Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
These days, if you're white and feeling confused, you're probably on the right track
In contemplating my own whiteness in 2016, I've learned that doing so is supposed to be painful
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In retrospect, this could be viewed as the year of recalcitrant whiteness.
It’s evident most noisily in America, where a conversation fuelled by police killings of black Americans, cross-bred with the Republican Party’s typical play for white Christian votes, under the toxic orange glow of Donald Trump, mutated into an ungainly, vitriolic, spitting monster.
It’s evident here, too. Black Lives Matter organizers drew the ire of Canadians who imagined we’d somehow escaped the U.S.’s anti-black bias; the Missing and Murdered Women and Girls inquiry underlines the extreme violence white women just don’t see; the killing of an indigenous man by a white farmer in Saskatchewan sparked racial tensions in that province into flame.
I also feel it in myself.
I was raised in Victoria, a city I’ve long imagined could be the whitest place in Canada. I grew up devoid of any sophisticated sense of race. The sprinkling of diversity in my schools went largely unnoticed, as innocuous as the odd birch in a forest of cedar. Equality among us was assumed, as was our Canadian immigrant identities and their neutral impact on the country. In one junior-high social studies class we were directed to research how and when our families came to Canada. Perhaps you can guess this: There were no indigenous pupils in the class.
This year, more than any, has troubled my sense of whiteness. Frequent criticisms of my “white feminism” have revealed weaknesses in my politics. Covering Toronto’s Black Lives Matter protests underlined how uniform and narrow white Canadian media analysis can be, and forced me to question what I do and do not have any business writing about. This year’s suicide crises on indigenous reserves drew both horror at the suffering and cynical suggestions that indigenous Canadians bring all ills upon themselves. And since conditions on reserves don’t change between one suicide crisis and the next, both responses can be read as expressions of white privilege.
White privilege. I don’t use that term lightly. And I realize it’s likely to blow the skull of any white person who’s sick and tired of being called white as if it’s a bad thing. They’ve likely already stopped reading, but I will address them on the off chance they’re still around: The fact that you are deeply upset proves the problem. The thing about contemplating one’s whiteness in 2016 is that, for perhaps the first time in centuries, it’s supposed to hurt.
Feeling uncomfortable. Feeling left out of the conversation. Feeling diminished. Feeling wrong. All of these are correct, reasonable, and healthy reactions to being white right now. This is what it feels like to be forced to listen. This is what it feels like to no longer be the sole centre of attention. This is what it feels like to be rightly accused of dominating the country on morally shaky ground. In the colonial beginning, there was racism. It was at the root of residential schools, early immigration practices, early slavery laws. Despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise, that racism endures.
I wouldn't want to be called a bigot either. I don’t want to be told my country is, among other wonderful things, dyed with discrimination. Who does? But bias has been built into this nation, and we all exist on its spectrum. Internally, too, we are all biased. And the worst thing any of us could do is pretend otherwise.
People living in Saskatchewan this week don’t have that luxury. On Sunday Brad Wall, the province’s premier, in the kind of aspirational sentiment common to our politics, said that “racism has no place in Saskatchewan” before explaining exactly what place it does hold. “In the wake of a shooting near Biggar, there have been racist and hate-filled comments on social media and other forums,” he said in a statement.
In comments to the StarPhoenix newspaper, one woman expressed her support for the alleged shooter before saying, “Nobody should have died, but we knew it was going to come to this. Things are out of control.” Who is “we”? What is “it”? And why did “it” have to end in a shooting? What, exactly, is “out of control”?
It’s a question that also applies to the U.S., to Trump’s campaign, to his cult-like supporters. And some fairly convincing answers can be found in a new book. In The End of White Christian America, the religion researcher and pollster Robert P. Jones traces white Protestant Americans’ “waning cultural influence” and the ensuing anxieties and fears that run so deep, even a 2014 Coke ad about America’s diversity was a “provocative act.” As Jones elaborated in a New York Times op-ed: “The apocalyptic rhetoric is fueled by energies that are unleashed when a long-dominant group senses the looming end of its era.”
Do not think that those apocalyptic and xenophobic sentiments belong only to America. I have heard them myself, and never more loudly than this year: white people are the most discriminated against, white Christian faith is under attack. These are the feelings of those who sense a slipping grip on power, and who have not yet imagined in what ways that might be a good thing.