Reflections on the Oakville Klan story

I want to follow up this morning’s post with a couple of things that were sitting in the back of my mind as I was reading.

Canada’s polite racism, and the ‘tone’ crowd

One of the defining features of racism in Canada is that it usually comes disguised in very neutral, inoffensive language. Canada’s myth of its own “non-racist” status owes dearly to the fact that for the most part, outright racial hostility was much less common here than in the United States. This is not in any way to say that racism didn’t exist (as this book more or less conclusively proves), but rather that we found euphemistic ways to express violent thoughts without having to use the appropriately violent words, for fear of shocking our delicate consciousnesses.

While it’s not a perfect analogy, I couldn’t help but think of the endless admonishments that people press into service about the importance of “tone” in social justice movements. While tone has a role to play in persuasiveness, the argument about tone often manifests itself as a proxy for righteousness. In the nagging tones of faux-concern, people often chastise participants in social justice conversations for “demonizing” or otherwise offending members of the majority group. “Tone” is used as a way of dismissing the disempowered as being “too angry” or “divisive”, rather than recognizing that whatever anger there is is entirely justified, and the divisions pre-extant. [Read more...]

Black History Month: The KKK in Oakville, Ontario

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is herePart 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found herePart 3 can be read here. Read Part 4 here, and its follow-up here.

On the night of February 28th, 1930, Ira Johnson and Isabel Jones were awoken by a cadre of about 75 members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klansmen told Jones to exit the house, whereupon she was taken to the Salvation Army house (her place of work) and reunited with her parents. Johson was taken outside, and warned that if he were ever found in the company of Ms. Jones or any other white woman, there would be consequences. As was their modus operandi, this ‘warning’ was conducted under the light of a burning cross on Johnson’s front lawn.

The chief of police, having been located and summoned, arrived in time to observe the throng of men gathered on Johnson’s lawn. To what I’m sure was Johnson’s great consternation, the chief, recognizing the men as members of high standing from the nearby city of Hamilton, declared that no crime had been committed, and that everyone was free to leave. The newspapers, reporting on this late-night accosting, remarked on the Klan’s orderly conduct, and opined that while their tactics may have been a bit dramatic, their intention to dissuade miscegeny was surely laudable and appropriate. Indeed, this line from the Globe on March 3rd, was particularly telling about the prevailing attitudes of white Canadians: [Read more...]

Reflecting on the Yee Clun case

There are a couple of things from yesterday morning’s post that I think bear further examination and reflection.

One of the good ones

Yee Clun was lucky, in a sense, that he was able to muster support from well-regarded white Reginans. What Backhouse found extraordinary is that, with only a couple of notable exceptions, the bulk of Yee’s defenders protested that he was clearly not the kind of person who the law was supposed to discriminate against. He was one of the good ‘Chinamen’, who would never drug and subsequently rape a white woman in his employ.

Members of minority communities know this kind of ‘defence’ quite well. Many ostensible allies confide to their friends of colour that they (the friend) is different. Unless the desire for flattery overpowers the frontal lobe of the friend’s brain, this ‘difference’ suggests quite clearly that the so-called ally thinks that the stereotype is true, just not universally so. I am not in a position to judge other people and their reaction to such a statement, but I don’t consider a person who thinks that I am intelligent and worthwhile despite my blackness to be much preferable to someone who hates me because of it.

The other thing worth noting is that such defences do not matter. It doesn’t matter how ‘exceptional’ you are, people who judge people based on their race are going to judge you on the same basis, no matter how exceptional you try to be. They might claim to make exceptions for you, but as soon as you do something that makes you lose their favour (or in Yee’s case, when you’re up against someone whose favour you’ve never had), you will immediately be lumped in with the hated group. “One of the good ones” is code for “you’ll be the last one we come for”. [Read more...]

Black History Month: Yee Clun and the White Women’s Labour Law

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is herePart 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found here. Part 3 can be read here.

