Protest, invisibility and the racism of Canadian tolerance

A friend and I were talking about the ongoing transition from the sign-and-picket model of protest to the use of the internet and blogs in various aspects of activism. One point that came out was that one of the advantages of the internet is that you don’t depend exclusively on the major news organizations in order for your statements and actions to have any meaning at all.

The impact of carrying a sign in downtown Hamilton is limited to the number of people who see you carrying that sign. If you get 100 or 1000 people to carry the same sign, more people might notice, but the real impact doesn’t happen unless the Hamilton Spectator takes a picture, the Globe and Mail writes an opinion piece on the issue at hand, or the CBC sends a camera crew. Residents of the Six Nations reserve have been occupying territory in Caledonia for a year and a half now. They’re protesting the assumption of white Canadians (business, the government and the general public) that they get to unilaterally interpret the implications of land claims that have been disputed since the 19th century.

This was news for a while, though even right at the beginning, it was treated more as an escalation in a battle that should have already been over– “Oh, are those people still making a fuss over land claims? Haven’t they gotten everything they wanted *yet*? What more can we possibly hand them?” Now, I rarely hear about it unless I go looking for any updates or I run into one of the handful of people I know who live out there (though I’d rather not ask them, since they tend to focus most on how it’s affecting traffic and business than on the actual issues). Nothing is happening and no one is responding because the protest has been rendered invisible.

I may be wrong, but I suspect Canadians can be even worse than Americans about dismissing racism and ignoring unrest, because it seriously messes with our calm, peaceful, tolerant self-identity. I genuinely wonder if the assumption is that when land claims have been brought up before, and then disappeared, it must have been because we kind, liberal Canadians and our welfare-loving government appeased those greedy, demanding, drunk ingrates. We don’t even have to get around to reframing our racist issues, because nobody requires us to even talk about them, because everybody just knows they don’t exist.

What’s there to write about when nothing is changing? That nothing is changing. Everybody’s bored by protests because they’ve decided that it’s all been said before, and we all know how we feel about it, so we’re not even going to let a year and a half worth of protesting shake us far enough out of complacency to start a conversation about it. We’ll be good and tolerant–and good tolerant people shut up and don’t create a fuss, which, coincidentally, is also what people with privilege who want to maintain the status quo do.

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3 thoughts on “Protest, invisibility and the racism of Canadian tolerance

  1. Nenya says:

    (Very late comment to your post–just found your blog and have been intrigued by the “Far Too Canadian” tag, as a Canadian ex-pat living in the US and missing home.)

    I really do think this is true. I mean, we *know* Americans have problems with racism, right? But *we* never held slaves up North, and *we* don’t hate Mexicans. But how many times does “drunk Indian” get considered redundant, or do people snark about Sikhs in turbans? It’s actually kind of messed with my ego to admit that yeah, we DO have racism problems. Canada’s a wonderful place but we’ve screwed some things up, same as anyone else has. And we have to at least *admit* it, or nothing will change. (Dammit.)

  2. purtek says:

    Glad you’re making the late comments. Sometimes I forget what my thoughts were two months ago, so it’s nice to be reminded. 🙂

    I’ve never lived in the US, so my conception of how this plays out there is entirely based on media and internet, plus a few real world American friends who lived up here for a while. I’d be interested in more of what you have to say about the contrast, because I really do feel like while (many) Americans will freak out to be called racist, Canadians are completely unprepared to hear the accusation. In other words, (many) Americans will argue with you about why they are *not* racist, but Canadians can say similarly racist things and if you call them on it, they look at you like you have two heads for even suggesting it–as such, they don’t have arguments about why they’re *not*, because it hasn’t even *occurred* to them that it’s an issue they might need an argument for.

    And at that point, we can’t even be having the conversation.

  3. In other words, (many) Americans will argue with you about why they are *not* racist, but Canadians can say similarly racist things and if you call them on it, they look at you like you have two heads for even suggesting it–as such, they don’t have arguments about why they’re *not*, because it hasn’t even *occurred* to them that it’s an issue they might need an argument for.

    This seems to be quickly remedied by a trip or two to the states, if my last boyfriend was anything to go by. Any time race (or class, or… pretty much anything else, really) got brought up, there was a flood of “but I’m Canadian! I was a minority at my school! We don’t do the racism thing!” in the works.

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