Racialization in Early Childhood: A Critical Analysis of Discourses in Policies

Article excerpt


A large portion of the early childhood literature in the area of cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity addresses the practices of institutions for young children, immigrant/refugee parents' understandings of their situation, and provides recommendations for more inclusive practices (Bernhard, Chud, Lefebvre, & Lange, 1996; Bernhard & GonzalezMena, 2000; Bernhard, Lefebvre, Chud, & Lange, 1997; Bernhard, Lefebvre, Kilbride, Chud, & Lange, 1998; Chang, Muckelroy, Pulido-Tobiassen, & Dowell, 2000; Derman-Sparks & A. B. C. T. Force, 1989; Gonzalez-Mena, 1991, 1996; Gonzalez-Mena & Bhavnagri, 1997). This body of literature has proved very useful in bringing issues related to young children and families from racialized minorities to the forefront of discussions in early childhood. What has not been widely discussed (and problematized) are the assumptions made in policies that guide early childhood services. Most of the existing critical policy analyses that have been conducted in the field do not directly address racialized discourses (e.g., Moss, Dillon, & Statham, 2000; Moss & Petrie, 2002). There are, however, important exceptions that focus primarily on welfare reforms (e.g., Swadener, 2000).

This article attends to this gap in the literature by reporting on a study conducted in British Columbia, Canada that addressed the following questions:

   How do discourses that guide early childhood policies within
   British Columbia represent young children and families from
   'racialized' minorities (Aboriginal, Canadian, and foreign-born)?

   What assumptions and surrounding bodies of knowledge about
   young children and families from 'racialized' minorities organize
   existing policy discourses?

   What issues do these discourses claim to, or intend to, resolve?

Before proceeding, two notes are necessary in order to situate the ideas we are about to discuss. First, the aim of this article is to interrogate the policies that guide early childhood services in the province. As Popketwitz and Lindblad (2000) explain, most policy research that deals with issues of inclusion/exclusion tend to accept the definitions and norms created by policies, "the research situates itself within the same framework as its objects of study and its results become nothing more than recapitulation of given systems of reference in state policy rather than a knowledge produced through critical analysis" (p. 6). In this article we intend to engage in a space of critical analysis. Second, we also want to move away from the creation of culturally essentialising categories that are primarily concerned with group-based cultural differences (Andreassen Becher, 2004). Our aim, following Lee and Lutz (2005), is to utilize "a critical literacy of 'race,' racisms, anti-racisms and racialization", involving "critical 'readings' of how power operates and how it transforms, and reforms, social relations, through racial categories and consciousness" (p. 4).

Multiculturalism and Aboriginality in British Columbia, Canada

Canada is imagined as a pluralistic, multicultural society that accepts a large number of immigrants every year. The rhetoric of multiculturalism has been analyzed by many scholars and we tackle this issue below. For now, we want to state the larger politics in which early childhood policies are constructed and acted upon. The imagined positive disposition toward multiculturalism is reflected in the Multiculturalism Act (1988) (Canadian Heritage-Patrimoine canadien, 2004) that states:

3. (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to (a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage; (b) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada's future . …


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