A response to….”What is Racism? Confusion reigns.”

November 2013: A short follow-up to this post, along with some dialogue about the difficulties in similar discussions here. 


NB: I sent this short response in after being very frustrated in reading this column, by Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun. Given the title, I had been hoping for so much more…and so tried to illuminate a few of the issues I saw. Certainly, there is so much more to go over than what I covered as well – particularly what is at the heart of the matter in terms of Canadian identity + language, but I was tired after a long workday and had been hoping to remove myself from a computer screen for at least a few minutes that evening… 

I read with interest and ultimate disappointment the Aug 2 article by Douglas Todd on “What is Racism” today. I agree that a conversation regarding Canadian laws around immigration would likely be  useful – as would open discussion about many significant policy structures in our country. But you seem to ignore – or are unfamiliar with – the racism embedded within much of the commentary in your article, including the opening joke.

To be clear, Richmond is not China, nor is India Surrey. To stereotype every single person in Richmond as Chinese, and in Surrey as Indian, is disrespectful of all the individuals living in these areas, many of whom are of neither ethnic origin, and/or are either born or naturalized citizens of Canada. The context of the joke is that these individuals are not real Canadians, by virtue of their ancestry, look, phenotype, language, etc – indeed buying into the idea of superiority to which you attach your dictionary definition of racism. A cultural hierarchy is implicit in the comment and a history of injustice including the head tax is a part of this.

You offer several straw man arguments, both in the form of the David Suzuki/Jason Kenney exchange (the latter of whom whom has been lambasted for a number of exclusionary comments, as well as policy changes such as the significant reduction of basic health services for refugee claimants) , and with respect to the comment regarding immigrants speaking English. Indeed, as individuals would likely fare better speaking a language in a host country in which services are provided. I don’t doubt that immigrants to the country want to learn the country’s languages – but the challenges for those who are isolated following immigration due to age, mobility, connections, etc., – may be immense. There is a meaningful conversation to be had about the implications of language in immigration rules, and the value (economic and otherwise), but I did not see this materialize.

I also fail to understand why failing to closely follow immigration news as in Europe is in some way an argument. Public interest in much of federal politics is low, and superficially attaching apathy to immigration policy further serves to demonstrate the specious nature of the arguments presented.

And while I agree that the history of race in the United States has created a much different context from Canada with respect to understanding questions of race, too often, it is dismissed that racism does not exist in Canada. In fact, it is alive and well and can be demonstrated often through racial profiling in airports and by police, lower relative pay to visible minority individuals, and at the store or on the bus when individuals who do not speak English well are demeaned, shouted at (yelling louder is not helpful) and otherwise made to feel small.

I am happy to discuss further my point of view, but will stop here. Racism is a complex phenomenon that forces all of us – including those of visible minority status – to examine our internally held prejudices, biases, and judgements, many of which are learned in seemingly polite society. I find it sad to use a public platform to perpetuate misunderstanding about racism, particularly given the column title and sincerely hope you might reconsider  some of the thoughts represented in the column.

Darlene Seto
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