"We can rec­og­nize overt racism, and we should all con­demn it, buy ur big­ger prob­lem is the sub­tle, un­ex­am­ined sort."

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Desmond Cole Desmond Cole is a Toronto-based jour­nal­ist. As of to­day, his col­umn will ap­pear ev­ery Thurs­day.

Toronto jour­nal­ist Desmond Cole joins the Star's ros­ter of colum­nist

When posters advertising a “White Stu­dents Union!” (yes, they in­cluded an ex­cla­ma­tion point) ap­peared on three Toronto univer­sity cam­puses this week, the con­dem­na­tions from school of­fi­cials and stu­dent groups were swift. Ry­er­son spokesper­son Michael Forbes called the posters “of­fen­sive,” while York Univer­sity’s stu­dent union de­scribed them as “vi­o­lent and racist.”

Out­rage at these ridicu­lous ads, which were pro­duced by a hap­less group call­ing it­self Stu­dents For Western Civ­i­liza­tion, is ap­pro­pri­ate but also in­suf­fi­cient. Racism in Canada has evolved and en­dures, usu­ally with­out any men­tion of white­ness, let alone styl­ized im­ages of white men star­ing re­gally into the dis­tance. For those of us who be­lieve in so­cial eq­uity, the real chal­lenge is in spot­ting the sub­tle, mun­dane ex­pres­sions of white supremacy and dom­i­nance that are all around us.

SFWC is like the racist un­cle at fam­ily din­ners whose naked big­otry causes in­di­ges­tion and un­com­fort­able at­tempts to change the sub­ject. A let­ter on the group’s web­site com­plains that pro­fes­sors at York Univer­sity in­doc­tri­nate stu­dents with a “neo-Marx­ist” ha­tred of white peo­ple. What’s worse, the let­ter states, Cana­dian immigration and cul­tural pol­icy is “rapidly re­duc­ing white peo­ple to mi­nori­ties and thereby greatly di­min­ish­ing their demo­cratic in­flu­ence.”

The SFWC web­site also fea­tures an in­ter­view with Univer­sity of New Brunswick pro­fes­sor Ri­cardo Duch­esne, who claims that “there is a real bias in univer­sity against white stu­dents, against white history.” Duch­esne is the founder of the Coun­cil of Euro­pean Cana­di­ans, whose mis­sion state­ment pro­claims that “Canada should re­main ma­jor­ity, not ex­clu­sively, Euro­pean in its eth­nic com­po­si­tion and cul­tural char­ac­ter.”

For the mo­ment, these mes­sages of bla­tant white supremacy, and re­sent­ment for racial­ized peo­ple and move­ments, are thank­fully un­wel­come in main­stream Cana­dian con­ver­sa­tion.

That could change, of course, which is why it is im­por­tant to chal­lenge and op­pose Duch­esne, SFWC and their sym­pa­thiz­ers. But we must also rec­og­nize them as merely the lead­ing edge of a racist un­der­cur­rent in Canada, a main­stream fear that in­sists white peo­ple are un­der at­tack, but skil­fully avoids ex­am­in­ing what white­ness is or where it orig­i­nated.

Race is a so­cial con­struct, a false clas­si­fi­ca­tion of hu­man­ity with no ba­sis in science. How­ever, thanks to our hu­man history of Euro­pean colo­nial­ism, slav­ery and ap­pro­pri­a­tion, white­ness has been es­tab­lished in Canada as an un­scru­ti­nized norm, a blank stan­dard against which all other races are mea­sured.

In Canada, white peo­ple are rarely named as a de­fin­i­tive group of peo­ple with a com­mon iden­tity or cul­ture, a col­lec­tive ex­is­tence or set of val­ues. In­stead, white­ness stands in­vis­i­ble be­hind the cam­era and the mi­cro­phone, ex­am­in­ing the ac­tions of oth­ers and de­mand­ing an ex­pla­na­tion with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing its role in fram­ing nearly all main­stream con­ver­sions.

This is why, for ex­am­ple, a Cana­dian na­tional news­pa­per can pub­lish the head­line, “We can’t keep tip­toe­ing around black-on-black vi­o­lence,” as if the public is con­sumed with some other form of in­trara­cial vi­o­lence, or would even val­i­date that, say, white-on-white vi­o­lence ex­ists or is a prob­lem. It is why I, as a well-known black Cana­dian, am rou­tinely asked my opin­ion about the ac­tions of al­leged black crim­i­nals, when it is the opin­ions of our white-dom­i­nated media that truly guide that nar­ra­tive.

Most po­lit­i­cal observers and even ca­sual news watch­ers re­mem­ber city coun­cil­lor and for­mer mayor Rob Ford’s state­ment that “Ori­en­tal peo­ple work like dogs.” That kind of shame­less racism gnaws at our Cana­dian sen­si­bil­i­ties. But few peo­ple re­mem­ber that Ford, whose her­itage is hardly in­dige­nous to North Amer­ica, also said that East Asian peo­ple are “slowly tak­ing over.”

Ford didn’t have to say what “Ori­en­tals” were tak­ing over or, more im­por­tantly, from whom they were tak­ing over. Sim­i­larly, when Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian Larry Miller re­cently said that Mus­lim women in Canada who cover their faces should “stay the hell where you came from,” he did so with­out irony de­spite the fact that his own an­ces­try is not in­dige­nous to Canada.

We can all rec­og­nize overt racism, and we should all con­demn it, but our big­ger prob­lem is the sub­tle, un­ex­am­ined sort.

While we may re­ject un­com­fort­able no­tions of white stu­dent groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­mote Euro­pean “cul­tural char­ac­ter,” most of us are more ac­cept­ing of the equally racist no­tion of a dom­i­nant “Western civ­i­liza­tion” they em­ploy as a sub­sti­tute for talk­ing openly about white­ness.

Our un­ac­knowl­edged as­sump­tions, and our lan­guage about hu­man di­ver­sity, are bet­ter in­di­ca­tors of racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion than the im­po­lite out­bursts we seem so prone to rec­og­niz­ing.

The clumsy ex­pres­sions of ha­tred on lo­cal univer­sity cam­puses this week are like weeds — we can tear out the un­sightly off­shoots that pop up, but ul­ti­mately we have to ad­dress the prob­lem at its root.

A white stu­dents union was pro­moted this week.

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