Ethnicity and Race: Canadian Minority Writing at a Crossroads

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Ethnicity and Race: Canadian Minority Writing at a Crossroads

ENOCH PADOLSKY

The re - emergence of race as a prominent factor in Canadian social and literary discourse raises the question of where Canadian race and ethnic relations are headed. This paper looks at two possible scenarios, one in which race provides the "irreducible and fundamental constitution of the social order" and one in which a multiplicity of elements, including race and ethnicity, provide such a basis. Canadian minority writing, it is argued, offers some insights into the second "pluralistic" scenario, since minority writers from a variety of backgrounds share a consensus on the relationship between cultural issues and social dominance and share a common interest in exploring intersecting boundaries.

Canada is at a crossroads in the management of its racial and ethnic agenda (Elliott and Fleras, Unequal Relations 313).

People talk race this ethnic that. It's easy to be theoretical if the words are coming from a face that has little or no pigmentation (Hiromi Goto, Chorus of Mushrooms 89 - 90).

If you are writing for your community, and by that I don't mean India, but people who are not white, people who, for instance, have suffered from racism and fascism, you would say things and present experiences that would not be universally acceptable in this society (Himani Bannerji, Other Solitudes 150).

and then there are the perennial warnings in the daily press about Canada losing its "English" and "French" character to masses of "immigrants." These terms are euphemisms for white and Black, light and dark (Dionne Brand, "Whose Gaze and Who Speaks for Whom," Bread out of Stone 161).

The terms of reference in the latter three of the above quotations - "pigmentation," "not white," "white and Black, light and dark" - signal the increasing racialization of the Canadian social and literary discourse over the last few years. Race has of course always to some extent been a factor in Canadian social discourse, but its emergence (or rather re - emergence) as a prominent factor is a fairly recent event. "Canadian writers who are not white," Dionne Brand notes, are in the process of becoming "the new wave of Canadian writing" (Other Solitudes 277). As the number of writers "of colour" has increased, the issues of "colour" and "race" have, not surprisingly, also grown in salience. There have been high profile debates by Canadian literary figures on multiculturalism and appropriation, on representation in PEN Canada, and on the "Writing Thru Race" conference. At the same time, numerous books, journals and magazines highlighting race and colour as organizing principles provide further evidence of this trend.

The reasons for this new racial awareness are complex and multi - origined. Contributing factors no doubt include changes to Canadian demography due to post - war non - European immigration; the discursive impact of the highly racialized society of the United States; the growing influence in Canadian intellectual circles of international post - colonial theory and "Third World" perspectives; and increasing media attention in Canada to race relations.

The new Canadian consciousness of race has brought along with it a growing attention to racism. As old as Canadian history, racism in Canada has now moved from being a "quiet" and ignored topic (except of course for Canadian minorities who have never had the luxury of ignoring it), to a mainstream issue. Recent years have seen increased attention to manifestations of racism in the justice system, the military (the Somalia "affair"), government, schools and universities, the housing and job markets, and the media. As racism has become a more overt public topic, public reaction to it has also become more evident. Older "red - necked" versions of racism by extremist groups - anti - immigrant, white supremacist, anti - Semitic - have by no means disappeared, yet to some extent have fallen out of favour and been displaced by underlying systemic versions, including the so - called "new racism" (see Elliott and Fleras 57 ff. …