Critical Multiculturalism and Nation-Building Exploring Systemic Racism in Canada

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Critical Multiculturalism and Nation-Building Exploring Systemic Racism in Canada
  1 Critical Multiculturalism and Nation-Building Exploring Systemic Racism in Canada Seon Tyrell Introduction In Plato’s book “ The Republic” , he introduces the idea of a myth as a method of social control and the maintenance of status quo. He used the “myth of the metals” as a technique to maintain harmony in the Athenian polis. As such, notions of justice became predicated on one’s willingness to maintain harmony with the city-state. Therefore, anything that challenged or went against the established order was considered a threat to the organic whole. The bureaucratic nature of such an apparatus thus “acts as [a] collective memory [that carries] forward [the] values, principles and traditions” of the polity (Tator 104). Similar to the myth of the metals , Canadian multiculturalism is also a myth - a “myth [that] attempts to explain, rationalize, and resolve insupportable contradictions and problems in [Canadian] society” (Tator 104). Canadian institutions are therefore inherently endowed with the responsibility to maintain the status quo; they do so through policies such as the  Multiculturalism Act of 1971  that feed the embedded discourses within the apparatus. It is important to note that the foundation upon which the Canadian state stands is one that is built on highly racialized assumptions about particular races. These assumptions have  been clearly articulated in the body politic when the Canadian government declared itself a “white nation” –   a concept that gets developed in the latter stage of this essay. Widely accepted views about blacks, absrcinals, and other minority groups, help direct the law’s hand towards common-sense justification of racialized differences (Kobayashi 40). This approach to justice inevitably leads to the production of new social constructions of racialized bodies. The law therefore becomes a tool that justifies and rationalizes systemic contradictions. This paper will argue that multiculturalism remains a powerful yet illusive ideal which clouds many economic, social and political disparities in Canada. This is because the Multiculturalism Act 1971 fails to address the structural inequalities that are inherited from Canada’s colonial past. Thus, in addressing contemporary socio-economic and political problems, one should realize that the Canadian system demands reform.  2 The paper commences by first providing a brief overview of Canadian government racial intentions in its early nation-building methods. It will analyze the historical framework that led to the creation of the Multi culturalism Act, by using Donald Avery’s article the “  Reluctant Host:  European Immigration Workers and the Canadian Economy” . From there, the essay will provide a detailed outline of the intention of the Multiculturalism Act as ideology and it will do so by  borrowing from the works of Kenneth McRoberts in his book “Misconceiving Canada: The Struggle for National Unity” . Following that, the essay presents some of the mainstream criticisms against the Act. This will be followed by a critical analysis that looks at the case of Black Tickle as the reification of Canada’s systemic racism. Lastly, a conclusion will be drawn reiterating the argument that systemic reform is needed in order to avoid the reproduction of racialized policies such as the Multiculturalism Act. A White Imperialist Canada Avery (year?) explores the intricate link between racism and economic development in Canada during the early 19 th  century (Avery 8). He argues that The Imperial vision was to construct a white nation, consisting of Northern British subjects. Agriculture was to be  positioned as the backbone of the country’s economic structure (Avery 12). However this vision conflicted with industrial developments that were occurring at the time in Britain, and thus, a majority of British citizens worked in factories and were relatively well paid (Avery 18). British citizens were therefore unwilling to do hard labour in Canada. As a result, British industrialists deferred Canada’s vision as a white nation, creating a shift in its political trajectory ( Avery 18). In 1886, Canada was faced with the demands to build two new continental railways, and cheap labour was in great need (Avery 21). Between 1896 and 1901, Canada experienced a significant increase in its population due to the amount of immigrants coming to the New World  –    most immigrants came from “unwanted” nations such as Eastern Europe, and Japan (Avery 23). Nevertheless, the supply of labour eventually met the demand. However, black bodies were not encouraged into the new world since they were seen as “delinquents” and “incapable” of surviving Canada’s harsh winters (Avery 20). Moreover, most workers were illegally smuggled  by mul tinational corporations, as means of cheap labour. The country’s population thus rose by 35% during that period (Avery 26).  3 Although the immigrants that were coming to Canada were not the desirable Northern British subject, a country was to be built. As C anada’s srcinal dream faded, leaders such as Clifford Sifton altered the  Immigration Act   to assert Canadian solidarity (Avery 30). His political objective was to deport the “unfit” –   those who did not contribute to the economic expansion of the nation (Avery 30). Disabled citizens were therefore subject to deportation to their countries of srcin. This racialized policy and others like it, signalled that Canada only needed those who could contribute to the economic expansion of the nation (Avery 33). It is therefore questionable whether the political culture of Sifton’s time has been reproduced in contemporary multiculturalism policies as products of a deferred dream. Based on this brief historic overview of Canada’s nation -building process, we can see that the history of Canadian nation building is of a distinctly racialized and racist character. This is significant, because this provides the historical context into which the ideology of multiculturalism is ultimately born. This is because immigration policies and the organization of Canadian society were constructed and imagined with a particular race in mind  –   the white British subject (Avery 13). Thus, the