Whiteness is a racial construct. It’s time to take it apart: Denise Balkissoon

Interesting commentary on “whiteness:”

Being white in Canada means a lower chance of developing cancer, hypertension and asthma. It also means being less likely to live in poverty. That doesn’t mean that every white person is healthy, wealthy or the prime minister (though every PM we have had has been white).

It does mean that as cards are dealt in the hand of life, white is a good one to get. But unearned benefits based on an unchosen identity are uncomfortable to grapple with – and that’s why people prefer not to say “white.”

“As a social concept, ‘white’ is profound in its meaning,” Robin DiAngelo, an educator and consultant in California, told me. “It means people who either come from or appear to come from Europe, but it’s necessarily a construct of oppression.”

Dr. DiAngelo, who is white, has dedicated her professional life to examining what it means to be white, what she calls “the missing piece” of studies of race and racism. She spent years as a professor and now leads workshops and seminars about racism for mainly all-white audiences, which include sharing language that helps to deconstruct whiteness.

Because, as with every other race, white is a construct. Racialization, or using ethnicity as an excuse to disenfranchise individuals and groups, can happen to people with light skin, too. In 2016, Ukrainians and Italians in Canada are pretty much white, but both were interned as enemy aliens in the past.

Italian-Canadians are an interesting case: Greeted with prejudice when they first arrived, they’ve since persuaded us to adopt their patio culture (after receiving tickets for eating outdoors in mid-20th century Toronto) and have been elected to every level of government. They now enjoy the benefits of whiteness, but many say that they’ll never be mangia-cakes.Yes, race is complicated.

Dr. DiAngelo tries to teach people not to be afraid of terms such as “white privilege” – daily, unspoken advantages due to skin colour – or “white supremacy,” the entrenchment of whiteness as the sun around which other, inferior cultures revolve.

That fear is a problem. Toronto Mayor John Tory, at an election campaign event two years ago, demurred on whether white privilege existed, while Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson recently called those who accused him of white supremacy as being “vulgar and rude.” What’s actually vulgar is that being white increases access to power and privilege, and that by not engaging with that truth, politicians can help to maintain that inequality.

Dr. DiAngelo has a term for that avoidance, too. “White fragility,” she says, is the inability to cope with conversations about race that don’t protect individual white people’s sense of innocence. Western society maintains that racism is an act that individuals do, not a system that all of us exist in.

Thus, she says, it teaches us that “being a good person and being complicit with racism are mutually exclusive.” To hear an accusation of racism is to believe one’s basic morality is in question, which stirs up guilt and defensiveness, leading to anger and avoidance.

White people experience obvious physical relief, Dr. DiAngelo says, when she tells them it isn’t a personal failing to ascribe to white supremacy. It’s what we’ve all been taught from birth. The conversations don’t necessarily get easier from there, she says, but her audiences’ ability to listen, and to cope with unpleasantness, gradually improves.

The solution to white fragility, she says, is to build up stamina; just as with exercise, that involves doing the painful task over and over again until you get better. So try it. Say “white.” Say it to white people.

Source: Whiteness is a racial construct. It’s time to take it apart – The Globe and Mail

Attitudes, inequalities at root of ‘missing’ girls: Balkissoon

Denise Balkissoon on the study showing a prevalence of Indo-Canadian sex selection abortions:

But it’s short-sighted to brand this an immigrant problem or to react by restricting women’s rights. This is a problem of tradition and history, and modern Asia is troubled by it, too. While India and China are scrambling to find real fixes, the Journal noted that South Korea seems to have turned around a centuries-old preference for boys in a single generation.

Sex-selective abortions took off in South Korea after 1980, when ultrasounds became widely available. By 1990, the Journal notes, 116.5 boys were born for every 100 girls (the average in most Western countries, including Canada, is 105 boys to 100 girls). Korean advocates for women and girls didn’t respond by attempting to restrict reproductive freedom. Instead, they targeted issues of women’s inequality; for example, pushing for legislation to allow families to use the mother’s surname, instead of the father’s, as was traditional. The government was also persuaded to subsidize child care up to the age of 5, and to give incentives to companies offering paternity leave. The results were extraordinary: By 2014, the ratio of male to female babies was at the 105-to-100 level that health experts consider natural.

If we want the same result for Canada’s South Asian babies, this is the template to follow. Restricting access to health information or abortions might help to fix the numbers, but it’s the stories behind the numbers that matter.

