Notions of Race and Ethnicity

There have been two stunning examples of how race and ethnicity mix together to produce vile results. While the events are not linked in any way, what they do illustrate is how systemic, almost to the cellular level, racism is in Canada today. The first event was the reaction of Sageunay mayor Jean Tremblay to the PQ’s secularism policy.[1] The second issue was the bank of Canada’s decision to change the features of the female researcher on the back of the new Canadian $100 bill to make her look more racially ‘neutral’. These issues clearly demonstrate that while Canada may pride itself on being multicultural, we are still a nation of xenophobes when it comes right down to it. Racism runs far, wide and deep in this country.

One of the things Jean Tremblay said regarding the PQ’s secularism policy:[2] “We have to respect the Muslim but we have to respect the Christian more.” He went on to rail about how Canada was a Christian country and that people coming here had to respect this fact. He was saying this with a certain PQ candidate in mind who happened to come from Algeria.[3] She earned the ire of the mayor by supporting her party’s secularism policy. What Tremblay is not saying is that ‘those’ people, who also happen to be non-Christian and non-white need to learn their place. If they dare to come to Canada and in particular Quebec, they had best be prepared to bow down to the white, Christian man.[4] In his world, Catholicism is the only acceptable religion and any limits placed on its expression are outrageous.

As the Bank of Canada was designing our new plastic money, the decided to consult some focus groups. Apparently, there was concern that the picture of the researcher on the back of the new $100 bill looked like she had some ‘Asian’ features. The Bank of Canada was skittish enough that they decided to ask for revisions to make the woman have a more ‘neutral’ racial look. The use of the word ‘neutral’ here is extremely problematic. Clearly the Bank of Canada defines ‘neutral’ ethnicity as Caucasian. They then went on to say that they don’t feature any racial groups on Canadian money. Whoa, wait a minute no racial groups? What are Caucasians if not a racial group? What the Bank of Canada really meant was that they only group they will feature on money is Caucasian people. So we can now all know that we are getting a large heaping serving of racism along with our money!

These examples illustrate how white privilege permeates every part of our society. Racism thrives on power imbalances. In Canada, white people have all the power and, apparently, we feel the need to let every non-white person know the score.

As a Canadian, this disgusts me.


[1] Which I blogged about here.

[2] This policy would forbid any provincial government employee from wearing any religious paraphernalia (Kirpan, Hijab, Burka etc) however they could wear one small cross. They also said they would not take down the crucifix in the National Assembly.

[3] In a spectacular display of racism and privilege he said her name was completely unpronounceable to him.

[4] Who is also straight.

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Published in: on August 18, 2012 at 9:39 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. This country is devolving. The word “religion” is used as a weapon and a defense for no end of grotesque abuses. Organized religion is responsible for more acts of terror and mayhem than any number of secular groups. It’s frightening that the collective will of mindless sheep can be harnessed by evil humans claiming to be doing the work of “god” in such huge numbers. When will science finally trump the fantasy so many buy into? Religion has absolutely no place in modern society, the separation of church and state must be complete and final.


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