Is there even a need to ask the question: “Do people think that Canada is racist?” I think there is, since many [white] people still think this is a question.
To answer the question: Yes, there is racism in Canada.
In case you don’t know this already, there are a few different kinds of racism out there. The first kind is the one most often talked about. This is the kind called individual racism. This consists of people talking, name-calling, any individual’s attitudes and behaviours — your Uncle Joe, your boss at work, perhaps even yourself.
Examples of this in Canada can be found in individual actions; sometimes caught on phone cameras of racialized people and Indigenous people being harassed or assaulted on public transit, on the streets or other racist ways.
“Oh that was just a racist [white] person that did that or said that” is what some [white] people say to each other, or write about in national newspapers or magazines. “They don’t represent everyone! They are the exception.” Maybe you think this and say this, too.
Individual racism is the most commonly noted form of racism — and the kind most normally dismissed as being just “one person’s” racist ways. The implication is that the other [white] people are not like that.
Recent examples include Desmond Cole’s story of being stopped by the police over 50 times since moving to Toronto.
Usually, if it’s a prominent person that was “caught” being racist, there may be what I call a “non-apology apology” which has one or more of the following parts:
- I’m sorry if anyone was offended
- I didn’t indent to offend
- I apologize for any hurt feelings I have caused
You may remember some of these sentiments in many so-called apologies in the mainstream press in Canada and the US. The reason these are non-apologies is that the person isn’t actually taking responsibility for saying racist things. Focusing on “causing offence” or “causing hurt feelings” isn’t apologizing. Plus, racism isn’t about feelings, it’s about racist harm and violence caused to a single person and to a community of people.
Or, if the target is a well-known person, but wasn’t known by the attacker. For exampled when Oscar Peterson, jazz musician had his house and family threatened by racists in 2008. The only reason this story made the headlines is because this happened to Peterson. This happens everyday, in varying forms, to racialized people and Indigenous people. Sometimes it involves more violence.
The problem with explaining this sort of racism as the fault of “bigots” or “racists” is that it isn’t the whole picture — it’s barely the tip of the problematic iceberg.
Institutional racism is the term used to describe how institutions are racist towards targeted racialized and Indigenous populations. Examples include higher drop-out rates for Black students, something that is not connected to marks or school performance, as well as the “zero tolerance” policy introduced in Ontario that disproportionally targets racialized students (as well as students with disabilities).
Other examples of institutional racism include police carding, which overwhelmingly targets young Black youth, as has no evidence that carding practices reduce crime, help catch criminals or prevents crime.
It’s important to remember that for institutionalized racism, there are no “bad apples” — a term used to imply that the practice itself is fine, but individuals are applying it incorrectly, or not how it was intended. Institutional racism means the racism is an integrated part of the institution, whether that institution be the criminal justice system, education, health care, housing, social services, really, every institution that we would have access to and interactions with.
Which leads me to systemic racism. This is the overarching system that governs many of our “common sense” values as a society. These “common sense” values are loaded with sexist, racist, homophobic and classist assumptions (and many more). These values are internalized, so that when we see them written down, or hear someone talk about them, we instantly know the story and the “truth” about them. With a bit of critical thinking, however, we can break these down into the lies and myths that they are.
Some recent examples include the interview-style leaders’ debate on September 21, 2015, in which four of the five party leaders currently running for election on October 19 2015 talked about women’s issues.
On the topic of violence against women, the three male leaders all invoked ideas, supported by systemic racism, that men of colour are the biggest part of the problem.
These systemic racist ideas assume that “we all know” that men of colour in Africa and the Middle East are more violent than white men in the West. We “know” that rap and hip hop are the most violent and sexist forms of music today, and that men who are Muslim are more oppressive than men from other religions.
These ideas are racist and Islamophobic and all need to be challenged by critical-thinking people. These ideas also count on the listener “filling in the blanks” since none of the men who said each of those things said anything overtly racist. While there are differences between overt and subtle racism, I want to emphasize the origin of these racist thoughts and ideas, and they are embedded in the systems in which we live in Canada.
It’s important to know that while [white] people today are not responsible for building the racist system that we all live within, [white] people today do benefit from systemic white privilege, which is the other side of individual, institutional and systemic racism that racialized and Indigenous people experience.
All of us, especially white people, need to work to dismantle the different kinds of racism in order to have a safer society for everyone. By educating ourselves, by challenging racism when we hear it, and by supporting anti-racist communities such as Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and other grassroots groups.
Change is possible.