observed andremarked upon more clearly is that discrimination and intolerance are inherentin the dominant culture. Groups formerly on the outside even gain entry, inpart, through their willingness to participate in the oppression of newlyidentified outsiders.
To achieve this balance,readers should also look at The Invisible Empire: Racism in Canada (RandomHouse, 286 pages, $28 cloth) and Talking About Difference: Encounters in Culture, Language and Identity (Between the Lines, 244 pages, $17.95 paper). The Invisible Empire is the work of thejournalist Margaret Cannon. The "invisible empire" is the xenophobicattitude that seems to permeate every aspect of society and is constantly onguard against "the Other."
The book draws on recentevents such as the fatal shootings of Georgina Leimonis and Todd Baylis inToronto. Leimonis was in a trendy restaurant in the affluent Annex districtwhen a robbery turned into murder. Police Constable Baylis was shot afterinterrupting an alleged drug deal. The victims were white; the alleged killerswere Black illegal aliens. The battle cry for tough immigration laws wassounded. Cannon goes on to describe the workings of Wolfgang Droege`s Heritage Front and similarorganizations. She disagrees with the notion that such groups bear no relationto mainstream Canada, and outlines a plethora of hateful acts of violence andvandalism that went unnoticed in the media. These include numerous policeshootings of non-whites, which are frequently dismissed as unfortunateaccidents and isolated incidents by those who inimediately forget yesterday`snews.
InCannon`s "invisible empire," there are no isolated incidents. Theproduction of the musical "Show Boat `in North York and the "Into theHeart of Africa" exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum - both ofwhich enraged many AfricanCanadians -are discussed. So is thejournalist/activist June Callwood`s fall out with members of a social-serviceorganization. Cannon establishes just how effectively the "invisibleempire" polarizes people.
A tad less polemical, Talking About Difference, edited by Carl James andAdrienne Shadd, is a worthwhile collection of personal writings, includingletters, essays, and poetry. Organized into sections such as "Who`s aCanadian, Anyway?" it covers many examples of mistreatment, but its uniquestrength is the inclusion of incidents that might not seem severe when comparedto burning crosses and wearing swastikas. While almost all Canadians find thelatter repugnant, many of us might tend to overlook other equally hurtfulbehaviour. Shadd`s own essay,"Where Are You Really From?" is an excellent example. She was raisedin North Buxton, Ontario, with generations of family history in Canada, butsince she is Black, people assume that she must be from somewhere else, and soShadd must continually explain her family`s background.
A final offering is Global Apartheid (Oxford, 342 pages, $22.95 paper) by Anthony H. Richmond, aprofessor of sociology at York University. He compares the current responses ofcountries with large numbers of immigrants to the formation of apartheid inSouth Africa half a century ago. The national identities and economic comfortof these countries - which have either been importing immigrants whoseemed to blend well into their already existing homogeneity, or have hadlittle or no immigration at all - are perceived as threatened by the morerecent migration of peoples who appear significantly different. Richmond, whoseobservations are the result of decades of study, seems to arrive at much thesame conclusion as Cannon and Henry. In the end, there is "us" andthere is "them."
Richmond observes that thedominant and privileged powers of the world have generally resorted to short-termcrisis management: refugee camps, guarded borders, a closing of certain gatesto certain people. He argues that what we need instead is a "globalreligion." The fate of the dispossessed in the "self-regulatingbiosystem" that we call earth will be the fate of all of us: "...there is no emigration from this planet...."