I don’t just want the “right” number of girl babies to show up every year. I want to end discrimination against the girls currently living with parents who had them reluctantly, and to make sure that women have options if they’re abused for not producing boys. I want senior citizens to know they’ll be taken care of even if their sons don’t bring home wives, and I want 35-year-olds to feel valued by their communities whether or not they have partners.

Maybe the result of all that would be fewer abortions in Canada. But that’s not the goal we should prioritize.

Source: Attitudes, inequalities at root of ‘missing’ girls – The Globe and Mail

I’ll be ‘proud’ when Canada achieves justice for all: Denise Balkissoon

A needed broader perspective on the justice system than provided by Ghomeshi defence lawyer Marie Henein:

I don’t expect defence lawyers to be nice, and so I didn’t have any beef with Marie Henein until this week. Then she said that our legal system is one “we should all be proud of,” and now I’m compelled to reply: Don’t be absurd.

It’s one thing to state, as Jian Ghomeshi’s ferociously successful lawyer also did in her CBC Television interview, that justice was “absolutely” served when her client was acquitted. That proclamation refers to a single case – specific circumstances of evidence and reasonable doubt, one set of police officers and Crown attorneys, one particular judge.

But to say, as she did, that the Canadian justice system is impartial “each and every single day,” well that’s simply wrong. Training and intellect might help Ms. Henein skillfully navigate the system, but that doesn’t mean the system itself is admirable.

After Mr. Ghomeshi’s acquittal on multiple charges of assault and sexual assault, an unhappy group marched north from the courthouse to the Toronto Police Service headquarters on College Street. There, it merged with Black Lives Matter Toronto, justice advocates who have been sleeping outside the police HQ for almost two weeks now. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto is right next door, and indigenous demonstrators were soon in the mix as well.

Emotions were extremely high and the number of criticisms levelled at the Canadian justice system was overwhelming. Many of them were also valid, and reflective of my own personal list.

For example: A quarter of federal prisoners are aboriginal, even though just 4 per cent of the population is indigenous. Black Torontonians (and non-white Canadians across the country) are much more likely to be “carded,” meaning stopped randomly by police and asked to submit personal information despite not being accused of a specific crime.

Justice is expensive and the more impoverished you are, the less likely you are to receive it. The Legal Aid cutoff for a single person in Ontario is $14,000 a year, or about half of working full-time for minimum wage; Ms. Henein’s fee is rumoured to be up to $1,000 an hour. Lawyers who work with low-wage clients talk about the scourge of “pleading out” – when innocent defendants make deals, acquiring criminal records because they lack the resources for endless, unpredictable court dates.

If Ms. Henein truly considers herself a feminist, as has been endlessly discussed, a recent Criminal Lawyers’ Association report must surely upset her: Female lawyers are dropping out in droves, in part because of sexist treatment by police, court staff and judges. There are many ways that the law disappoints Canadian women – please also do not forget the hundreds of native women and girls whose disappearances and murders have been virtually ignored for decades.

To say, as Ms. Henein did, that justice in Canada is “very, very good,” is to consider all of these problems acceptable. It’s an attempt to write off dissenters as a motley crew with aimless complaints, when in reality many legal critics have clear, concrete suggestions for change.

For example, Black Lives Matter Toronto wants transparency around police violence toward civilians; this includes tracking the race of those killed by police and an inquiry into the death of Andrew Loku, a mentally ill father of five shot in his hallway last year.

One wish of many indigenous lawyers is increased application of the Supreme Court’s 1999 Gladue decision: When sentencing indigenous offenders, the focus is meant to be on rehabilitation, not punishment, with true consideration of the impact of residential schools and other historical inequities.

And advocates for sexual assault survivors have a number of ideas worth considering, such as greater use of the civil system versus the criminal courts, and increasing complainants’ access to legal support and information.

The list of proposed solutions is as long as the list of problems, and that’s good. A growing, evolving justice system is something we should all want, and I think we do. A 2014 Angus Reid Survey found that only about 60 per cent of Canadians said they trusted the police, while a mere 40 per cent said they had confidence in the criminal courts.

Victorious defence lawyers might be proud of our justice system, but the rest of the country has doubts that are more than reasonable. I guess winning is a heady drug, and intoxicants do tend to interfere with one’s sense of reality.

Source: I’ll be ‘proud’ when Canada achieves justice for all – The Globe and Mail