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Jan 13 2011

The face of racism in Canada – same as it ever was

There is a great scene in one of my favourite movies where a black TV executive assembles a writing team for his new black-themed TV show, and expresses his baffled dismay at the fact that they are all white. To try and explain the phenomenon away, the writers sitting around the table offer a variety of suggestions: maybe they couldn’t find anyone qualified; maybe black writers didn’t want to work on the show; the executive sardonically suggests that maybe they couldn’t put their crack pipes down long enough to fill out the application.

Of course there is a real answer to why there weren’t any black writers around the table: the people that make the decisions on who gets hired picked a group of white people. It’s not a mystery, it happens all the time. For reasons that are (likely) completely unconscious to the powers that be, the black writers who applied just didn’t “seem right” for the position, so they didn’t get hired. Aren’t we lucky that this kind of thing only happens in movies, right?

While it is my usual practice to post an excerpt from the articles I link to these stories I am sadly unable to do justice to what’s contained in the link. I will, however, provide you this screengrab:

January 2011 Federal CabinetDo you see what I see? Go to the link, scroll down the list, and see if you can spot what I’m talking about.¬†Yes, it’s a sea of white faces. White, male faces actually.

Now I feel the need to back up here and clarify a lot of things.

  1. I am not not not not not accusing Stephen Harper of being a bigot. I don’t like the man, I don’t like his politics, I don’t like his policies, and I definitely don’t like who he’s in bed with (although I do find his wife delightful). However, none of that, nor anything that he has said or done, leads me to conclude that he is particularly racist (at least not above and beyond what I would expect from any other person). Anyone who thinks I am trying to smear him by tagging him as ‘a racist’ is way off base.
  2. This cabinet is not not not unusual or particularly white and male. In fact, the linked article points out that there are more women in this cabinet than served under the previous Martin Liberal government. While conservatives and Conservatives tend to be an old-boys club, this particular cabinet does not reflect that any more than Liberal cabinets.
  3. This isn’t about black people. Given that black people represent about 2.5% of the population of Canada, I’d be surprised to see a preponderance of black faces on the Federal Cabinet (especially since few of the ministers are from the Toronto or Ottawa areas).
  4. I have no reason to suspect that unqualified white politicians were hired over qualified People of Colour (PoCs), with the exception of Gary Goodyear who isn’t qualified to hold my cock while I take a piss, let alone be the federal minister of science. I’m sure they are all (with the aforementioned exception) competent politicians in their own right.

This is not a commentary on this cabinet. Please rest assured that while I have strong political disagreements with the Conservative party, I am not interested in smearing them with as ugly and ham-fisted an approach as “they is a bunch of racists”.

This is a commentary on all cabinets, at all times. This is a commentary on the cultural zeitgeist (I am sorry, I cannot avoid using the word) that surreptitiously pushes out PoCs. Aside from Bev Oda and Leona Aglukkaq (and possibly John Duncan, although I don’t think so), the cabinet is made up of white faces. This is not in any way unusual, although it probably should raise some eyebrows that the minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, the minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and the minister for Indian Affairs (I think) are all white faces. To be sure, International Co-operation and Health are not rinky-dink positions and there are two prominent female PoCs in those ministries, but the preponderance of positions are monochromatic.

As I’ve said countless times, this is how we can tell that we have not reached anything that even resembles the post-racial utopia that many of us (liberals and conservatives alike) would like to pretend Canada is currently. Instead what we have is tokenism and rampant under-representation by one group, with an accompanying over-representation by the group that just happens to be the one with the most political clout historically. This is no accident, although I am doubtful it happens on purpose. It is for this reason that I roll my eyes whenever someone talks about “personal responsibility” being the answer to racial disparity – so much of it happens below a level where we are aware of it. As a result, we get more of the same thing, by a process that looks quite accidental.

This is no accident.

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