In acknowledging the possibility that as the world changes so too does racism, this book argues that racism is not disappearing, despite claims of living in a post-racial and multicultural world. To the contrary, racisms persist by transforming into different forms whose intent or effects remain the same: to deny and disallow as well as to exclude and exploit. Racisms in a Multicultural Canada is organized around the assumption that race is not simply a set of categories and that racism is not just a collection of individuals with bad attitudes. Rather, racism is as much a matter of interests as of attitudes, of property as of prejudice, of structural advantage as of personal failing, of whiteness as of the 'other,' of discourse as of discrimination, and of unequal power relations as of bigotry. This multi-dimensionality of racism complicates the challenge of formulating anti-racism and anti-colonialist strategies capable of addressing it. Employing a critical framework that puts politics and power at the centre of analysis, this book focuses on why racisms proliferate, how they work in contemporary societies, and how the way we think and talk about racism changes over time. Specifically, it examines the working of contemporary racisms in a multicultural Canada that claims to abide by principles of multiculturalism and a commitment to a post-racial society.
Augie Fleras obtained his Ph.D. in Maori Studies and Social Anthropology from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. An adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Waterloo, he is an eclectic social scientist whose publications span the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. His areas of expertise include multiculturalism, race and ethnic relations, indigenous peoples' politics, and mass media communication.
Not long ago, everyone knew what racism meant. Racism consisted of loutish individuals with twisted attitudes who had it in for those less fortunate "coloured" folk. Or, to put a finer academic spin on it, racism was about mistreating minorities because their membership in a devalued race condemned them to a life of punishment, pity, or exclusion. Race-based typologies evolved to justify this racist line of thinking. Prevailing race doctrines partitioned the world into a fixed number of races arranged in a hierarchy along ascending/descending lines of superiority/inferiority. Each race was thought to possess a distinctive assemblage of physical, cultural, moral, and psychological attributes whose combined impact shaped thought and behaviour. The potency and reach of race in constructing a "white" Canada cannot be underestimated. The evaluative, explanatory, and predictive powers of race for determining the worth of those on the wrong side of the racial divide reinforced its status as a powerful ideology of exclusion and division.
Few dispute that racism played a formidable role in shaping public attitudes, government policies, and institutional arrangements (Satzewich 1998, 2011). But what about the present day? Like other Western societies, Canada increasingly embraces a commitment to the principles of a post-racial and colour-blind society, one in which Canadians try to look past skin colour, abolish racial discrimination as a basis for entitlement, and endorse multiracial tolerance on the grounds that everyone is equal and deserves an equal break. Canada also commits to the principle of an inclusive multiculturalism, namely, that no one should be excluded from equality or participation for reasons of race or ethnicity. A combination of factors-from human rights legislation to shifting ideologies-has transformed racism into a social no-no on par with other unsavoury stigmas such as scab labour or fascism. Politicians and the general public prefer to distance themselves from any reference to racism, even if many of the major twenty-first-century issues (from terrorism to migration to global warming) are inextricably race-infused (Dwyer & Bressey, 2008). Few Canadians are foolhardy enough to explicitly endorse those racist doctrines that elevate whites to the top of the pinnacle, with minorities ranked accordingly in descending order. Nobody in this age of political correctness wants to be accused of racism, nor do they want to be scorned or shunned for endorsing antiquated race dogmas (Doane, 2006).
Yet racism perseveres in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. Consider the contradictions: Racism is neither legal nor socially acceptable, yet its tenacity attests to the staying power of latent appeal, social inertia, or public indifference (Kawakami et al., 2009). Hardly anyone admits to being a racist or believing in race, yet Canada stands accused of being a racist country. The vast majority of Canadians do not see themselves as racists, as might be expected in a multicultural society that ostensibly abides by the post-racial and colour-blind principles of multiculturalism. They may even concede the impact of societal structures and prevalence of racialized attitudes that deny or exclude. Yet many continue to accuse minorities of inflicting discrimination on themselves through (in)actions or cultural differences (McCreary, 2009; also D'Souza, 1995). To be sure, improvements at the level of racial tolerance are unmistakable. But eradicating racism and discriminatory barriers is proving a formidable challenge because of broader social processes and racialized institutional arrangements (McCreary, 2009). These massive inconsistencies point to an incontestable conclusion: Contemporary debates over the nature and magnitude of racisms in Canada tend to be splintered and splayed in ways more evocative of politics than of prejudice (see Hier & Walby, 2006). (In this book, I use "racisms" when referring to its plural existence in Canada, and "racism" when referring to it as a concept or abstraction.)
