People of Colour and National Identity in Canada

By Dhruvarajan, Vanaja | Journal of Canadian Studies, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

People of Colour and National Identity in Canada


Dhruvarajan, Vanaja, Journal of Canadian Studies


This essay asserts that the question of belonging in the Canadian nation is of primary concern to people of colour. Due to an historical legacy of colonialism and imperialism, people of colour in general are devalued, their cultures are stigmatised and they are economically exploited. The author delineates the typical responses of people of colour to this predicament and shows how these responses differ among different generations. The author argues that these differences are primarily due to the fact that the second and subsequent generations do not have a home other than Canada while the first generation retain some attachment to their country of origin. The author discusses how the problems of women of colour are compounded because of sexism within their own ethnic groups and in the Canadian society at large. Some of the reactions of the mainstream Canadians to the predicament of people of colour are also discussed.

Dans cet article, je demontre A quel point l'appartenance A la nation canadienne est une preoccupation importante pour les personnel de couleur. A cause de l'heritage historique du colonialisme et de l'imperialisme, les personnel de couleur sont generalement &pre&'ies, economiquement exploiter et leur culture stigmatis&. Je decis les reactions caracteristiques des personnel de couleur envers cette facheuse situation et montre comment elles varient selon les generations. Je soutiens que ces differences sont d'abord dues au fait que la seconde generation ainsi que la subsequente n'ont pas d'autre foyer que le Canada alors que la premiere conserve un certain attachement A son pays d'origine. Je discute aussi de la fal;on dont le probleme des femmes de couleur est aggrave A cause du sexisme a l'interieur de leur propre groupe ethnique et dans la societe canadienne en general. 11 est enfin question de certaines des reactions des Canadiens moyens envers la situation des personnel de couleur.

People of colour are not a homogeneous group although they share experiences of exclusion. There are wide variations in their cultures and histories. Debates continue about whether to lump them together under one label. And what label would be appropriate. In North America, some labels are: visible minorities, non-white people, Third World people, racial minorities and people of colour. The term "people of colour," although it lacks precise conceptual clarity, has a political connotation similar to the term "Black" in the British context; the term is used as a protest against stigmatising people with pigmentation that is different from the pigmentation of the dominant groups. For this reason I favour the label "people of colour." Race is a social construction, with significant social consequences. Whiteness carries privileges; non-whiteness carries disadvantages. Despite differences in culture and history, all people of colour share one thing - they are racialised on the basis of skin colour, devalued as persons, and their histories and cultures are distorted and stigmatised. The processes and degrees of devaluation, distortion and stigmatisation are different for each group.

One method of devaluing people is to treat them as if they do not belong. In this essay, I discuss how people of colour are made to feel they do not belong in Canada. I will also discuss some typical responses to this devaluing and will discuss how mainstream Canadians react to the predicament of people of colour. The essay is informed by Nourbese Phillips argument that identity must include a sense of belonging, not just in the legal and civic senses, but also in the sense of feeling at home and at ease. Only by belonging will we eventually become Canadian.

Historically, people of colour have not been part of the Canadian nation. As we know, the concept of nationhood is socially constructed. Some people are allowed to belong, while others are not. In Canada, eligibility does not depend on a common culture - Canada has never been culturally homogeneous. …

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