Multiculturalism displaces anti-racism, upholds white supremacy.

Dr. Sunera Thobani, of the University of British Columbia, criticizes the discourse of multiculturalism in Canada (transcript):

I think multiculturalism has been a very effective way of silencing anti-racist politics in this country. Multiculturalism has allowed for certain communities—people of colour—to be constructed as cultural communities. Their culture is defined in very Orientalist and colonial ways—as static, they will always be that, they have always been that. And culture has now become the only space from which people of colour can actually have participation in national political life; it’s through this discourse of multiculturalism. And what it has done very successfully is it has displaced an anti-racist discourse.

You know, I teach and I have young students of colour, they come, and they completely bought into this multiculturalism ideology. They have no language to talk about racism. They know that if they talk about racism, they will get attacked.

And multiculturalism is the dominant discourse now through which all of us have to, are forced to, articulate our politics. And I think multiculturalism has, in that way, it’s done a big disservice. Because it has just silenced anti-racist discourse and anti-racist politics in this country, which now has been defined as an extreme kind of politics. And meanwhile, the deeply-embedded racial inequalities in Canadian society continue to be reproduced. And multiculturalism masks them, it glosses them over, and it has become a policy of governing and managing communities of colour, so that those politics only get articulated in the name of culture, and culture is defined in highly patriarchal terms.

[…]

My position on multiculturalism is that multiculturalism exists in a very uneasy tension with bilingualism and biculturalism. So Canada defines itself as either officially multicultural, or officially bilingual and bicultural. And by bilingual and bicultural, what is meant is French and English. And so we have a kind of policy of white supremacy—which is what bilingualism and biculturalism really is—and multiculturalism. And multiculturalism, you know, how do we define what these multi-cultures are? They are different, diversity. Who are they different from? The multi-cultures that get defined are different from the English and French.

And so the centre of the nation still continues to be defined as English and French. So multiculturalism actually, from my perspective, upholds white supremacy. You know, I think that I would support a multicultural politics, if at the same time we were dismantling white supremacy, which we’re not, right? In fact, multiculturalism fits very nicely into, as I say, the “managing of ethnics and the coloureds” in a way that still allows the nation to define itself as really bilingual and bicultural.

(Hat-tip to Little Bee.)


Related post:

Maple leaf photo by Ruslan V. Sushko under Creative Commons license. From Wikimedia Commons.

25 Responses to “Multiculturalism displaces anti-racism, upholds white supremacy.”

  1. urbia Says:

    “And multiculturalism is the dominant discourse now through which all of us have to, are forced to, articulate our politics. And I think multiculturalism has, in that way, it’s done a big disservice. Because it has just silenced anti-racist discourse and anti-racist politics in this country, which now has been defined as an extreme kind of politics.”

    I agree. Anti-racism works toward true equality, while multiculturalism just seems to mean harmonious co-existing under a strict set of conditions where whites hold positions of authority and POC are managed. This isn’t acceptable because for conditional acceptance, POC are not supposed to make waves, and coercive forces (the granting or denial of jobs, social ties, etc.) are used to force compliance.

    “And meanwhile, the deeply-embedded racial inequalities in Canadian society continue to be reproduced. And multiculturalism masks them, it glosses them over, and it has become a policy of governing and managing communities of colour, so that those politics only get articulated in the name of culture, and culture is defined in highly patriarchal terms.”

    I’ve had instances in Canada at a game development company where my employment was threatened for reasons independent of my job performance, reasons that had more to do with me speaking up about the corporate culture being toxic to POC. Ironically, race was swept under the rug in this case and conflict was chalked up to the cultural difference of generations, and that I, as Generation Y, had to “learn to recognize hierarchy” in the workplace.

    I was talking about power imbalance and then was told to recognize hierarchy… (lol whut? I see what you did there.)

    And typically, cases like mine are followed by some comment about “Some people just don’t like change [in the white-male-oriented corporate culture],” which isn’t a valid argument, as I’m sure slave drivers in the past didn’t like change either, and this is a logical fallacy, Appeal to Tradition.

    Certain inequalities ingrained in Canadian culture need to be thoroughly examined, especially economic coercion in its relation to what is ‘polite’ and socially acceptable (there’s a lot of emphasis on politeness and it may be a root cause, especially if it’s defined as passivity and not making waves). Same with corporate politics. What does it mean to play corporate politics skillfully? Is it even a skill or simply an exercise of privilege under the guise of ‘good’ people skills? Does one innately have a starting advantage of having better luck with people due to being white and male? And so forth.