legislative body was not created to promote and achieve equality and justice for all, especially in a multicultural society (Tator 88). Consequently, the legislation and the bureaucratic system “…can neither eliminate nor effectively control racism  because the legacy of racism is…interwoven in the collective culture and the common -sense ideology” of the  system itself (Tator 88). This in turn leads the state to create a system that  justifies and rationalizes the embedded contradictory discourse surrounding freedom and equality. Canada therefore uses the Multiculturalism Act as a tool to mask the inherent contradictions within the political and institutional apparatus. Examining Multiculturalism The Multiculturalism Act was coined by Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1971, in response to the  political turbulence in Quebec following the Quiet Revolution, and the socio-political dissatisfaction regarding native treaty rights (McRoberts 123). The purpose of the Act can be stated as follows: The Act’s central focus was grounded on freeing the individual from barriers to opportunity: Such a policy should help break down discriminatory attitudes and cultural jealousies. National unity if it is to mean anything in the deeply personal sense,  4 must be founded on confidence in one’s own individual identity; out of this can grow respect for that of others and a willingness to share ideas, attitudes and assumptions (McRoberts 125-126). The Act allows the federal government to act in four different areas regarding cultural identity. Firstly, it allows the government to assist all cultural groups that demonstrate a desire to be part of the collective whole (McRoberts 125). Secondly, it permits the government to offer assistance to all cultural groups in order to overcome barriers that prevent full participation in Canada (McRoberts 125). Thirdly, the Act allows the government to invest significant attention to the “creative encounters and i nterchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity” (McRoberts 125). Lastly, it encourages the government to assist immigrants in learning one of the official languages of Canada. Yet, despite the stated aim of creating a common base for equality and togetherness; remainder of this paper will show that the Act has ultimately become a plague to national unity and togetherness  –   those very things for which it advocates. Views on Multiculturalism One contested view of multiculturalism in Canada is that it challenges the contemporary way of how people imagine Canada. Those who have imagined Canada as a “white” nation, tend to cling to the old imagined community (Tator 93). Hence, those who disturb the established order of the old Canada are branded as radicals , since equality is presumed to exist (Bissoondath 98) . People of colour who challenge Canada’s legitimacy are therefore seen as a threat to the symbolic order and status hierarchy inherited from the British (Tator 94). This argument is structured on the idea that multiculturalism destroys the common premise upon which many identify themselves as “Canadians”. As such, a common sense of Canadian identity becomes  blurred through this lens (Tator 94).  Neoconservative critics see multiculturalism as a policy that leads to social divisiveness and “balkanization” (Tator 95). In other words, the policy leads to the creation of ethnic enclaves and racialized ghettos. These critics argue that because these are “closed communities”, issues surrounding inclusion are bound to exist (Tator 95). This argument however diverges from systemic problems because it positions racism in the mindset and attitudes of different individual groups (Tator 95). As such, while racism exists, there is no reason to resort to public policies or  5 government interventions to offer solutions (Tator 95). However, such an argument cannot account for the fact that racial enclaves are also produced as a result of public policies and government intervention. Therefore racism that exists at the individual level in ethnic enclaves is intricately linked to state policies themselves: racism is both an individual and a social  phenomenon. Any adequate critique of multiculturalism must therefore take into account both of these dimensions. Moreover, in framing multiculturalism, the Canadian state gets positioned as the sovereign foundation upon which all cultures must adhere to and comply with. Thus, “…multiculturalism constructs a concept of a common dominant cultur  e that all cultures are multicultural in relation [to] the dominant culture” (Tator 95). However this creates an environment in which different cultures are acceptable only once they operate within a normalizing framework established by the dominant order (Tator 95). In this perspective, the already established hierarchies in Canada are positioned as sovereign above other cultures. This assists the state in its inherent quest to maintain status quo. Consequently, it can be concluded that multiculturalism is a policy of social containment as opposed to political and institutional transformation (Tator 95). In essence, multiculturalism is a symbolic policy aimed at “…[neutralizing] the growing cultural, political, economic, and social demands of minorities for    access and equality within all sectors of Canadian society” (Tator 96). As a policy, it also subjugates the voices of minority groups by projecting the appearance of tolerance and accommodation. In doing so, the Act takes an approach that creates the illusion of equality and  justice for all (McRoberts 120). Moreover, because Canadian multiculturalism symbolic as opposed to political minority groups are likely to be trapped in the enclaves of their ethnic group; thus they will remain structurally alienated from the body politic of the Canadian state (Angel 27). This critique gave birth to a contemporary race-  based analysis of multiculturalism: “critical multiculturalism”.   Critical multiculturalism challenges the traditional political and cultural hegemony of the dominant class or group. It calls for a profound restructuring and reconceptualization of power relations between different cultural and racial communities based on the premise that communities and societies do not exist autonomously but are interwoven together in a web of interrelationships (Tator 98).
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