Peace, Order and Racism

I’ve held back from commenting on the Obama inauguration in this space – mostly because there’s too much to say, and I can’t figure out how to say any of it. Like many others, I found myself tearing up watching the YouTube vidoe of him being sworn in, but I can’t quite place exactly why. I wasn’t consciously thinking about everything it means, or really about any of the many things it means (for the immediate, urgent, crisis moment as well as in the broad historical context), and I’m normally not one to get emotional over structured ceremonial procedings, however joyous the occasion may be. But something was there, and try as I might, I couldn’t put it in to words.

The other reason for my lack of comment has been that I seem to be hitting another point of exhaustion in my politics. At a time when so many other seem to be feeling hope and have been galvanized into action, and despite the increased focus on hope I’ve had for the past several months, something seems to be getting to me. Personal stresses (as well as personal uplifts) bleed into my political expressions, and vice versa, and a sense of both stagnation and underlying unknowns are hitting me on both of those fronts.

I’m in Canada. This change, this victory, whatever it is, is not ours. Obviously, American politics has a significant impact on our lives, but in broad cultural terms, not much has changed up here. Renée has had a couple of good posts up recently about racism in Canada in which she makes the very good point:

Canadians have a tendency to practice a far more subtle form of racism than that which is practiced by our American cousins but there is no doubt that not only do we define ourselves oppositionally to the US (the excuse we use to claim status as an equal society) but that we have largely constructed the Canadian identity by default to be white.

We have also constructed that identity to be more orderly than peaceful. That first (more recent) link points to a story about police violence. More and more, I’m convinced that those first two words of our national statement of values not only do not equate to the same thing, they fundamentally contradict each other. The maintenance of order depends on the maintenance of the default position of “whiteness”, including the invisibility of that which fucks up the pristine, snow-covered valley.

I had to read a bit of Kant for one of my courses recently, and one of the points he makes is that struggle moves humanity toward its ultimate state of global peace and unity. Many of the fundamental premises he’s working with are hugely problematic, and I’m not saying I agree with the teleological picture he draws, but that position in itself points to one of the things that’s been bothering me. That sense of stagnation comes through in the orderliness of our society. Even as things are rapidly changing immediately to the South of us – and all over the world, as the repeal of the Global Gag Rule has passed and the closing of Guantanamo Bay has been announced – we’re content to ride on the coattails of change, to push nothing, to suggest that actually, we were here in enlightened glory the whole time, so we’re just glad you’ve decided to join us.

The Canadian myths of multiculturalism, of tolerance and of non-racism haven’t been shaken, and we remain convinced not just of our state of order, but of the equation of that concept with peace. There’s a lot to be grateful for in the world these days, but I damn well hope we, as Canadians, don’t use this change as an excuse to sit back and suggest that all the work can be done for us.

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5 thoughts on “Peace, Order and Racism

  1. Mendacious D says:

    Spot on, as usual. Part of trying to define ourselves relative (or in opposition to) the US is that I think we’ve developed a mindset that requires us to feel superior. Hence, the very quiet undercurrent of racism that finally came out with the police beating.

    There’s obviously work to be done, but no one wants to admit guilt or complicity in racism, even if it would improve them.

  2. purtek says:

    And thank you (as usual). 🙂 I think you’ve also got a good added point about the way we require a way to feel superior, and any dismantling of that suggestion is met with either harsh defensiveness or blank stares of “does not compute”. It’s not so much that we don’t want to admit complicity in racism, it’s that we’re still in “does not compute” (like racism is some uniquely American quality, and if we’re Not America, we are by definition, everything that they are Not).

  3. Rev. Bob says:

    Take comfort from the fact that your level of political weirdness has recently reached heights (or depths) we couldn’t imagine here in the 3rd world.

    White-normativeness is institutionalized here, especially among conservatives. Ditto for straight-normativeness, able-normativeness, privileged-normativeness. And the dominant narrative denies that MLK and Rosa Parks were radical activists.

    What we all need is some angry people to shock us out of our assumptions of what’s normal.

  4. Kristin says:

    Kant was actually an avowed racist whose racism was an integral part of his teleology and cosmopolitanism. Robert Bernasconi has written quite a lot about this.

  5. Ravenmn says:

    Thinking of you tonight. I hope you are doing just fine!

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