In light of such confusion and contradiction, racism is seldom defined with any precision or consistency, much less with any appreciation of its complex logic and contested dynamics (Kundnani, 2007a). Consider the different ways of framing racisms: As a disease, human nature, a bad habit, a conspiratorial plot, a cultural blind spot, a structural flaw, arrogance or ignorance, political correctness, or a relic from the past? To amplify the complexities, racisms are reconfiguring in ways that elude both consensus and conceptualization, while generating controversy and contestation (Galabuzi, 2004). The irony is inescapable because of this transformational flux. The fact that racism can mean whatever people want it to mean invites uncertainty and confusion, no more so than when references to racism neither mean what they say nor say what they really mean, in the process negating the possibility of a singular meaning (or consensus). The implications of such contestation are far-reaching. As overt racisms disappear and blatant forms of racial discrimination drift into oblivion, new and covert expressions materialize that are often more daunting and durable than ever in defining the concept or rebuking its existence.
The concept of racism is experiencing the metaphorical equivalent of an identity crisis of confidence (see also Lee & Lutz, 2005). Nobody can agree on what it means or refers to, while disagreement continues to mount over "what it's doing, to whom, why, and how." What prevails instead of a consensus is a contested domain of multi-racisms that span the spectrum from (1) the interpersonal and infrastructural to the institutional and ideological; (2) acts of commission ("doing something") to the neglect of omission ("doing nothing"); (3) the overt to the covert; (4) the deliberate to the inadvertent; (5) its status as a thing (noun) to that of a process or activity (verb); and (6) from a singular dimension to a plural multi-dimensionality. The persistence and proliferation of these "neo-racisms" as concept and reality point to two key conclusions:
First, theorizing the persistence of racisms is proving trickier than many thought. More than simply individual prejudice because of ignorance and fear, racisms are increasingly implicated aross a broad range of unequal power relations and within the wider institutional frameworks of a racialized ("racially infused") social system (Bonilla-Silva, 1997; Feagin, 2006). The concept of racisms has shifted accordingly. The idea of racism as a monolithic "entity" is superseded by reference to a burgeoning range of racisms, from the outspoken and aggressive (for example, genocide or expulsion) to the tacit and institutionalized (systemic discrimination) (Lentin, 2008). But such expansiveness comes with costs: Without a clear frame of reference to anchor or guide, racism has "morphed" into a "floating signifier" that can mean everything yet nothing, depending on the context, criterion, or consequences (Anthias, 2007). The challenge is further complicated by the fact that racisms (1) are differently experienced by racialized minorities; (2) cannot be understood without acknowledging the intersectional dynamics of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and class; and (3) are evolving over time and varying across space. Finally, moves to eradicate racisms are compromised by fluctuating frames of reference that make it difficult to pin down or put away. Racism is no longer about hierarchy of races; rather, it connotes the oftens subtle ways in which people of colour are marginalized or excluded (Stanley, 2012) because of mainstream resentment of minority demands, ingratitude, and differences. Complexities of such magnitude render it more difficult than ever to devise anti-racism strategies that counter its slippery and elusive nature (Conference Notes, 2006). The consequences of such disarray go beyond the academic; after all, for a problem to be solved, it must be appropriately framed to secure a sustainable outcome consistent with a problem-solution nexus (Fleras, 2005; Bhavnani et al., 2005).
Second, consider the paradox of racisms in a multicultural Canada that abides by the principles of multiculturalism yet commits to a colour-blind ("post-racial") society (see also Henry & Tator, 2010). Canada claims to be a race-neutral and colour-blind society, thanks to its impressive array of formal equality statutes, human rights legislation, employment equity initiatives, and anti-racism programs, including Canada's five-year, $56 million Action Plan Against Racism (2005-10). Of particular salience is Canada's embrace of an inclusive multiculturalism anchored in the principle of ensuring no one is excluded from equality or involvement for reasons largely beyond his or her control. To the extent it exists, racism is brushed off as a relic from the past, relatively muted and randomly expressed, isolated to a few lunatic fringes or articulated by the sadly misinformed, and banned from public domains. In a comparative sense, this assessment may be true. Compared to its past and in comparison to other countries, Canada sparkles as a paragon of progress. But in contrast to Canada's constitutional values and multicultural principles, a worrying gap prevails when aligning societal ideals with racialized realities. Racism is not an aberration in Canada, neither now nor in the past, as Wallis, Sunseri, and Galabuzi (2010, p. 8) argue. It's a constitutive component of Canadian society that conflates racialized...