    For instance, in an impressive display of Reverse Racism Mental Gymnastics, a white male manager reframed my challenge of the corporate culture as creating a ‘hostile work environment’ (ie. by pointing out a joke a white male colleague made as sexist/racist, I supposedly created a hostile work environment for white males because they felt silenced). An attempt to open up dialog was turned into a confrontational zero-sum situation where ‘your defending yourself is an attack on us,’ which led to the implied conclusion: ‘don’t make waves.’ Ironically, due to his white male privilege, if the subject of race is brought up in Canada, the POC involved is automatically assumed to be the angry one. Is this ‘politics’ happening, and if so, why is it so broadly accepted as business as usual? It’s too nebulous and needs to be re-examined.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, urbia.

  3. Robin Says:

    Oh god yes! I’ve railed about this before, that “multicultural” is the nicer, more socially acceptable version of “multiracial” – because goodness knows we can’t have people realizing that we see race! Why, seeing race would make us – you know – racists! But we can see culture. Culture is fine.

    Ugh. This is a particular red button for me because I live in Toronto, which I have been told over and over is the “most multicultural city in the world”. Every time somebody says that, it bothers me because I know that 99% of the time when somebody says it, what they’re really referring to are the fact that we have many different races and ethnicities living here. But hey, we gotta keep it socially acceptable. So “multicultural” it is.

    I’m glad you posted this, because I knew the term bothered me, but reading Dr. Thobani’s discussion really made it clear why it’s not a good thing, and that there was a whole other aspect of it that I’d never even realized (the way our embracing of that term is helping to support white supremacy).

  4. Maysie Says:

    Thanks for this, Restructure.

    Thobani has a way of putting things in such a gorgeous descriptive manner, cutting through all the hype and the BS around the “feel good” industry that is Canadian multiculturalism.

  5. Lxy Says:

    Yes, multiculturalism in Canada seems like “celebrate diversity” policies in the USA.

    They are used as thinly disguised forms of social and political control of minorities–and to mask the racial-class caste system upon which these countries are fundamentally based.

  6. urbia Says:

    My perspective is this. Okay, fine. So white people have social and political power because they’re the majority. So instead of trying to compete with them and become ‘more white’ or fit in, we should try to limit their social power from interfering with our economic power.

    The goal should be to get more anti-discrimination laws passed – and yes, supposedly we already have those, but it’s not enough because it’s challenging to bring those cases to court. So we need more laws with the focus on transparency so that cases can be built, so POC can be better represented in the workforce, and economic power will eventually give us greater access to political power. Laws are useless if they cannot be enforced. In a sense, the complacency and silence of white people on the subject of racism and discrimination is a widespread form of obstruction of justice.

  7. Alienati0n Says:

    Yes, I think this is one of the main issues so many POC’s have with white liberals and the current “we’re post racist because of Obama” ideology. Multiculturalists (like white liberals) prefer to engage in a sort of racial “symbolism” over the obliteration of deeply rooted structural inequality. People of color then become “numbers” used to obtain an image of equality, and no effort is put into the work of unlearning racism the way “I have a POC friend” is used when confronted with issues of racism (whether unconscious or conscious).

    So long as we take symbolic measures of equality, they must reason, we can continue to mention our symbolic efforts to mute any POC who is “ungrateful”. And if other POC’s are trotted out because they accept even the most minimal efforts of multiculturalists (usually because crumbs are better than no food at all), other POC cannot engage in criticism of multiculturalism. It sucks!

    Multiculturalism also seems to make increasingly more people of color quite suspicious because they know that once symbolic measures are made into law, or widely accepted by pop culture, they will never be able to address structural inequality again. Multiculturalism is the “black friend I have” on a societal scale who is brought up whenever confronted with an “awkward” racial issue, to give a white person credibility. It’s a symbolic measure taken to prevent actual discussion of white supremacy, not to end it.

    It’s like “Colorblind Ideology”, which is based on blatant lying and willful ignorance…Another (albeit similar) bag of worms.

  8. Danny Moore Says:

    I can tell you that many white CANADIANS have had enough of immigrants coming to Canada . You people are coming in for a free ride at “Our” expense and we have had enough . Why don’t you go back to your crappy little countries .
    I am sick of your bitching .Who made CANADA what it is ? , coloured people ?

  9. urbia Says:

    @Danny Moore

    Damn, you’re going to really hate me. I’m a Canadian of colour and practically all my hobbies involve X-treme sports. I ride in and out of our hospitals all the time. :)

  10. Mike Barber Says:

    “Who made CANADA what it is ? , coloured people ?”

