Racializing assumptions of Canadian multiculturalism exposed by Toronto protests against Sri Lanka

In “The War in Sri Lanka and the Left in Toronto”, Fathima Cader and Noaman Ali write (May 17, 2009):

The recent burst of mass mobilizations by sections of the Canadian-Tamil community in Toronto has brought to the fore several contradictions concerning the conflict in Sri Lanka and its presence in and connection to Canada. Mainstream media’s responses to the protests have been overwhelmingly racialist, exposing many of the limits of Canadian multiculturalism. In order for Canadian multiculturalism to accept any given group of people as a cultural community, it must define that group by differentiating it from a supposedly mainstream Canadian identity. This focalising Canadian identity—in effect a non-identity—is white and middle-class. Thus, when the Toronto Star publishes an editorial entitled “Protesters vs. the public” [1] it effectively notes that the protesters are not part of the public by pitting (Tamil) protesters against the (Canadian) public. Rather than focusing on the war, media outlets have focused on the inconvenience posed to commuters, thereby shifting attention away from deaths in Sri Lanka to traffic regulations in Canada. Consequently, responses to the protests have largely demonstrated pernicious xenophobia. For instance, in the Toronto Sun, Peter Worthington argues that not using excessive force (e.g., water cannons) against Tamil protesters who block streets is tantamount to “reverse racism” against white Canadians. [2]

Read the rest of this awesome post at nomes or run like the wind.

(Indirectly via Voices in Exile)


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“Chinese food” in the U.S. is not foreign, but foreignness is not “authenticity”.

My post White American culture is General Tso’s Chicken and Chop Suey has been linked to from various websites. Below I address a common criticism of the post, and I also link to two interesting analyses about the topic.

It’s not about “authenticity” or “appropriation”.

One common misconception was that I was complaining about cultural appropriation, and complaining that Chinese American food was “inauthentic”. This is not true. I posted this comment on Racialicious, but the comment thread is long, so I will repost my comment here for better visibility:

I am not against food appropriation or food “hybridity” (whatever that means). The concept of “authenticity” is flawed, because it assumes that certain cultures remain static and frozen in time, instead of being dynamic and fluid.

Tomatoes were not originally native to Italy; they were first imported from the Americas. Chili peppers were not originally native to India; they were first imported from the Americas. Potatoes were not originally native to Ireland; they were first imported from the Americas.

What I have a problem with is what I outlined in the post. The presumption that I am a food purist and cultural purist (whatever that means) probably comes from the stereotype that people who have beef with misconceptions of food origins are really complaining about “authenticity”. Maybe other people do that, but if you CTRL+F for “authenticity” and “appropriation”, you will find them absent from the actual post.

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White people think that people of colour have more culture.

whiteculture5White liberals* in North America often say things like, “White people have no culture.” For the overwhelming majority of white liberals, to be white is to be boring. Some white people even claim that they are “jealous” of people who are not white, as if non-white people have “culture” that white people do not, due to the sole fact they have a higher concentration of melanin in their skin, eyes, or hair.

Of course, the very definition of culture necessitates that white people have culture**. Here is a definition of culture from Wikipedia:

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, games, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art.

Cultural anthropologists most commonly use the term “culture” to refer to the universal human capacity and activities to classify, codify and communicate their experiences materially and symbolically.

Obviously, white people have culture. What is less obvious is why most white liberals think that they have no culture, and why most white liberals think that anybody who is non-white has culture that white people do not, even if these non-white people are living in the same society as the whites.

Most white liberals think that they have no culture, because most white people’s subconscious and vernacular definition of “culture” is what they consider foreign culture. Because most white people believe that non-white people are foreign, they assume that non-white people must therefore have foreign culture, which they refer to as just “culture”.

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White people say, “White people have no culture.”

White people are pretty effed up sometimes. White people often think say things like, “White people have no culture,” and think that there is nothing racist about that statement. Macon D posted another messed up post at Stuff White People Do, quoting a White American named Shelly Tochluk who feels a “sense of loss” because she is white. Tolchuk writes:

However, many of us find ourselves looking at other groups and longing for the connection we imagine they feel with their roots, their homeland, their culture. Many white folks can be heard saying, “We don’t have culture. They have culture.”

Tolchuk is careful enough to write, “the connection we imagine they feel with their roots, their homeland, their culture,” instead of “the connection they feel with their roots, their homeland, their culture.” She also attributes in quotation marks, “We don’t have culture. They have culture,” as the sentiment of white folks, instead of making it her own claim about reality. However, the rest of the excerpt goes on to assume that these white folks’ assumptions about the cultures of people of colour are accurate.

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