Open Letter to The Sunday Edition, CBC Radio, December 22, 2016
BY Jim Harding Ph D
Your recent radio panel on diversity just scratched the surface. This is important stuff so please do more.
It was predictable that you would get some blowback, for most of us are still using terms that come from racializing other people. Even the victims of racialization can inherit this way.
Language matters and it, too, has to evolve for diversity, multiculturalism and human rights to become the global norm. And I am not talking about being “politically correct”.
For example, while we know that there are no “races”, only the human race, we are still talking in terms of “race relations”. Even Obama does this. We are all still somewhat caught, even a bit trapped, with the baggage of language that arose from colonizing and racializing (othering) people.
We are still very much immersed in this language. Just today, as I wrote this to you, two news stories revealed this. One was on CBC TV’s The National. It spoke of South Africa’s Apartheid system “separating white from other races”. But there is no “white race” and there never was; nor has skin colour explained anything about people’s ethnic and cultural heritages. Just because the Apartheid regime used racism to maintain oppressive control does not mean we should still talk in these terms. Who was overseeing that CBC story?
Certainly, collective heritage that involves the racializing of colour can become part of a cultural or political identity. Black Lives Matter is a response to brutal policing that stems from the history of the racialization that persists from slavery and segregation. But we’d never refer to everyone else as being “non-black”, from a black supremacist perspective? There is no “black race”, just like there is no “white race”.
Continuing to talk of a “white race” or any race at all just confounds discourse and encourages supremacism.
DNA research will continue to show our common and overlapping heritages, regardless of skin tone or any genetic variation that affects appearance. Lots of identity politics is going to go the way of the Flat Earth Society. All supremacists of whatever “shade or colour” or ethnic nationalism should take a DNA test to find out their evolutionary roots. It’s an exciting time, a time to wake up.
But the racializing language can be subtle.
There was also a story about how a Mohawk community has banned “non-indigenous people” from living there. If a woman or man considered Mohawk married a person who is not of Mohawk background, they can’t live there. Offspring will be shunned, as were those of Metis heritage in Canada’s darker history. This is a reactionary reversion.
Referring to people as being “nons”, never works. We won’t tolerate the use of the term “non-white”, but somehow being referred to as “non-indigenous” is in vogue. Hopefully this is just a stage in embracing Reconciliation. It would be much more fruitful to call all of us, indigenous and settler, from all continents, as Treaty People. That would be the language of inclusion, not othering.
None of us can be respected or understood if we are treated as a “non”. To get past the colonializing, racializing language we all need to be referred to in direct terms, not as an “other”.
Being referred to as a “non” or “the other” is a path to ethnocentrism and even chauvinism. It reinforces the dangerous “us and them”. We presently see the Conservative Party grappling with whether it is going to continue to play the Trump-like politics of “us and them”, regarding “Canadian values”. This can become a path to protecting the “purity” of one’s culture or nation or even “race”. This will go nowhere good. Canada needs to keep moving on.
I refer to myself as a settler, as my great grandparents all came from Ireland or Scotland. If asked I explain I am of Celtic-Canadian heritage, though DNA tests will likely reveal much more. Our self-identity as a “Canadian” already acknowledges the relationship of us all to indigenous history (“Kanata” was an Iroquois-Huron term for “village”). I am not “non-indigenous”, or “non-English”, for that matter. I am not a “non-anything”, any more than someone from an indigenous or visible minority background (not a very revealing term) is “non-white”, or “non-Anglo-Saxon” or non-anything.
Supremacy and chauvinism can be two sides of a coin. All of us have to shed the baggage.
Perhaps we can also learn from the Kiwis. Their citizens who have European, so-called foreign ancestry (it was mainly English at the start) are often called Pakeha, which is a Maori term for people who came by boat from afar. They are not called “non-Maori”. Many street signs in New Zealand’s capital have Maori-indigenous names; we should do a similar thing here.
In our search for post-colonial identities of self and mutual respect we still get stranded by terms that have racializing-othering connotations. To learn to live with our evolving diversity we will need to move on to find terms that affirm all of us; that build our relationships, as one race, the human race, and can steadily move us towards reconciliation.
Perhaps you could explore this aspect of “diversity”; it will bring more of us into the important conversation.