In this emotionally-charged article, Denise Balkissoon describes the state of racism in Canada, citing all political parties’ degrees of indifference, evidenced in the language they use when discussing immigrants and refugees.
Appropriate Subject Area(s):
Social studies, current events, media studies
Key Question(s) to Explore:
- What are some criticisms of Canada’s major political parties relative to the issue of racism in Canada?
Racialized, pundits, paraphernalia, frenemies, histrionic, detainees
Introduction to lesson and task:
It is said that privilege is visible everywhere, except in the mirror. Canadians project an image of our society as inclusive, welcoming people of difference, asylum-seekers, and immigrants of all colours and cultures from around the globe. Our actions, however, expose multiple injustices, historically and to the present day, predicated on racist, anti-LGBTQ attitudes and government policies.
As late as the 1960s, government officials were taking children away from their Indigenous parents and forcibly confining them in residential schools, following an official policy of assimilation. Its purpose: to strip children of their Indigenous identity and assimilate them into white-European society. In large part, through the efforts of Indigenous groups raising and pursuing this issue, we now rightfully understand this was a racist policy and practice and abrogation of fundamental human rights.
One could argue that much has been done to right old wrongs. There is no longer a head tax on immigrants from China; all residential schools have been shuttered, and victims of the system have received formal apologies and financial compensation; a formal process of reconciliation with Indigenous people is under way, led by the federal government; Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans while serving in the RCMP, and our judicial system has criminalized racist or bigoted acts as hate crimes. Yet minorities claim injustices in the way they are treated based on their appearance or sexual orientation. To them, as expressed in the attached article, the changes have been superficial, and when push comes to shove, governments tend to water down their good intentions.
The attached article is laden with emotional language, with the disappointment and dissatisfaction of the author clearly on display. Students can benefit from an exercise in critical reading in which they can also reflect on their own attitudes about the issues, above. As well, they can learn to identify writing that pushes their emotional buttons. They will work in groups to critique the following excerpts from the article. You may choose to have them produce written reports as groups or individuals, or have them report orally to class.
Have volunteers in your group read the article aloud, then answer the following questions and complete the tasks following each excerpt:
First: Did you feel the author of this article was emotionally detached from her writing, or the opposite? Give examples.
Canada’s solution has been to idly spritz a bit of perfume to mask the smell, all the while admiring itself in a mirror full of cracks.
- How would you interpret this metaphor? What is the perfume and what is the smell? Why is the mirror cracked?
Cruelty is everywhere and putting lives in danger.
- Give an example of this kind of cruelty, and how it puts lives are in danger.
… 40 per cent of Canadians believe that “too many” immigrants coming here are members of “visible minority” groups, that uniquely Canadian term that lumps together everyone who isn’t white (or Indigenous, but that’s never been the point).
- If there are 30 people in a room and 10 of them are white, does this make the white people a minority group?
Is there such a thing as an invisible minority group? Example?
- Explain the phrase in parentheses.
…expressing a dislike for racialized immigrants is expressing a dislike for racialized people. That’s called racism, but Canadians don’t say that word.
- Have each member of your group write down a definition of racism. Discuss and see if you can achieve a consensus on a definition. Did you find this task more difficult than you expected?
Hate crimes are up, as is misinformation, but for many, neither are as important as “free speech.” That’s a priority, but only when it’s narrowly defined as freedom to spout discriminatory drivel, true or false, blatant or coded…. Identifying and labelling prejudice is also free speech, but that’s framed as unfair or, as CPC Leader Andrew Scheer put it, “nasty personal attacks.”
- Do you think that the right to free speech applies equally to those who call out racist speech or claims as it does to those who express racist or discriminatory views?
- Do you agree with the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Why or why not? Can you give an example of being hurt by words?
“Thank you very much for your donation,” the Prime Minister recently sneered at protesters who had paid $1,500 to get into a room with him. No apology can erase his tone, or their issue: his broken promise to clean up mercury-poisoned water in the Anishinaabe community of Grassy Narrows.
- Is it possible that a person of good intentions can misspeak, or does the kind of remark, above, automatically reveal a negative side of the speaker?
- The incident above was widely reported, but unlike other reports, here the writer uses the word “sneered.” How would your reading of that sentence have changed if she had written, “replied.”
After all, the perennials emitting this rotten odour took root in soil laid down by the founders of the Liberal Party, alongside their Conservative frenemies.
- Explain the use of “frenemies.” What does it suggest about the differences or similarities in the policies of the Conservatives and Liberals?
But there’s no escaping the smell of the refuse Canada has always refused to incinerate. And quite a lot of people seem happy to roll around in garbage.
- Unpack these sentences. What kind of image does it generate in your mind?
Finally, individually, do you find yourself agreeing more, or disagreeing more, with the overall article? Do you identify as white or non-white? Do you think this makes a difference to how you feel about the article? Do you think it makes a difference if the author of the article is white or non-white? Explain
Consolidation of Learning:
- Students discuss their reports in class.
- Students can describe and explain criticisms of Canada’s major political parties relative to the issues of racism and hatred in Canada.
- Ask students to report when they notice the use of emotionally-charged language in news articles, and to explain the purpose and effect of this kind of reporting.