Regina is the capital city of the province of Saskatchewan, with a present-day population of nearly 200,000 people, nearly 2% (or around 3300) of whom identify as having Chinese ancestry. As Saskatchewan contends with a resource-sector boom and an economic renaissance, it is highly likely that the prospect of decent wages and the opportunity to build a family will attract a larger number of immigrants, Chinese immigrants among them, to Regina’s… I was going to say ‘shores’ there.

Regina in 1921 had a much smaller Chinese population – ~250 individuals in an overall population of over 34,000 (0.7%). This was hardly mere happenstance – Canada at the time had extremely and overtly racist immigration and migration policies that specifically limited Chinese people (almost exclusively men, for purposes of manual labour) from entering Canada, and further limited their movement once they were here. Many of the Chinese men living in Regina had moved east from British Columbia, perhaps hoping to find respite from the even-more-racist laws governing where and how Chinese people were allowed to live and work*.

Unabashed anti-Chinese racism was no stranger to Regina, if the excerpts that Backhouse quotes from periodicals from the time are any evidence. Perhaps the most stark example of the prevailing attitude towards Chinese Reginans took the form of a law called An Act to Prevent the Employment of Female Labour in Certain Capacities or, more colloquially, the White Women’s Labour Law. From the text of the law: [Read more...]

Schadenfreude: Sun News edition

Those of you who have either been reading this blog for several years or who regularly follow my Twitter feed and have caught one of my unhinged rants on the subject, I am decidedly not a fan of Canada’s Sun News Network. While (full disclosure) I would not be a fan of any ‘right wing’ news outlet, there are gradations of obnoxiousness and professionalism that allows me a wide level of tolerance for ideas that do not necessarily reflect my own (Margaret Wente, columnist for The Globe and Mail sits just on the periphery of what I can stand before I begin cursing at my computer monitor). I recognize (and laud) that a commitment to freedom of speech specifically licenses views that I disagree with, and I recognize the importance of heterodoxy in a modern democratic state.

The need for divergent views, however, must be balanced with a respect for truth and a commitment to scrupulous standards of fairness. There is no value in claiming validity for positions that are based in distortions of fact or outright lies. In news circles, this ethos is known as “journalistic integrity” – the idea that news outlets have a duty to provide readers with analysis that as closely approximates objective truth as possible. Now I am nowhere near so naive that I fail to recognize that different outlets have editorial biases – that’s media criticism 101. However, there are standards of good reporting that require all editors to suppress their own personal beliefs in service of giving their audience proper information. [Read more...]

Abuse of power; power of abuse

One of the weird facets of having male, able-bodied, and a great deal of middle-class privilege (that really does border on white privilege at times, my skin colour notwithstanding) is that there are a number of evidently-common phenomena that I have simply never witnessed. I have never known someone to be raped*, I have never seen harassment more obnoxious than cat-calls or a honked horn, and as near as I can tell I have never been on the receiving end of serious discrimination either at the hands of an employer or the police. Left with only my own personal experience as a yardstick for reality, it would be trivially easy for me to fall into the seductive trap of assuming that the world is a fair place and the concerns of anti-abuse groups are very occasional and dramatic exceptions to a general trend of figurative rainbows and puppies.

But because I have made the decision to not only listen to those who have experienced those things, but to engage with their ideas and compare them to the few occasions where I have had to deal with being subjected to discrimination, I have learned to let the weight of my skepticism rest more heavily on those who say there’s no problem than those who say there is one. One recent example of a major transition I have made is my attitude toward police. I have seen too many stories of egregious and unpunished crimes committed by police all over the world to believe that these are isolated incidents that are not reflective of a larger and more disturbing trend. Despite my universally positive personal interactions with Vancouver Police (I have repeatedly noted the positive way they handled both the Occupy Vancouver presence and the post-hockey riots), in the absence of robust and meaningful civilian oversight I am obligated to view all officers with suspicion. [Read more...]

Black History Month: Sero v. Gault

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is here. Part 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found here.

Part of the main thrust of this year’s Black History Month is that while the history of black people is not defined by racism, it is almost impossible to understand the contemporary black experience without carefully examining the way racism has shaped it. As such, there is some valuable information to be gleaned from comparing how white supremacist entities treated other (i.e., non-black minorities) groups and people. Put another way, I believe it is both possible and valuable to examine, for example, the discrimination and ultimate dispossession of the black population of Halifax’s Africville by understanding other groups whose property rights (and indeed, human rights) have been simply ignored by an uncaring and paternalistic political system.

