| Current Toronto Time: 
The colour of privilege and power

White supremacy or white power are strong words but many activists believe that those words more accurately describe white privilege systemically embedded in western society. 

“There’s no domain in Canadian life that racism, and anti-black racism, doesn’t exist,” journalist and activist Desmond Cole says in the CBC documentary, The Skin We’re In, tracing the story of anti-Black racism in Canada. CBC Radio’s The Current had a video posted which Desmond Cole had taped about a young Black man being held by ten police officers. The young man had called police for help. 

Cole’s voiceover states that the police held him, searched him and patted his pants and crotch and that the young man was visibly frightened. Cole, who says in the tape that he himself has been subjected to police harassment, intervened and told the young man that he did not have to submit to the pat down upon which the police threatened Cole. 

Racism is deeply embedded in the everyday processes and systems in Canada. James McGill was a racist Canadian slave owner yet one of Canada’s premier universities proudly bears his name. A Canadian senator this year defended Canada’s residential schools, a system whereby Aboriginal children were abducted from their parents and forced into these schools where they underwent horrific abuses. On the issue of the twelve hundred missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, would those cases, at the point when the women went missing, have been investigated more carefully had they been White women? Last year only one Black student was accepted into the University of Toronto’s medical school. Why only one?  

Canada enjoys a reputation for being tolerant and inclusive but systemic racism exists. As South Asians we are impacted by racism every day – it happens to different people in different ways. When a friend disparages our Indian accent and prefaces it by saying, “I don’t mean you, but...” that is racism. When a clerk at a counter doesn’t “see you” and serves a White person who came after you, that is racism. With social media like Facebook and Twitter, racism takes on a whole new freedom for bigots to say whatever filth they think. News media have reported the case of a school Principal, a supposed role model, who posted Islamophobia on Facebook. Journalist Duncan McCue in discussing Professor Kerry Kawakami’s study of racism in Canada, reports that 81 per cent of British Columbians of Chinese and South Asian descent report that they have experienced some type of discrimination as a result of their ethnicity. 

The Ontario government announced earlier this year a three-year strategic plan called A Better Way Forward which intends to fight racism by promising to collect race-based data and strengthen policy and legislation. Remember that many years ago Ontario’s NDP government actually had an Anti-racism Secretariat. The problem with government initiatives is that they are dismantled by subsequent regimes as easily as they are instituted. So do government initiatives work? Or are we left to defend ourselves in the face of deeply entrenched racism that exists in people, in organizations, in the very workers whom our tax dollars pay to serve and protect us? 


• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer.

Posted: Apr 1, 2018

April 2019

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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