In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” , Peggy McIntosh examines different perceptions of racism, power, and white privilege. She states that “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage”. She’s come to see white privilege as something invisible, unearned, and states that white skin “opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us.” In this post, I explore idea of white privilege in terms of power as well as the notion of embedded, or “institutionalized” racism with respect to the complex issues surrounding the Six Nations reclamation/Native occupation in Caledonia.
McIntosh describes racism as taking two forms: “They take both active forms, which we can see, and embedded forms, which as a member of the dominant groups one is taught not to see.” (Others would refer to embedded racism as institutionalized racism). She states, “I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group (active), never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth (embedded).”
Active forms of racism are highly visible throughout the anti-native rallies in Caledonia. Many would claim that these rallies were not ‘anti-native’ per say, but simply a protest of the blockade of highway six. In the words of Bryan Thompson, what occurred April 28th of 2006 was “only a group of frustrated citizens.” He states that “racist comments…do not reflect the attitude of the people of Caledonia or those present at the gathering” (my emphasis) . Video footage of that same ‘gathering’ reveals strikingly stereotypical signs, comments, and chants . For example, two signs read: I AGREE WITH MARIE, alluding to the mayor’s welfare comment, supporting and propagating a popular discriminatory stereotype. There were also shouted comments along these lines, such as “we pay their wages”, and so forth. These types of comments are not limited to the rally on April 28th of 2006. On an October 15th (2006) rally against the reclamation/occupation, one sign read: We work and pay taxes…How do you contribute? When asked about his sign, the individual responded, “One simple question they can’t answer because they don’t contribute.” Additionally, when the OPP were deployed in Caledonia on May 22nd, someone from the crowd shouted at the OPP, “Face the right way, we pay your wages”
On April 28th (2006) another sign reads: WHERE IS JOHN WAYNE WHEN YOU NEED HIM, indicating a sense of taking the law into one’s own hands to clear out the ‘savage Injuns’. Another sign reads GET OFF OUR LAND AND GIVE BACK MY ATV, indicating a belief that non-native Caledonians rightfully own the land in question. One sign reads: OKA STRIKE ONE IPPERWASH STRIKE TWO CALEDONIA STRIKE THREE. I’m not entirely sure how this individual would like to deal with the conflict, though I can only assume it isn’t through peaceful negotiations.
A popular chant the evening of that evening was “hey how are ya hey how are ya”, and this was also the subject of one of the signs, alluding to the prototypical Indian from Disney’s Peter Pan (I think that’s where it’s from, if I remember correctly from my childhood). The chants served to essentialize and mock the collective identity of the Six Nations protestors and their supporters. I find myself wondering if these essentializing and stereotypical attacks on Six Nations (and First Nations in general) are because the (anti-native?) protestors are unable to disprove the land claim and thus they turn to racist means to vent frustrations, all the while making the “other” seem even more so in an attempt to make themselves more legitimate recipients of the land in question? This leads me to a brief tangent: What exactly is the link between nationalism and racism? Flag waving seems to be a key component of the (anti-native?) protests, and the significance of the National anthem doesn’t go unnoticed.
In terms of power, McIntosh distinguishes between earned strength and unearned power, saying that privilege can look like strength, when it is actually permission to escape or to dominate. McIntosh describes one such privilege: “the privilege to ignore less powerful people”, which “distort[s] the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups.” It’s easy to see how this statement applies. The Canadian government has the privilege of ignoring less powerful people, namely Six Nations, and in general all First Nations who have outstanding land claims with the government. According to a CBC news article entitled “Government Falling Behind in Land Claims” (January 20, 2006), currently there are about 750 unresolved land claims. In the words of Ralph G., a steelworker president, “500 years is a long time not to settle a question as basic as this”.
This discussion of power relates to the notion of embedded, or institutionalized racism, because differential power is a key aspect of racial dominance, and embedded racism is defined by McIntosh as systems that confer racial dominance, but that we are taught not to see, such that they remain invisible. This type of racism is much more subtle, and all the more insidious than active racism in its invisibility.
Stuart Myiow makes allegations of institutionalized racism in the following statements: “Carrying out the racism that is the official policy of the Canadian government”; “Genocide that has been the official policy for 500 years”; “court itself becomes a mechanism” . Consider one last example, that of compensation, recalling that the power to ignore is a component of embedded racism. Rudy, one of the kitchen co-ordinators for the camp states, “the Henco brothers were compensated after eight weeks, we’ve been waiting centuries.”