One such example (which is roughly contemporaneous with some of the more egregious aspects of the Africville saga) comes to us in the form of the case of Sero v Gault. Eliza Sero was a Tyendinaga Mohawk woman who shared custody of a fishing net with another woman, through which she gained her livelihood. A provincial government fisheries inspector named Thomas Gault seized Sero’s net on the grounds that she did not have a provincial license. This was no small matter for Sero – her way of supporting herself was caught up in that net (a net she didn’t own outright to begin with), and so she sued. [Read more...]

B.C.’s premier speaks about her faith

And into the charged atmosphere that is Canada’s current grappling with the theocratic urges of its federal government comes this statement by British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark:

During her informal 50-minute talk before the ethnically mixed audience, Clark discussed what it means to be a lifelong Anglican, her support for “faith-based” social services, her views on same-sex marriage, her commitment to “kindness” and her approach to the Bible.

“For me it’s been kind of an interesting experience to realize, for the first time in my life, that perhaps being a Christian is something that I should not talk about. But I reject that,” the premier said. Saying B.C. has more “declared atheists” than any province in Canada, Clark nevertheless said for her “the most important thing is to go to church every week and be reminded, by someone whom I respect, to be kind … to be compassionate.”

Now, it should be noted that Premier Clark went out of her way to acknowledge that atheists are not less charitable by disposition, and that she raises them only to contrast secular urges to give with the fact that her giving is inspired directly from her Christian beliefs. In so doing, Clark is walking the well-trodden road of the religious moderate – ‘well it works for me, and religion is all about kindness and compassion and puppies and rainbows’. While it provokes naught but eye-rolling from anti-theists like myself, it is likely to resonate with the people of British Columbia who are a rather mushy lot.

This, however, should be a giant red flag: [Read more...]

Canadian government funds anti-gay group to work in Uganda

If you don’t watch the Rachel Maddow Show, you really should. She is unparalleled in her journalistic excellence, and her self-deprecating wit is matched only by her insightfulness. If you’ve watched The Newsroom and longed for a hard-hitting newsman like Will McAvoy, the good news is that Rachel Maddow has been doing exactly what Sorkin fantasizes about, and has been doing so for years.

One of the most heart-wrenching episodes of her show I’ve ever seen takes the form of an interview with Uganda’s David Bahati. Having painstakingly detailed the extent to which Uganda’s anti-gay legislative fervor finds its ideological home in the American conservative movement, Maddow interviews Bahati as one of the chief architects and facilitators of a Uganda bill that would make homosexuality a capital crime. The palpable subtext of the interview is that Maddow is herself gay, and somehow manages to keep her rage in check long enough to expertly interview a clearly-outmatched Bahati.

Canada has decided to insert itself into the anti-gay quagmire that is Uganda’s political infrastructure by sending in exactly who you would want as ambassadors of Canadian values: [Read more...]

Wandata’s Trial and today’s Canada

While reading the chapter that informed this morning’s post, I was particularly struck by the number of parallels between Manitoba in 1902 and Canada in 2013. Now, to be sure, this is more than likely to be a big ol’ ball of confirmation bias – I have learned more about Canada’s history with First Nations in the past few months than I have in the preceding 28-odd years, so I’m sure a lot of my facts will seem to resemble each other more than they might actually in ‘real life’. That being said, there were a number of things that stuck out to me that I want to reflect on here.

First, I must once again express my shock at the racist ethnocentricity and quasi-cartoonish evil that is the banning of dancing. I am not sure why, but I honestly believed my country was never so laughably puritanical as to say that dancing threatened the moral fibre of adult human beings. Clearly I am not immune to the kind of self-flattering overestimation of Canada that I criticize in others. This new information does give me serious cause to drastically revise my estimation of Sir John A. Macdonald downward – he was not a man who was laudable or worthy of emulation, and that becomes clearer the more I learn about him. [Read more...]