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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I am Canadian-born 

Today's topic is racism.
The CBC is doing it again -- they're educating Canadians about Canada, even the parts of it we don't want to know about. I caught the tail end of a newscast tonight, a story about immigration, I think, and I heard a woman saying something sanctimonious about how "Canada today isn't the Canada I grew up in".
Yes, I thought, and I'm glad its not -- the Canada I grew up in had FLQ bombs blowing up mailboxes in Montreal, and gay people were unmentionable, and abortion was illegal, and women weren't paid equally and . . . but of course this wasn't what she meant.
What this woman meant by the phrase "the Canada I grew up in" was code for "white".
The Canada I grew up in was white, too -- I don't think I knew a single Aboriginal person until I was in my 20s. There were no Aboriginal people living in our neighbourhood, and very few Muslim people, or East Indian people, or Asian.
What a loss that was -- maybe not for them, but for me, and for my neighbourhood, and for Canada.
The Canada I grew up in was the one which initially covered the Air India disaster as though it happened to a bunch of foreigners rather than to Canadians -- I will never forget my shock at Macleans on the week of the disaster, with a tiny little banner at top right saying "Air India disaster" and just a one-page story inside.
The Canada I grew up in was the one that refused to apologize to Japanese Canadians for internment or to Chinese Canadians for the head tax.
The Canada I grew up in took Aboriginal children away from their families and sent them to residential schools.
The Canada I still live in cannot seem to provide decent drinking water to Aboriginal reserves.
The quicker that Canada changes, the better.
But we haven't changed it all yet, and Canadians need to realize this. When I checked out the CBC website to see if I could find more about that news story, I found instead Heather Mallick's recent column, which referred me to Robert Fisk's eye-opening Independent article How Racism Has Invaded Canada.
Fisk was writing about the media coverage of the "terrorist cell" arrest news stories. In particular, he noted the offensive term "brown-skinned" to describe the Muslim suspects:
What is “brown-skinned” supposed to mean — if it is not just a revolting attempt to isolate Muslims as the “other” in Canada’s highly multicultural society? I notice, for example, that when the paper obsequiously refers to Toronto’s police chief and his reportedly brilliant cops, he is not referred to as “white-skinned” (which he most assuredly is).
Fisk is right about how offensive this term is. How easily such terminology creeps into our discourse when it is used approvingly by the media.
He notes another term which we should also all be aware of:
. . . a very unpleasant -- albeit initially innocuous -- phrase has now found its way into the papers. The accused 17 -- and, indeed their families and sometimes the country's entire Muslim community -- are now referred to as 'Canadian-born'. Well, yes, they are Canadian-born. But there's a subtle difference between this and being described as a 'Canadian' -- as other citizens of this vast country are in every other context. And the implications are obvious; there are now two types of Canadian citizen: The Canadian-born variety (Muslims) and Canadians (the rest).
He is right. I was born here too. And I always thought of myself as Canadian, not just "Canadian-born".
But if the term "Canadian-born" is to be used to denigrate those terrorist suspects and turn them into second-class citizens then I have no choice -- I'll just have to adopt it for myself, too.
"I am Canadian-born" doesn't have quite the crispness and style needed for a beer commercial, but I suppose we'll get used to it.

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