Trudeau’s Brownface Is a Symptom of a Much More Dangerous Disease

We live in a racist society, and outrage over each new incident won’t change it. Here are 12 things that will.

Trudeau-Gaffe-Brownface.jpg
‘We are missing the point if this story becomes about Trudeau being unveiled as a racist.’ Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, the Canadian Press.

Yesterday, most Canadians likely saw a photograph of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface while a teacher at a Vancouver private school in 2001.

I’m not in any way surprised by the image.

And we are missing the point if this story becomes about Trudeau being unveiled as “a racist.” Let’s take this opportunity to think more deeply about the situation and what allows it to be so.

North American society is quite focused on identifying people as “racists” or “not racists.” Being called racist is considered one of the worst labels you could apply to someone. And yet, we all live, breathe and swim in a soup of structural racism reinforcing racist beliefs.

The reason for the crisis is that Trudeau’s image is one of a “good person” who identifies as feminist, welcomes immigrants, and preaches reconciliation. So his defenders rush to say he’s not a “racist,” because this is impossible for someone who is a “good person.”

The problem is that this dichotomization of racist and not racist with good and bad causes huge barriers to very important conversations that must happen about how our whole society is racist, and we have all been taught, and likely think and express, racist feelings and ideas.

We are constantly exposed to films, shows, books, ads, magazines, etc. that portray racialized people in two-dimensional ways, usually because people in positions of power in the institutions that produce them are unlikely to be themselves racialized.

And growing up as a cisgender, straight, able-bodied white male who was the son of a prime minister is pretty much the epitome of privilege. This by definition means Trudeau is probably the least surprising person to have engaged in something so insensitive.

This is not a means to excuse Trudeau’s white privilege or ignorance. Rather, it’s an important reflection of the society we live in, which has been intentionally created by those people in positions of power. Trudeau’s actions are a symptom of a much more dangerous disease.

Talking about Trudeau being exposed as a racist completely misses the point. Instead, we need a conversation about the structural and interpersonal racism that exists in this country, impacting the lives of racialized, especially Black and Indigenous people.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the structural white privilege that allows such actions, as it holds an implicit entitlement to the lives, culture, land and bodies of racialized people. (See: All of history).

In case it’s unclear where to begin, here are some things we can start to address to support the approximately 20 per cent of the Canadian population that is racialized.

  1. Disproportionate policing of racialized communities leading to criminalization.
  2. Disproportionately harsh sentencing for Black and Indigenous people.
  3. Disproportionate rates of Black and Indigenous children apprehended from their families. The last two contribute to ongoing intergenerational trauma through family separation.
  4. Immigration policies that keep migrants, especially Latinx, Black and Filipino, working in low-wage, precarious jobs with limited pathways to permanent immigration status and therefore “membership rights” in our country.
  5. Political spaces that continue to be disproportionately white and male, thereby shaping policies impacting the lives of racialized people through privileged lenses that don’t actually reflect our country.
  6. Media spaces that continue to be disproportionately white and male, especially in management, shaping the narratives we hear, often reinforcing harmful stereotypes and perpetuating interpersonal and structural biases.
  7. Barriers to employment, such as a lower likelihood of being interviewed if you have an “ethnic” sounding name, requirements of “Canadian experience” or barriers to career advancement because you don’t look like or sound like the people at the top.
  8. Corporate boardrooms that are disproportionately white and male, and powerful special interest groups that lobby to maintain the status quo or further entrench economic systems that disproportionately benefit white people.
  9. Health care spaces rampant with implicit bias that endangers the lives of racialized people (among various groups) who may not feel they can trust providers or systems to heal or care for them as they do for others.
  10. Economic policies that continue to worsen income inequality through corporate and personal tax policies that benefit the wealthiest among us, who due to the history of this country, are disproportionately white.
  11. Relationships with Indigenous communities that claim to be built on reconciliation while not engaging with them as equal partners deserving of rights over their land and lives, dignity, and basic services like clean water.
  12. Barriers to higher education due to increasing tuition rates that disproportionately exclude racialized people from entering halls of power and professions such as medicine and law, continuing the cycle.

Power begets power. Structural racism in our society is not an accident. Any cursory look at the history of colonization, cultural genocide of Indigenous people, restriction of immigration for “certain groups,” and active efforts to criminalize certain communities demonstrates this. MORE

 

Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Image result for Indigenous march vancouver downtown eastsideIndigenous women march in Vancouver, Downtown Eastside Photo Rebecca Blissett

“We need to keep families together. Colonization and missing and murdered Indigenous women has broken families. The children left behind by missing and murdered Indigenous women are mostly in foster care and then when they age out they end up on the street. The violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women continues with their children who are also violated and made vulnerable.”

On April 3, 2019, The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) released Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside based on the lived experience, leadership, and expertise of Indigenous survivors. This comprehensive report is the culmination of a participatory process with 113 Indigenous women and 15 non-Indigenous women regarding the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people is one of the most pressing human rights issue in Canada today. We know that the over-representation in statistics on homicides, poverty, homelessness, child apprehensions, police street checks, incarceration, and overdose fatalities is not a coincidence; it is part of an infrastructure of gendered colonial violence. Colonial state practices target women for removal from Indigenous lands, tear children from their families, enforce impoverishment, and manufacture the conditions for dehumanization.

Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is an extraordinary report with Indigenous women survivors at the center; rather than as a secondary reference. Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)—a neighbourhood known as ground zero for violence against Indigenous women—are not silent victims, statistics, or stereotypes. This unprecedented work shares their powerful first-hand realities of violence, residential schools, colonization, land, resource extraction, family trauma, poverty, labour, housing, child welfare, being two-spirit, police, prisons, legal system, opioid crisis, healthcare, and more.

View report online
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Will Ottawa heed UN on rights of First Nations women?

A recent UN decision is about more than Indian status; it is about restoring the political rights and powerful voices of First Nations Women

Image result for If sex equality is a constitutional guarantee, and the Constitution Act, 1982 trumps all other federal laws in Canada – why were McIvor and others forced to spend time and money fighting for the same rights Canadian women get to take for granted? The answer lies in our colonial history. Canada has always targeted First Nations women for exclusion from the Indian Act as part of its overall Indian policy geared towards the elimination and assimilation of Indians. When colonial governments could no longer murder Indians or starve them or infect their blankets with smallpox, they tried residential schools to torture the Indian out of them. When that didn’t work, they stole their children and had them adopted into white families. When Indigenous people kept making babies, the government engaged in the forced sterilization of Indian women and girls – often without their knowledge or consent. Knowing they could not eliminate Indians by force, the government designed the Indian Act to eventually legislate Indians out of existence. To speed up this process, they targeted Indian women and children for exclusion from both registration as Indians, and membership in their communities in a variety of ways. Indian women who married non-Indians lost their Indian status, as did their children. Daughters born to Indian men out of wedlock were excluded from registration. Indian agents, the government’s representatives on reserves, could also protest the registration of children born to Indian women out of wedlock. In fact, the success of assimilation depended in part on targeting Indian women. In the words of the department in 1920: “It is in the interests of the Department… to sever her connection wholly with the reserve.”

Sharon McIvor has been engaged in an epic 33-year battle against the federal government to prove that she, her children and her grandchildren are entitled to be recognized as Indians the same way her male relatives and their descendants are under the Indian Act. Earlier this month, McIvor, who is from Lower Nicola Band in BC, won yet another landmark legal victory. The United Nations Human Rights Committee released a decision in her favour and directed Canada to end the sex discrimination.

But while Canada has lost every court case since the 1980s on this issue, the federal government refuses to stop discriminating. This not only advances the government’s goal of legislative extinction of Indians, but it limits the number of voices who might oppose its resource extraction agenda on First Nations lands.

If sex equality is a constitutional guarantee, and the Constitution Act, 1982 trumps all other federal laws in Canada – why were McIvor and others forced to spend time and money fighting for the same rights Canadian women get to take for granted? The answer lies in our colonial history.

Canada has always targeted First Nations women for exclusion from the Indian Act as part of its overall Indian policy geared towards the elimination and assimilation of Indians. When colonial governments could no longer murder Indians or starve them or infect their blankets with smallpoxthey tried residential schools to torture the Indian out of them. When that didn’t work, they stole their children and had them adopted into white families. When Indigenous people kept making babies, the government engaged in the forced sterilization of Indian women and girls – often without their knowledge or consent.

Knowing they could not eliminate Indians by force, the government designed the Indian Act to eventually legislate Indians out of existence. To speed up this process, they targeted Indian women and children for exclusion from both registration as Indians, and membership in their communities in a variety of ways. Indian women who married non-Indians lost their Indian status, as did their children. Daughters born to Indian men out of wedlock were excluded from registration. Indian agents, the government’s representatives on reserves, could also protest the registration of children born to Indian women out of wedlock. In fact, the success of assimilation depended in part on targeting Indian women. In the words of the department in 1920: “It is in the interests of the Department… to sever her connection wholly with the reserve.” MORE

 

Video of newborn seized from indigenous mom goes viral & triggers uproar in Canada

“We’re going to actually physically remove the baby” – these words, unthinkable to any mother, were streamed on Facebook Live and have since prompted angry accusations of state discrimination against indigenous people in Canada.
The edict was delivered by a cop as he was taking a newborn girl away from an indigenous woman at a hospital in the Canadian province of Manitoba this week. The mother was accused of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and of being drunk when arriving to give birth – claims that she and her relatives vigorously deny.


In the footage, which instantly went viral, the infant’s mother is seen hugging her baby when social services and police officers arrive. They tell the woman that “Child and Family Services (CFS) have the power to apprehend a child” and that the newborn will be placed into care.

The mother’s plea to spend at least a few more minutes with her baby is rejected with a harsh and simple “No.”

Even more shocking than the video itself is the fact that apprehensions of newborns such as this occur, on average, about once every day in Manitoba, official records show. More than 10,000 children are currently in CFS care in the province and around 90 percent have an indigenous parent or parents. MORE