Vanmala Subramaniam, who is a business reporter for the Financial Post has written, in the National Post, a heartfelt response to Rex Murphy’s assertion, just days ago, in that same newspaper, that Canada is not a racist country.
About six weeks ago, in a comment about Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan, I opined that he wasn’t racist, just dumb. The next day I commented on my own experiences and I said that “people are equally smart and stupid, honest and venal, brave and craven, kind and cruel and so on with absolutely no regard to race, creed, sex, wealth or nationality.“
I have no doubt that the examples Ms Subramaniam gave are all accurate and that she could, as she said, have continued to fill page after page with more examples. Her point, with which I agree, is that racism is real in Canada. I see it, regularly. My wife is a “visible minority” person who, unlike our daughter, a young university student, has found it hard to shed her accent. Her accent might make her hard to understand and might make some people think that she is less fiercely intelligent than she really is. Is it racist to be frustrated by an accent? Are most Canadians racist? No, not in my personal experience, anyway. But is there a lot of “unconscious racism?” Yes, I suppose there is.
Is it “racist” when the owner of a neighbourhood convenience store ~ himself a “new Canadian” and a “visible minority” person ~ more or less ignores me while I pick up some sparkling water but stops what he’s doing and checks the strategically placed mirrors to watch the young black man who just came in? Is that racist or is it just a comment about the relative likelihood that a septuagenarian or a teenage will be a petty thief?
What about police officers? They deal, face-to-face and day-in, day-out, with the social ills that most of us can ignore. The data says that urban neighbourhoods where “people of colour” and people from our First Nations live often have both low income and have high crime rates. If we think just a bit about that it should not surprise us that:
- Poor people, people, like recent immigrants or refugees who cannot find jobs, are likely to turn to crime, sometimes just to feed themselves;
- Most crimes are likely to occur where those poor people live ~ in other words the poor are very often the victims of crime; and
- Some police officers might develop the impression that race and criminality are closely linked.
Are many police officers, like many small shop owners, just reacting to what they see and hear every day? Is that systemic racism or is it just one of the many problems which bedevil a large, modern, multicultural society?
Ms Subramaniam is, as she says, “calling out” Rex Murphy for making a broad generalization which is, demonstrably, not true. Rex Murphy is not a racist … not so far as I know, anyway. Nor, are most Canadians, not the ones I have met anyway … but the operative word is “most.” Some of my friends are racists, of the unconscious variety, at least. My own personal observation, over 70± years of being able to notice, is that the darker one’s skin, the less likely one is to be found in the back of a chauffeured limousine. That’s changed a lot over the past several decades but it needs to change more.
There is, most likely, some factual basis ~ see The Bell Curve ~ for the notion that “people of colour” do less well in standardized tests than to people of Caucasian and, especially, Asian background. But I am about 99.99% certain that the data Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein used didn’t relate to race as much as it did to social standing. People who are raised in poor homes, by poorly educated parents, and who attend second or third-rate schools are less likely to do well on standardized tests than are middle-class kids. They are, also, especially in the USA, more likely to be black. The data Murray and Herrnstein used reflects an American moment. The “data” I see with my own eyes every time I walk through a university campus tells me that things have changed and are still changing.
I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on in America. I think that we are seeing a combination of a struggle for racial equality, for basic fairness, but I also believe that we are seeing part of a ‘class war‘ that is a hangover from the socialist (and communist) mythologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Since I don’t understand the problem I cannot offer any solutions.
But I will say that Vanmala Subramaniam is right. At least, she’s more right than Rex Murphy is. But she doesn’t have any solutions, either. Her conclusion is that “It is both shocking and exhausting that a column like this needs to be written in 2020, when for decades and decades, activists, scholars and historians in this country have been tediously documenting the deep issues in our fight for racial justice and pushing for actual change.” Fair enough, I agree, it’s a shame that Rex Murphy overstated his position (which, as I read it, is that the sort of systemic anti-black racism that Justin Trudeau spouts on about is exaggerated). I know Mr Murphy is wrong, so, I suspect, at least I hope that deep in your heart and mind, do you, too.
On a personal note, I watched a video in which a senior American military officer discussed this crisis. Something he said struck home … “Almost every room I’ve walked into,” he said, referring to his whole life, “has been full of me and the system that we operate in are designed by me for me.” That’s my experience, too. Is that “white privilege?” Yes, I guess many would call it that and I will not deny that my life was not the same as the life of a black man of the same age in, say, Alabama. Even though I did not grow up in anything like a privileged family (we were farmers who had been wiped out, totally, by the drought and the depression in the “dirty-thirties” and it was the war widow’s “benefit” (what a god-awful word) that allowed my Mother to buy a small farm for my grandparents where I was raised) the society within which I grew up valued me and saw to it that I had the same opportunities as did the doctor’s son or the banker’s daughter. We were a largely homogeneous society 50, 60 and 70 years ago when I was a boy and young man … that’s different today. So is the notion of equality. Young people see that different outcomes seem to be the norm for different groups and they have been taught to believe that outcomes should be equal.
Anecdotally: I went to high school and then served in the Army with people ~ friends, good friends ~ who were born in internment camps where their parents had been sent just because of race. But they did not seem, to me, to be as angry about what had happened to them as many “people of colour” are today about what is happening. Of course, there was some anger but by about 1955, only ten years after a cruel war, no one thought it was outrageous that Japanese Canadians should be officers in our Army and no one was surprised when a Japanese Canadian was the top student in a graduating class. Black Canadians, those of African and Caribbean descent, like black Americans, had a different experience. This never happened to my Japanese Canadian schoolmates …
… in fact, we watched it, together, on television, in shared shock. To the best of my knowledge, nothing like that ever happened anywhere in Canada. That’s one of the reasons that Rex Murphy says Canada is not racist. But he’s wrong. The experience might be different but the fact is not.
Let’s be honest. Racism is real in Canada. Canada is not a racist society, but racism exists and it is, probably, worse for “people of colour” than it is for my East Asian wife … but if she experiences it, and she does, then I know it’s a problem. I don’t know how to fix racism because I don’t know how to fix poverty and injustice and human nature, itself, and I think they are all related. But I do know that denying that racism exists is just as silly as is Justin (Blackface) Trudeau telling us that we are all racists.