Race, Racism, and Empire: Reflections on Canada

Article excerpt

THIS SPECIAL ISSUE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE SEEKS TO INSPIRE CROSS-BORDER DIALOGUES between academics and activists on the ways "race," racism, and empire are being theorized and experienced on the ground. In particular, we would like to focus attention on the unique manner in which race, racism, and empire are articulated in the Canadian context. Canada provides an interesting site for investigations on race, racism, and empire. On the one hand, it has a long history of indigenous colonization, white settlement policies, settlement of people of color through racialized immigration polices, participation in free-trade regimes, and in British and U.S. imperialist agendas. On the other hand, Canada is located in a peripheral location within Western hegemony and is characterized in national mythology as a nation innocent of racism. In the postwar period, state policies of multiculturalism have represented Canada as a welcoming haven for immigrants and refugees, while in reality these policies worked to create structures that kept new Canadians of color in a marginal social, political, cultural, and economic relationship to Canada. Internationally, Canada is often constructed as a "peacekeeping nation" that is outside larger imperialist agendas. Such national mythologies erase the history of colonization, slavery, and discriminatory immigration legislation.

In the past decade, many critical race scholars have argued that local and national articulations of "race" and racism are tied to larger transnational projects of colonialism, Imperialism, and empire (see, for example, Stoler, 1995; McClinctock, 1995; Grewal and Caplan, 2002). In this special issue, we have asked scholars to examine how Canadian analyses of race and racism have been, and continue to be, located in national and transnational discourses of "race" and racism. In particular, we have turned our attention to three salient themes in Canadian critical race scholarship: theorizing the relationship between race, racism, antiracism and empire; exploring transnational processes in the construction of "race" and racism; and reflecting on the re-articulation of "race" and racism in Canada in the post-September 11 period as it has been shaped by local and transnational forces.

Theorizing "Race," Racism, Anti-Racism, and Empire

In the past decade, several new perspectives for analyzing "race" and racism have emerged. Often labeled critical theories of "race" and racism, these perspectives issued from a critique of Marxist approaches to race and racism (see, for example, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, 1982). In a seminal article, Stuart Hall (1980) illustrated how Marxist writers, such as Raymond Williams, naturalized the idea of "race," and thereby contributed to the articulation of racism. In addition, Hall argued that contemporary articulations of "race" and racism could not be explained merely through references to capitalism, class differentiation, or false ideology, but also needed to be located in the cultural, political, and social realms.

In searching for an alternative epistemological site, some, though not all, critical race scholars have employed Michel Foucault's concepts of discourse, power, and identity to explore the complexities of race and racism (for such studies, see Said, 1978; Hall, 1999; Balibar and Wallerstein, 1991; Stoler, 1995). Deploying Foucault's concept of discourse, critical race scholars have suggested that "race" and racism have been constructed through projects of modernity, colonialism, and slavery, which were premised on knowing the colonized. Following Foucault's emphasis on the social construction of identities, critical race theorists have illustrated the ways in which identities are located in discourses of "race." These writers observe that by knowing the Oriental or colonized subject, Europeans came to understand and articulate Europeanness, whiteness, culture, democracy, and citizenship (see Said, 1978; Goldberg, 1993). …