Race and racism central issue of election
An understanding of racism is the single most important quality in our next mayor, says Urban Alliance on Race Relations board member Margaret Hageman.Race is the most important issue in the mayoralty campaign, argues Margaret Hageman.
By: Margaret Hageman Published on Tue Oct 14 2014
Questions of race and racism has become the central issue of Toronto mayoral race. Bring it on.
In a city whose motto is, Diversity Our Strength, an understanding of race relations is the single most important quality Toronto needs of our mayor and city councilors.
For many Canadians, the idea of diversity is about attending a multi-cultural lunch or acknowledging holidays that are not mainstream. Beyond putting roti on your plate, or wishing your neighbour a Happy Diwali, diversity is mostly about race. Racial diversity is a fact of life, on display every day on the subway and in schools, and most of us are pretty comfortable with it. At the same time, we know that Toronto is on the cusp of becoming a population where the majority of racialized (non-white) people will outnumber white folks. Is Toronto truly comfortable with that demographic shift?
Seeing some fears about Toronto’s changing complexion playing out now in this election, where discussion of white privilege has become the latest hot-button issue, I think we are. It might seem to some people that if the non-white majority of the population are no longer racial minorities, then questions of white privilege need not be on the table.
Not quite. We know that differences under the skin barely exist. Talking about race only becomes uncomfortable when we talk about different experiences among races in our shared society — such as why over-qualified brown people are driving Toronto’s taxis, or why so many young black men get questioned by police for no good reason, and why white men are over-represented in high-powered positions. It turns out you can’t talk about race without talking about racism.
There is a head-in-the-sand logic that needs to be called out when people deny white privilege. It denies the experiences of black people who get followed around in a store, over-scrutinized by security; or the voice of a black person driving a high-end car who has been stopped by police, over and over again. White privilege is invisible protection against all forms of racial profiling, including a pervasive form on Toronto’s streets called “carding,” where thousands of black and brown youth have been questioned and documented by police in Toronto over the past 10 years. White privilege is not having been carded, and subject to its cascading negative consequences. Investigative journalism done by Jim Rankin of the Star, reveals the numbers that tell the undeniable story about racial profiling by Toronto Police Services.
White privilege is an invisible protection in the streets and in the job market as well, where as a white person, your credentials are generally not called into question, your pay cheque is higher and your networks open doors. This is not opinion. Again, the facts and statistics in the workplace prove that unchecked systemic racism works to the advantage of white people, as shown by Grace-Edward Galabuzzi and Sheila Block’s research on the colour-coded job market in Canada. Denying this injustice will not make it go away.
I have heard people say that if we just stop talking about race, then racism will go away — like pundits who think that we must become colour-blind because the history of racism, the kind of deliberate discrimination against blacks and other non-white races has been discredited and legislated out of existence.
It is true that human rights have been enshrined into law. However, we cannot be a post-racial society as long as racism exists. White privilege needs to be acknowledged so that we can better see how systemic racism, a mostly silent, unconscious type of racism works.
I am a white woman and I believe that Toronto needs a mayor who does not have his or her head in the sand on race and racism. We all deserve representation and leadership on a council which understands and works to dismantle systemic racism and call out the kind of homophobic, anti-immigrant and racist bigotry that has marred this campaign and shames us all.
Margaret Hageman is a board member with Urban Alliance on Race Relations.