The dangers of misguided anti-racism in Canada
For centuries, black Canadians have been part of inspiring political and social movements pushing Canada to live up to its ideals. When black men and women pressed for equality of opportunity, we challenged Canada to truly be a land where the rule of law reigns supreme, and individuals are not defined by what they look like or where their parents come from.
But today’s “chattering classes” – academics, journalists, politicians, and increasingly, too many CEOs – do not encourage Canadians to recognize the success of previous generations of black Canadians who fought hard for a better life. Rather, they advance a worldview that suggests little has changed and that black victimhood has remained a constant throughout the decades, with blacks ostensibly held down by abstract ideas like “systemic racism” and “white privilege.”
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For a black Canadian to be accepted by those who advance this anti-history narrative often requires blacks to play the role of a long-suffering minority in need of a well-intentioned white liberal saviour. It means parroting their preferred political talking points and social values.
Consequently, some of the most important issues in black communities tend to receive little attention because they are not a priority for those who believe racism can explain human success and failure, or who believe that government-as-parent is akin to real parenting.
The result is that pressing issues such as the role of fathers and family formation, the role of churches and faith, or the importance of wealth creation, educational attainment, and the negative influence of popular culture and the ripple effects of violent crime are mostly ignored. Instead, academics and other elites talk only to each other, not to most people in the black community.
It is why black Canadians who want to genuinely help our communities often risk having our authenticity attacked by people who believe black men and women should only think and speak in one way.
This problem originated with modern, self-described “anti-racism,” which ironically borrows from the racism of the past and reintroduces it to modern audiences with a new, faux-progressive style. It is increasingly obvious in government, the media, school boards, universities, and corporations, all of which focus on race and whether one is “black enough” (or “enough” of some other identity).
This trendy new phenomenon goes by many names: anti-racism, neo-racism, the elect, critical race theory, identity politics, wokeness. It is difficult to pin down a term that adequately describes precisely what is going on, but I will propose one: remixed racism. Like a top 40 single that samples a golden oldie, remixed racism changes the tempo, speeds up the chorus, and maybe even introduces a rapper to spit a hot 16 bars. But in the end, remixes are always another variation of the same tune.
For example, workshop materials obtained by the Toronto Sun in 2021 showed that federal government officials are taught that perfectionism, feeling a sense of urgency about some matter or task, individualism, fealty to the written word, and objectivity are all characteristics of white supremacist culture.
In other words, the federal government uses taxpayer dollars to teach that race and culture are one in the same, and certain cultural ideas or useful practices associated with hard work, science, and democracy are incompatible with non-white cultures.
Canada’s struggle with remixed racism does not stop in Ottawa. In 2021, the City of Hamilton brought us back to the “anti-miscegenation” era of pre-1967 United States with its decision to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in a manner that would divide families and households by race. The city offered vaccine appointments to residents in five postal code areas but specified that only “Black and other racialized populations/people of colour ages 18+” could receive the vaccine (i.e., no white people). Hamilton’s disregard for such families is a remix of Jim Crow-era hostility toward multi-racial families.
Not too long ago, Canadians openly and unapologetically shared Martin Luther King’s vision for a united nation made up of upstanding individuals of strong character. A Toronto Star op-ed from 2007 borrowed from King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. The published headline reads: “Character, not colour, matters.”
But it is hard to imagine a mainstream newspaper publishing a headline emphasizing character over colour today. They would likely need to hold an emergency Zoom town hall for their staff to express sadness and anger. Twitter mobs would demand an apology, too.
Although King was clear about the need for public policy to address racial inequalities, he did hope for a future in which race would be less important in human interactions. King’s firm belief in the importance of character is timeless, and Canada should strive to realize King’s dream of a world where people are judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skin. That is merely updated and remixed racism.
Jamil Jivani is a lawyer and author. This chapter excerpt is from the Aristotle Foundation’s new book, The 1867 Project: Why Canada Should be Cherished – Not Cancelled, with 20 authors and edited by Mark Milke.
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