    In short, yes.

    The first French colonies would not have survived without the use of slave labour. For over 200 years, Canada participated in the transatlantic slave trade using Aboriginal and African slaves to do much of their labour. Chinese immigrants comprised of the majority of the labour force behind building Canadian Pacific Railway.

    So yes, so-called “coloured people” had a huge part in making Canada what it is.

  11. Slumberjack Says:

    When we white folk are of the mind to emerse ourselves into the spirit of multiculturalism, usually it involves figuring out which ‘exotic’ restaurant we feel in the mood for. The extend to which we feel good about our ‘tolerance’ credentials is proportional to the unfamiliar offerings on the menu.

  12. The Problems with Multi-culturalism « fuzzytheory Says:

    […] term today may be holding us back from solving many problems. Over at Restructure! there is a post quoting Dr. Sunera Thobani and her critical stance on multiculturalism: I think multiculturalism has been a very effective way […]

  13. goaler Says:

    the 20 best countries in the world to live are white goverend and a large % white population.show us a country of COLOUR
    that has anything to offer except for maybe a warm beach!

  14. Robin Says:

    @Goaler: Imagine that there’s ten houses, and white people leave their own houses in the care of other white people who continue to keep them nice, while going into the nice houses of people of color, kicking the crap out of the people who live there, destroying their furniture, stealing their money, and making the inhabitants feel bad about themselves. Then you come along and take a peek into each of the houses. “Damn!” You’d say. “These white people have really nice houses, but these people of color just don’t know how to take care of a house. There’s mess all over, not enough to eat, and the people who live there have serious problems.” …Exactly. Now go Google “colonization”, really study it, then come back and talk intelligently.

  15. goaler Says:

    like rawanda or haiti?

  16. Robin Says:

    There’s a whole lot more examples than Rwanda and Haiti, but sure, those are two countries that were colonized and suffer continuing colonization-related problems.

    The problem is that we tend to see it in a very fixed way – that these countries (I’m speaking of colonized countries in general) were backward and uncivilized, and then Europeans brought civility and technology everywhere. This ignores the fact that some societies were quite advanced prior to colonization, and that colonization and the subsequent destroying of their society halted any future progress those societies would have made on their original track, replacing it instead with the European version. Because there’s a lot of documentation post-colonization and not so much pre-colonization that’s still available to us (save for, say, archaeological), it’s easy for us to pretend that these cultures were basically the societal equivalent of toddlers, and then we full-grown Europeans came in and shaped things up.

    I’m not saying that *all* cultures that were predominantly people of color were amazing and advanced; plenty weren’t, just like some predominantly-white countries were still basically subsistence farming. But it’s erroneous to assume that all cultures prior to colonization were uncivilized and hadn’t developed technology such as ironworking, an effective financial system and self-government, domestication of animals and advanced farming, systems of higher education, significant trading, etc.

    The problem with statements like yours – the equivalent of “well look, all these nice countries are white-run, clearly that shows that white people are just better at this and PoC can’t keep their countries well!” – completely ignores all the history that’s gotten those countries to the point where they are now.

  17. goaler Says:

    agreed!

  18. SteamPunk Magazine » Steampunks Around the World, Unite: Multiculturalism in Steampunk Says:

    […] the ideas had been first advocated fifty years ago? As the anti-racist blog Restructure points out, multicultural policy as it is today has been used to treat communities of color in a paternalistic m… where they are only confined to talk political issues in terms of cultural initiatives. Discussion […]

  19. Steampunk News » Steampunks Around the World, Unite: Multiculturalism in Steampunk Says:

    […] the ideas had been first advocated fifty years ago? As the anti-racist blog Restructure points out, multicultural policy as it is today has been used to treat communities of color in a paternalistic m… where they are only confined to talk political issues in terms of cultural initiatives. Discussion […]

  20. broomast Says:

    Thobani, is back to her old tricks, causing a rukus, over some imagined slight. Here she takes a wonderful idea, so successful that Canada is one of the most sought after countries in the word for refuges and others from all over the world. So Successfull that countries like France, England and Italy come to Canada to study multiculturalism becaue in thier countries they have riots in the streets by “people of colour” that have not been integrated into their society for one reason or another. Why does she so vilify concepts and policies the have been so successful. She so enjoys to causes turmoile where none really exists.

  21. AfroCan Says:

    broomast Says:
    November 15, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Why does she so vilify concepts and policies the have been so successful.

