April 01, 2010
The Hamilton Spectator
(Apr 1, 2010)
Gary McHale used March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to stage an “antiracist” rally on behalf of white people in Caledonia, showed up again the next weekend, and says he intends to keep at it.
This kind of “reverse-discrimination” logic fundamentally misunderstands contemporary power relations in Canadian society. “Reverse-discrimination” is a fallacy that assumes all groups exist on an equal playing field, outside of history. In this case, not only is the field slanted, the field itself has been stolen.
The Day to End Racism has its roots in the long and bloody struggle against South African apartheid. Most people now agree this is an obvious example of an undemocratic system of racist inequality that preserved the privilege and power of the white, colonial-settlers at the expense of indigenous Africans.
But systems of racial discrimination and inequality have a way of seeming more complex when you’re in the midst of them. International scholars and human rights activists are now referring to Canada as an “apartheid” country because of its discriminatory treatment of indigenous peoples, the racialized economic segregation of many Canadian cities, and the legacy of apartheid like laws and residential schools.
Since diverse, multicultural communities having been getting together on March 21 to mourn and to celebrate our common humanity, the Day to End Racism has come under attack by some who feel left out of the party. Some of these are social conservatives who don’t see why we have to go making a fuss about racial diversity.
It’s like Mother’s Day: your kids might say to you “why isn’t there a special day for us kids?” The answer, of course, is that children receive special recognition every day, and so it is with white people in our society. One influential scholar, Peggy McIntosh, kept track of all the invisible little “perks” that she benefited from, just for being white. Many white people around the world participate in the Day to End Racism by reflecting on these unearned privileges and participating in rallies and social events that solidify our commitment to building stronger, more inclusive shared communities.
Then there are far-right and fascist groups that are ideologically committed to maintaining and guarding white privilege, who mobilize against this day (and others) to try to intimidate people of colour and antiracist activists, such as the demonstration in Calgary last week. They often claim to be against racism themselves, only against racism-against-white-people.
McHale used this opportunity to once again bask in the light of public notoriety, staging an “anti-racist” rally on behalf of Caledonia’s white people and claiming that they experience racism and victimization by police and government. McHale has yet to explain why it is that his rhetoric is so appealing to known white supremacists who attend his rallies.
McHale and company erect a “straw man” of “native lawlessness” to steer public attention away from the source of the conflict: The failure of the Canadian government to live up to its obligations to Native people under international law.
International treaty laws, upon which our nation was founded, are the only thing that gives Canada legal legitimacy as a sovereign nation. When we break them, we are actually breaching the terms of our own sovereignty. Canada has allowed settlers, over several generations, to move in on land it swore to reserve and protect, at a time when Natives were prevented from even hiring lawyers. It set up a land-claims system that sees the Canadian government play the accused, judge, jury and executioner.
Numerous international legal scholars agree that Canada’s treatment of Native people constitutes genocide under Article Two of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Genocide (which, shamefully, Canada still refuses to sign).
In a way, it’s no wonder that some Caledonians have supported — or wearily tolerated — McHale billing himself as their spokesman: there is an appalling lack of public education about our shared Indigenous-settler history.
In addition, Caledonians have been largely abandoned by a government that is trying very hard to find a way to avoid honouring its legally binding promises, because of the size of the price tag. Caledonians have been sacrificed to a history of racism and apartheid against Native people that our government refuses to take responsibility for redressing.
To put it bluntly, whether non-natives like it or not, Native people aren’t going anywhere. Neither is the history that led us to this point, nor the legal and moral obligations Canada has to rectify the situation. Rather than just a “Native issue,” this is a settler issue, likely the Canadian issue of the 21st century. It’s about how we want our own communities and governments to behave. Anti-racism means taking this history and responsibility seriously.
McHale and his dubious associates do nothing except fan the flames of racism, ignorance and violence. His demonstration on Sunday was overshadowed by the presence of genuine antiracist activists who condemned his bombastic showmanship and demanded just and lasting solutions from our government, solutions that would prevent future situations like this.
They, and not McHale, acted in the true spirit of the Day for the Elimination of Racism.
Alyson McCready is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. She studies Canadian national identity, colonialism and critical race studies.