United Nations is racially colorblind, and thinks that Canadian term “visible minorities” is racist.

Apparently, the United Nations thinks that recognizing race is racist. Here is an article from last year, March 08, 2007:

UNITED NATIONS – Canada’s use of the term “visible minorities” to identify people it considers susceptible to racial discrimination came under fire at the United Nations Wednesday – for being racist.

The world body’s anti-racism watchdog says in a report on Ottawa’s efforts to eliminate racial discrimination in Canada that the words might contravene an international treaty aimed at combating racism.

For people who want to discuss racism, this accusation is sounds familiar. A person who points out an instance of subtle racism is often accused of being racist herself. The accuser argues that this person is racist for noticing race. Would this be the reasoning of the UN committee?

Canada’s Employment Equity Act defines “visible minorities” as “persons, other than aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.”

To the committee, highlighting a certain group does not appear to be consistent with Article One of the convention, which says racial discrimination occurs when equitable treatment is upset by “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.”

Recognizing race is making a distinction, but recognizing race does not necessarily lead to exclusion, restriction, or preference. “Visible minority” is a meaningful and intuitive term that recognizes that those who do not appear to be “white” may be discriminated against because of their physical racial appearance, which is a separate factor from their ethnicity, language, and culture.

An explanation of why colorblindness subverts antiracist work is well-articulated by Magniloquence in the post Race Relations 101: Colorblindness:

I don’t want [my race] to not be a problem for you; I don’t want race to be problematic.

The distinction may seem subtle, but it really isn’t. When a person says “I don’t see color” as a way of saying “your race is not a problem for me,” it casts the problem as race. Race is not the problem, racism is.

The news article on the UN accusation continues:

Speaking at the committee grilling of Canada last month, committee member Patrick Thornberry went further.

“The use of the term seemed to somehow indicate that ‘whiteness’ was the standard, all others differing from that being visible,” says the British international law professor, according to UN note-takers.

First, let us bring up the normative versus descriptive distinction. In philosophy, a normative statement is a statement about how things should be, while a descriptive statement is a statement about how things are.

Normatively, whiteness should not be the standard, and all others differing from that should not have a unique visibility due to their non-whiteness. Descriptively, however, it is true that ‘whiteness’ is the standard, and that all others differing from that do have a unique visibility due to their non-whiteness.

Rachel’s Tavern notes that the inability to make this [normative versus descriptive] distinction is one of the central problems with colorblindness:

Moreover, like most people I hear discuss race, she was unable to make a distinction between “should racial issues/identities matter” and “do racial issues/identities matter.” This is, of course, one of the central problems with colorblindness. Maybe in an ideal world where race was never invented race wouldn’t matter, but we don’t live in that world.

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6 Responses to “United Nations is racially colorblind, and thinks that Canadian term “visible minorities” is racist.”

  1. YASPY Chick Says:

    Why are all South Asian cultures grouped together while Chinese are not? I never really understood this.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    It’s probably because South Asians were not as numerous when they first made the categories, while Chinese were the largest visible minority group by themselves. Hopefully, now that South Asians are the largest visible minority group, they will break it down and make it more specific for the next Census.

    They do keep track of data on what kind of South Asian, but it’s not reflected in their “visible minority” grouping.

    There is other weird stuff, like Arab and West Asian as separate groups, and Filipino and Southeast Asian as separate groups.

  3. “Non-whites” vs. “Visible Minorities” vs. “People of Colour” « Restructure! Says:

    […] Some people think that the term “visible minority” is racist, but the concept of “visible minority” is important to understanding racism. People of colour who can pass for white have fewer barriers compared to people of colour who are visible minorities. Posted in White People Studies. Tags: aboriginal, Canada, concept, identity, indigenous, language, minority, nonwhite, passing, people of color, race, racism, term, visible minority, white. […]

  4. magniloquence Says:

    Thank you for the link! I’m glad it helped.

  5. Whiteness (contingent social construct) versus Whiteness (necessary social construct) « Restructure! Says:

    […] people unaffected by racism to deny that there is a problem. In addition, although the statement “race is not the problem, racism is” is true, this statement is still made within the narrative that only people of colour are raced or […]

  6. Nina Says:

    Great Blog!


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