Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

White Privilege and Institutional Racism

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White privilege is one issue that must be confronted as a precondition to releasing the energy required to successfully challenge institutional racism. It is the collection of benefits based on belonging to a group perceived to be white, when the same or similar benefits are denied to members of other groups.

It is the benefit of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that white people receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color The existence of white privilege in the Canadian society is not a useful tool to the growth of the society because, it encourages racism amongst individuals, makes the aboriginals feel less important and as such promotes hatred amongst others, and it promotes inequality in the society. Therefore Canadian authorities should look out for the equality of its citizens as this is a very good way of making the society a better place.

However, in other for one to fully understand the creation of whiteness in Canada, one needs to look at its historical formation. The study of whiteness is derived from the study of colonization. Edward Said described the relationship that British colonizers had with the people of the Middle East during early colonization. At that time, this area was referred to as the Orient and Said described this relationship as Orientalism. The Oriental or other image or stereotype created by the British. The other was basically everything that the West was not dark, savage, bestial, and lowbrow. (Roediger, 1991)

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In some ways, British culture was able to define their self by positioning their self as opposite to the other. For example, British culture was civilized because its citizens did not live in grass huts. British culture was technologically advanced as compared to the spears of their kind. From these other, colonizing countries like Britain, France, Germany, and Nigeria were able to see themselves as civilized, advanced and dynamic when compared to the stable and primitive others. The fact that no single Oriental identity even existed was not taken into consideration (i.e. India and Egypt are very different cultures but categorized as Orientals in early colonialism).

This ordering process also provided justification for colonizing as the colonizer could claim that they were civilizing a primitive culture. This process of ordering was carried to North America and was used in the colonization of Native Americans and in the enslavement of African Americans. “Indians” were seen as a homogeneous group of savages despite the fact that individual groups varied extensively and had well developed social systems.

. Larocque posited that “Niggers” were also portrayed as savage, uncivilized and with low intelligence. By creating this identity, expansion into North America was justified. Stereotypes have an important function in the maintenance of racism. Between 1500 and 1800 A. D. , the stereotype of Indians as savages served to justify the dispossession of Indian lands. The dispossession and its legacy have created a powerful-powerless relationship between white and Native peoples. In order to maintain this power structure, new stereotypes of Native peoples have been created, as the need has arisen (Larocque, 1989, p.74).

Besides providing a justification for dispossessing lands of colonized people, the creation of a stable other has helped to maintain this relationship of inequity. In Canada, the stereotype of a traditional Indian conjures up images of moccasins, beads, canoes, etc. It is as if these groups of people have been untouched by western civilization during the last two hundred years. The ordering process involved in traditional anthropology has perpetuated this stable identity since its inception.

In the construction of these static stereotypes is the assumption that whiteness is goodness. Other races need to conform to the norm of whiteness. There is no room in Canadian society for the other unless they are in their purist form (i. e. unless the Indian remains primitive and stays on the reserve where they belongs). Otherwise, they should be assimilated into Canadian culture. By creating and maintaining static stereotypes, public attention to cries of structural inequity by marginalized groups can be deflected.

More so, people of Native descent are no longer real Indians - if they were, they would not be having these problems because they would be living their traditional lives. There seems to be a need to deny that racism exists. An area of growing concern is the very common practice of blaming Native peoples for their socioeconomic conditions. Leaving behind the understanding that racism has also been institutionalized in government policies of assimilation, paternalism, and the historical and continuing confiscation of Native lands and resources.

These policies have had a devastating impact on Native peoples but the fallout has been explained away as stemming from cultural differences. In turn “cultural differences” are reduced to stereotypes such as “Indians cannot or will not adjust to city life. In other words, Indian “culture”, rather than colonization or racism, is blamed for whatever has happened to Native people. (Laroque, 1989, p. 74 With the rise of Quebec nationalism in the 1960’s, the federal government’s response was to “increase and centralize its power.

This entailed supplanting supposedly British institutions within Canada with indigenous Canadian equivalents” (Legare, 1995, p. 348). Concurrent to this were the demands by other groups to have their contributions to the development of Canada recognized. (Other) sections of the country began to imitate Quebec nationalists and articulate their own claims based on ethnic background and regional interests. They contended that, as immigrants from other (i. e. , non-British and also non-French) nations, they too had contributed to the developing nation.

They argued that their contributions were being ignored in the two founding nations debate, and they demanded equal recognition with French and English Canadians. (Legare, 1995, p. 349). Following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the government of Canada officially recognized the multicultural nature of Canada within a bilingual framework. This strategy was an attempt to reconcile the division in Canada between French, Aboriginal, and immigrant assertions of rights; and, to define a Canadian identity in the face of an invasion of US culture.

With this, there is no coincidence that ethnicity and multiculturalism were officially discovered at a time when Canada faced internal and external threats to its nationhood. From the start, it was ‘intended to ground Canadian nationhood in an identity that could be differentiated from threatening others both within and without. ’ Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau believed that multiculturalism could serve as ‘the glue of nationalism’, glue that could bind a uniquely defined nation, governed by a strong federal government.

As a solution to internal divisions, official recognition of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework could counterbalance the contesting regional loyalties that endangered the unity of the nation. At the same time, by accepting all ethnically defined claims as equally valid, it could effectively neutralize nationalist claims to special status or rights, re-establishing and strengthening national unity. Multiculturalism views Canadians as having British values, customs, and beliefs. While still allowing for immigrants to celebrate they’re past cultures in a formalized way.

These celebrations take place on special occasions and showcase historic traits such as food, clothing, music, material objects and language. However, this display is very much like the cultures found in museums or on a bookcase. They are taken out on special occasions but afterwards they are put back and everyone returns to normal or British customs. The overall effect of MC is to neutralize nationalist claims of special groups by making everyone the same or equal in present-day, British Canada or French Quebec.

Those groups that do not accept this have to make a claim of distinctiveness or special status. However, this is impossible because under MC everyone is distinct and equal. Although multiculturalism sounds very egalitarian and defines Canadian culture by its tolerance for the other cultures that make it up, it is still racist. Multicultural reaffirms Aboriginal and immigrant groups as the other of traditional colonial discourses. By refusing to accept legends of their cultures and demanding to express their own cultural identities, these groups are excluded from citizenship in the eyes of many Canadians.

They are “redefined as “special” (the problematic Canadian) or even unfair to those citizens who “chose” to give up their old ethnic selves and embrace loyalty to the Canadian nation”. Whiteness is the norm to which they are expected to conform as expressed by a quote from the Winnipeg Free Press: “By what right do Aboriginal people (and immigrants) receive services and demand rights when they are unwilling to contribute to the nation. Multiculturalism only recognizes diversity superficially.

The underlying assumption to most European-Canadians is that Canada is still white. Stereotypes play an important role in perpetuating this view. The construction of the other through stereotypes has helped to maintain whiteness, white privilege and its invisibility. The construction of static, primitive and dark images is used to elevate the status of whites and define them as not the other. The goodness and dynamic nature of whiteness is inferred but not overtly stated; and, the privilege that accompanies whiteness is assumed the normal consequence of not being the other.

White Privilege and Institutional Racism essay

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