    ……..

    Why? Because the policies are fake, phony, sham, and at best paternalistic in micromanaging the “problem” people of colour (even when they are Canadian-born) who can never truly assimilate and become “real” Canadians like the “rightful heirs”—the WASPS, Francophones, and Ukranians.

    I am assuming from your comment’s position, that you are not a person of colour / or haven’t experienced Canada’s peculiar brand of institutional racism…otherwise you would have immediately understood Sunera Thobani interrogation / critique of multiculturalism’s policy—-that it is a form of White paternalism; that it’s outcomes so far haven’t lead to POWER sharing, meaningful PARTICIPATION in the country’s fabric; that multiculturalism doesn’t intervene on social inequality—-it just masks and deflects critical issues as it’s ideological practices remain primarily about cultural consumption and observing the “spectacle” of the other as it dances and performs for the dominant community.

    Sunera Thobani is not among the first to interrogate the insidious social control of multiculturalism.

    Himani Bannerji also did an excellent bang-up critique in The Dark Side of the Nation (2000).

    Are you connecting the critical truths of this post to Restructure’s most recent ones, articulating the experiences of Chinese community members as “perpetual foreigner” and all the “yellow peril”/ exclusionary fears that come with it in maintaining the line of White institutional domination?

  22. AfroCan Says:

    If Canada is so multicultural, that we have indeed achieved this social and democratic ideal, why are we still having these “Asian invasion” discussions in the 21st century…?

    All of them revolving in some way around policies of immigration, citizenship, settlement, and assimilation.

    Who belong in this nation or institutional space and who doesn’t…Who is “entitled” in Canada…?

    Clearly Canada is still unwelcoming, even downright hostile of racialized others. Is it that Canada desires only European ethnic multiculturalism…? Maybe that was the real vision that PM Trudeau had in mind when he implemented the policy….?

    Maybe this is the myth of multiculturalism as many Whites want to see it—one about cultural production and consumption but one that isn’t about equalizing opportunity / power sharing / dismantling oppression with people of colour…

    Also, many Euro-Canadians suffer from historical amnesia —- Canada was always was a multicultural place—there were Indigenous Natives, Blacks, East and South Asians, ethnic European Jews—-long before Confederation.

    POC presence in Canada is really nothing new…

    But nobody wants to interrogate why it took so god-damn long for their multicultural presence to get recognized—-because they were brutally oppressed in Canada—What were the exclusionary apartheid, immigration and citizenship policies that tried to keep them out or at the margins..?

    Understand Canada was settled BY Whites FOR White people.

    It wasn’t meant for People of Colour to enjoy! It still isn’t!

    That there were Indigenous Peoples here before, and that the growing nation’s Empire builders needed the free POC labour remains an “inconvenient” history to which Euro-Canadians haven’t reconciled themselves.

    I’m sorry, as I know this is painful for “liberal Whites” to accept the unpleasant social realities that your policy makers are not so “nice”, not so “sincere”, that Canada is not so “welcoming”— that we are slowly “becoming” France and Germany…

    Multiculturalism is a “sincere fiction” – media concocted “fantasy”.

  23. Chris Says:

    When you guys wake up you will see that race has nothing to do with any of it. It is money, I am white raised in States born Canadian. I joined Marines during Nam and ran into true racism against my friends of color. Oh ya I am white so that is a color too. I was dealt raw deals because I was Canadian at some points but I was also treated in a way that tried to pull me away from hanging out with my Spanish and Black friends. I could have joined in and been sitting high but I choose not too. It cost me everything and I live back in Canada. Now all I see is a different kind of splitting it money and until I found out the World Bank was behind it all and owned by Jews I didn’t know how to follow it. We are being cheated out of are resources and land. My family goes back 4 generations I know of and one is part Native. I am watching are oil be sold off by Jewish backed companies. They are well hidden. This has nothing to do with racism it is all about money and as soon as folks see that we can fight it. Money buys gold and he who has the gold has the power. Only are vote can stop them. They are hard at work in taking over the world by owning it. Playing like they care while taking it all. Check out world bank owners and original owners name follow trail it will enlighten your mind and really set you back and make you mad as hell.Hell they even changed there names to hide who they are. Racism you are puppets for them slaves to the new world order run by the World Bank.

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    […] ideas had been first advocated fifty years ago?  As the anti-racist blog Restructure points out, multicultural policy as it is today has been used to treat communities of color in a paternalistic m… where they are only confined to talk political issues in terms of cultural initiatives. Discussion […]


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