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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Defining Canadian Racism and White Privilege

Defining Canadian Racism and White Privilege
Wilburn Hayden, PhD, Professor, School of Social Work, York University
White Allies in Anti-Racism Workshop. Hamilton UU 1st March 10, 2018

Racism is the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors based on race that result in one race or individuals of that racial group being disadvantaged because of race.

White privilege is unearned racial advantages that whites as a group and as individuals have that result in oppression by disadvantaging blacks as a group and as individuals. This is not to be confused with earned privileges, such as formal education. In Canadian society) white privileges are more about attitudes and informal practices of whites, other ethnic groups and other blacks that disadvantage blacks. White privilege is locked into the norms of our community culture.  People on both sides of the race line have come to accept incidents as just part of getting along. 

At the core of white privilege is the general presumption that whites are entitled to certain informal practices because they are white, rather intentional or non-intentional. While whites as a group and individuals tend to benefit in more life chances and a higher quality of life from these informal practices, black Canadians find themselves at a disadvantage. For blacks as a group and as individuals, the results often mean reduced life chances and lower quality of life.

Many white people, especially those of whom who have made or making it in Canadian society, like to think that they got to where they are today by virtue of their merit, hard work, intelligence, and maybe a little luck. The story about my grandparent(s) had $20 when they arrived has become Canadian folklore. And while they may be sympathetic to the plight of others, many whites close down when they hear words like "affirmative action," "racial preferences" or “white privilege”. They will tell you that they and their early generations worked hard for what they have; they will say they made it on their own. You hear such comments like, “Why don't 'they do it like we did? After all, my grandparents came here with nothing and made it.”

What they don't readily acknowledge is that racism and white privilege have had a long, institutional history in our country. Often it is described as Canadian history, when in fact it lacks significant inclusion of the contributions made by Indigenous people, black people and other non-white populations.

Reaping the Rewards of Racial Preference
Rather than recognize how racial preferences and white privilege have tilted the playing field and give whites a head start in life. Most Canadians and other ethnic groups continue to believe that race does not affect their lives. Instead, they chastise blacks for not achieving what they have; they even invert the situation and accuse black people of using "the race card" to advance themselves.
Or they suggest that differential outcomes may simply result from differences in "natural" ability, culture or motivation.

However, sociologist Dalton Conley's research shows that when we compare the performance of families across racial lines, not just the same income, but also hold similar net worth, a very interesting thing happens: many of the racial disparities in education, graduation rates, welfare usage and other outcomes disappear. The "performance gap" between whites and nonwhites is a product not of nature, but unequal circumstances resulting from racism that foster racial preferences and white privilege.

Canadians who like to boast about our colorblind society in which we treat everyone the same, no exceptions, are often counter-posed against efforts to level the playing field for blacks. But colorblindness today merely bolsters the unfair advantages that color-coded practices have enabled white Canadians to accumulate over time. It's a little late in the game to say that race shouldn't matter, because in this nation, racism has always mattered.

Black people have been a part of this nation from the beginning. We have been active participants in its developments, struggle, economic success and every aspect that defines Canada. We have also been subject to racism, prejudice, discrimination, racially induced poverty and powerlessness throughout that history and remains so in our contemporary times.

Race, and social and economic justices are significant areas for Unitarians and embedded in our seven principles and secured within our proposed 8th principle. The constructs of racism and white privilege are barriers you encounter while working with black individuals, within the black community, and in our personal lives rather we are black or white. Depending on whether you are black or white, most of us will experience or have experience racism and white privilege differently.

Racism and white privilege have been identified as a significant barriers to preventing blacks from achieving equity in communities throughout the Canada.  At the core of racism and white privilege is the general presumption that whites are entitled to certain informal practices because they are white.  While whites as a group tend to benefit in more life chances and a higher quality of life from these informal practices, blacks find themselves at a disadvantage.  The results often mean, for blacks as a group, reduced life chances and lower quality of life. The bottom line is that black access to societal opportunities is limited and each racial barrier lessens life quality for black people in our society.

Within Canadian society, race and ethnicity becomes a defining measure for white privilege. Whites are at the top of the order for white privileges. Our early history of welcoming mostly white Europeans is also the beginning point for ordering white privilege. Each newly arriving nationality found their place on the white privilege hierarchical order. Each newly arriving immigrant took possession of their place of privilege as black Canadians, first as slaves and later as freed second class citizens remained at the lowest run of the order.  

White privilege is a vehicle for examining racism. By identifying white privilege and other aspects of racism one can get a clearer understanding of racial prejudice and racial discrimination of black people, and racial barriers for black people. This understanding is a start to creating actions for addressing matters of race, and social and economic injustices that continue to remain as societal barriers confronting black people.

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