So the Canadian Forces made themselves a racist video…

Apparently some of the soldiers stationed CFB, experiencing boredom, decided to make themselves a little video to make each other laugh. Donning ‘brown face’[1], and a fake turban, a soldier impersonated Osama Bin Laden’s older brother. Relying on ethnic stereotypes that I am not going to repeat here, the impersonator carried out a skit in the video.

According to Peter Mackay, Canada’s Minister of Defence, states the video “is in poor taste but does not reflect the wider military community.”[2] I don’t know about you but his assurances do nothing for me.

Videos and comedy are a byproduct of society at large. People only engage in this type of behavior if they think it will be well accepted by their peers. We have spent a long time in Afghanistan and clearly our soldiers view the population there with suspicion and derision. Factor in popular media, inaccurate portrayals in TV and movies and a serious problem emerges.

Racism is different than discrimination yet the two are often seen as the same thing. Power is a central tenet of racism. This is why there is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ Minority groups cannot be racist as they do not have systemic power in our society. Our culture, rooted in Protestant Christianity, permeates every aspect of our culture. We have been conditioned to believe that anyone or anything that is not white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant is less than. We are suspicious and judgmental of anyone who is different.

When you consider our response to what is different, imagine how this plays out in government offices across the country. How many staff in those offices actively discriminates against people of colour or people from a different religion?[3] How is the system itself racist?

As a former civil servant, I can tell you that I worked with some very racist people. When I challenged some people on their behavior, I was ostracized and criticized. I did a presentation yesterday for a class of nurses. The instructor repeated a story she heard from an NGO worker about a Muslim woman who said she kept having babies so she could the child tax benefit every month. She really, truly believed it. I decided it was important to deconstruct what she was saying. There could be many reasons why the woman had multiple children and I dare say that none of them had anything to do with the paltry amount of money she would receive from the Government of Canada.

We discussed several scenarios as to the reasons for her prolific reproduction:

  • Birth control – she may trouble accessing it
  • Religion – she may be extremely religious and against birth control
  • She may just want a large family
  • She may have a husband who forced her to continue having babies
  • She may come from a culture that values large families
  • She may be from a culture where you have lots of children to ensure that someone would look after you in your old age.[4]

One of the students suggested that the woman may have told the NGO worker she had lots of babies for the money instead of the real reason.

I have gone into detail about this to illustrate a point. Often times we blindly accept information we are given when it seems to come from an authority. We take it in; we believe it and; we repeat it. Effectively, it then becomes a truth, which then informs how we look at others. Challenging the instructor was not an easy place for me to be in yesterday but I could not let that stand without examining it critically.

Let’s return to the Canadian Forces video. The skits performed relied on conclusions and stereotypes widely accepted. The stereotypes become a form of shorthand that doesn’t require explanation. In this case, popular media promulgates the misinformation. Like many other institutions, the Canadian Forces are racist; for Peter Mackay to state otherwise is ignorant and disingenuous.

What can we all do to make a difference? The most important thing we can do is to examine our own racist thoughts and actions. Examining our own privilege and identifying the sources of these ideas helps us to take them apart and see from where they come. Most people believe they are not racist when challenged on their ideas. It is uncomfortable for us to admit to our racism. I admit, almost every single day, that I am a racist. I work very hard to deconstruct my own ideas and to replace them with fact where I can. I also challenge others to do the same, all the while admitting my own privilege and racism. I believe that this is what is required if we are to create more harmony and welcoming communities for other people.

Do you have an example of a racist story that is shared as fact? What do you do when you’re faced with racism in yourself or others? This is a very worthy conversation in which to engage.

[1] Seriously. Haven’t we learned how wrong and racist this is?

[2] Article here.

[3] There are very good and aware civil servants who treat people fairly, however they work in an inherently racist institution.

[4] High infant mortality rates may have also been an issue in her country of origin.

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.


It would be an understatement to say that this was the worst visit we have ever had to my mother’s. I am pretty sure the reason is because my sister was there.  My sister is miserable and she hates her life and she tries to bring everyone else down around her. Even my mother, who has the people skills of a gnat, noticed that everyone was ‘walking on egg shells’ because of Kathy. She goes out of her way to bring people down by insulting them. She does not dare do it to my mother. Although, ironically, after my mother said something snarky to me Kathy told her to be careful with what she says as ‘her words can hurt people.’

All this lead in to discuss one of the most hurtful things ever said to me by a member of my family. After I had spent 6 or so hours fixing her fucked up laptop she said thank you and then added: “We wondered for years if you would ever be of use.” Be of use? WTF? I was so completely stunned by her comment that I could say nothing. As I thought about it I became increasingly angry. This comment from a woman who’s greatest educational achievement was to barely graduate as a legal secretary. She got a job at a real estate law firm then screwed something up so badly that it cost them $50,000 and they fired her. She waitressed for a year or two after that and has not worked in over 10 years. I could go on and on about her and her screwed up life but there is no point. I realized that while Deb and I have grown, changed, dealt with our issues head on – she has not. She is still the 5-year-old girl, who I had to look after when I was 7, who came home from grade 1, took all of her clothes off and proceeded to watch TV and who refused to go back to school. She has the same coping skills now as she did then – have a temper tantrum and yell and scream if you don’t like what is going on.

The other favourite pass time they have when I visit is trying to push my buttons by saying extremely racist things – this visit was no different. However, *I* was different. I was affected by a post by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville which basically said being an ally is about always standing up and challenging racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic etc views. She goes on to argue that it is the ultimate expression of privilege to decide when you will say something and when you will not. I chose to be a real ally this time and to challenge the racist vitriol that spewed from my mother, my sister and my mother’s gardener (who we really liked and now we are not so sure). I won’t go into the details of the discussions as I will not give my voice to their racist comments. I chose to handle it differently this time and instead of telling them that they were wrong I told them that I choose to be respectful of other people and what they were saying was offensive. They didn’t get it, I didn’t expect them to but I could not let it stand. I also did not care if the atmosphere became very uncomfortable for a while either.

During this visit it became very clear that my mother and sister are stuck. They do not challenge themselves to grow and change. I am more forgiving of my mother as she is 73 but my sister is only 42. It is really very sad. I now know that nothing she says to me is rooted in the reality of 2009. We are still back in 1972, where I am the older sister and she is not going to do what I say. The interesting thing is I really have nothing to say to her about how she lives her life. It is not my business and she would just get mad at me if I ever said anything anyway.