Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

"Canadian-First": Mixed Race Self-Identification and Canadian Belonging

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

"Canadian-First": Mixed Race Self-Identification and Canadian Belonging

Article excerpt

Abstract

Not being read or identified by others as "Canadian" was a common thread in semi-structured in-depth interviews I conducted with 19 young adults of mixed race in a Western Canadian urban context. In this paper, I address moments of (in)ability for people of mixed race to claim "Canadian." Mixed race people have a complex relationship with identifying and narrating their identities as "Canadian" through the operation of race and ethnicity in the Canadian context, and because of ambivalent and contradictory readings of their bodies. I found that they deploy the term in three ways: by expressing a sense of being "Canadian-first," by stating that there exists an understanding that "Canadian means white," and by strategically using the term "Canadian" in their interactions with others, signaling an active appropriation of the term. However, none of these deployments are mutually exclusive: they overlap and bleed into each other, playing off and impacting one another. This paper adds to nascent Canadian Critical Mixed Race studies and also redresses a gap in the literature on "Canadian identity" by examining how the ability to claim "Canadian" is racialized through a consideration of the experiences of mixed race people.

Resume

Le fait de ne pas etre lus ou identifies par d'autres comme "Canadiens" etait le denominateur commun dans les entrevues semi-structures que j'ai menees en profondeur avec 19 jeunes adultes de races mixtes dans un contexte urbain de I'Ouest Canadien. Dans cet article, je mets en exergue les moments d' (in)aptitude des personnes de races mixtes de se reclamer "Canadiens". Les gens de races mixtes ont une relation complexe avec I'identification et la narration de leurs identites en tant que "Canadiens", a cause des perceptions ambivalentes et contradictoires de leurs corps. J'ai trouve que ceux-ci deploient leur terme de trois fapons : en exprimant le sens d'etre "Canadien en premier", en affirmant qu'il existe une comprehension du "Canadien qui veut dire Blanc" et en usant strategiquement du terme "Canadien" dans leur interactions avec les autres, signalant une appropriation active du ce terme. Cependant, aucuns de ces deploiements ne s'excluent mutuellement : ils se chevauchent et s'empietent entre eux, jouant au large et s'impactant I'un de I'autre. Ce papier s'ajoute aux etudes critiques canadiennes naissantes sur les races mixtes et repare aussi une lacune dans la litterature des "identites canadiennes", en examinant comment I'aptitude de se reclamer "Canadien" est radicalisee a travers une consideration des experiences des personnes de races mixtes.

INTRODUCTION

   You walk into a room full of strangers, and all they see is a brown
   person. And then they think that you're the exotic person, so they
   want to know all about your race and stuff. But then it's almost
   anti-climatic when you're saying 'well, I'm Canadian.'

In this quote Ja, a research participant, explains how, in her daily interactions, people do not read her as "Canadian" because she is racialized as non-white, and that they in turn expect and demand an explanation of her difference from "mainstream" conceptions of who is "Canadian." Not being read or identified by others as "Canadian" was a common thread in semi-structured in-depth interviews I conducted with 19 young adults of mixed race in a Western Canadian urban location over the course of a year. In this paper, I address moments of (in)ability for people of mixed race to claim "Canadian." Mixed race people have a complex relationship with identifying and narrating their identities as "Canadian" through the operation of race and ethnicity in the Canadian context and because of ambivalent and contradictory readings of their bodies. Race discourse operates in complex ways. For the purpose of this project, while recognizing the complexity of defining "mixed race," I define "mixed race people" as people whose biological parents are from different racialized groups, meaning different "socially defined racial groups" (Streeter 1996, 316). …

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