White people can expect a backlash if they refuse to acknowledge racism when it's staring them in the face

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      More than six years ago, I talked about Canada's history of white supremacy at the launch of a book by Georgia Straight contributor Gurpreet Singh.

      I explained that it wasn't white supremacy like in the Deep South of the United States, where blacks were lynched.

      Nor was it the type of horrific racism of Nazi Germany, where Jews and others were sent to gas chambers as part of mass executions.

      But through the late 19th and a large chunk of the 20th centuries, it was white supremacy nonetheless.

      In that era, Indigenous peoples were robbed of their culture and language. And many First Nations children died in church-run residential schools.

      People of Asian ancestry were prohibited from voting, joining the professions, or being connected with family members who wanted to immigrate to this vast land we call Canada.

      But whenever something is posted on this website about racism in Canada, it's often met with denials.

      We're seeing it again in connection with the Vancouver election.

      There were 10 white people and one person of mixed ancestry who became mayor and members of council. But to so many people, that's no indication of racism.

      I'll reproduce a part of the speech I delivered back in 2012, which spoke to this very Canadian inability to acknowledge racism when it occurs.

      "The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung talked about the concept of the 'shadow'—which is the part of ourselves that we won't acknowledge. We bury this in our unconscious mind and deny, deny, deny that this exists. Canada's shadow, in a Jungian sense, is its collective refusal to truly and honestly acknowledge that white supremacy over several generations took this country on a very damaging detour.

      "Some people still actually believe that Canada used to be a white country—with a few Aboriginal people of course. But then Pierre Trudeau changed the dynamics by promoting multiculturalism. And that’s when things changed.

      "No. That’s not the truth at all. Canada used to be a diverse country. Then it was hijacked for a very long time by white supremacy. And then Pierre Trudeau moved the pendulum back to where it previously stood by sharply reducing racism in the immigration legislation.

      "A former interior minister in the late 19th century, Clifford Sifton, ensured that Asians, blacks, Jews, and Italians were prohibited from receiving land grants to settle the Prairies.

      "Had we not gone on this white supremacist detour, Saskatoon and Winnipeg would probably look a lot more like Vancouver today. We lost a lot of human potential by separating families and denying so many people their chance of achieving their dreams."

      Many people of colour are aware of this history. 

      The lack of professional opportunities is one reason why no people of colour became members of Vancouver city council in the 1950s and 1960s. They were too busy scrambling to make a living to think of indulgences like running for local political office.

      This type of thing has reverberations into the future.

      For example, someone like incoming NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick learned about civic affairs from a very young age. Her father had a long career on council, so she already knew a great deal about the system by the time she was a young adult.

      Candidates of colour didn't have this advantage.

      There are many historical and structural reasons—including family histories and the at-large voting system—to explain why people with nonanglicized names have found it more difficult than others to get elected to council.

      It's not that people of colour never win. After all, UBC professor Setty Pendakur was the first person of South Asian ancestry to be elected to Vancouver council in the 1970s. And there are differences in class, educational and income levels, and personality that can contribute to a person's chance of success.

      It's just that people of colour don't win nearly as often as those with anglicized surnames. And the person with the fewest votes on slates in the past 30 years has very often been a person who traces his or her roots back to Asia.

      This is an indisputable fact, which is based on researching Vancouver elections back to 1990.

      When a significant number of white people refuse to accept that there's unfairness—especially when it's staring them in the face—it has the potential to generate a backlash.

      For example, many whites don't fully acknowledge that white people elected the racist Donald Trump as U.S. president.

      He was supported by a majority of white men and white women. But this is rarely highlighted in media coverage of his administration.

      Now, a significant number of whites (and even some nonwhites) in Vancouver refuse to accept that we've had a racist electoral system in Vancouver for a very long time. And none of the white mayors ever went to the wall to change it.

      As long as this situation continues, people shouldn't be surprised if we see resentment grow against white journalists, white politicians, and white senior bureaucrats. It's a recipe for racial unrest, given the large number of people in the city who trace their roots back to Asia.

      This week, Globe and Mail reporter Sunny Dhillon quit his job—one of the most prestigious media positions in Canada—because he felt that his employer wasn't willing to hear him out on how to cover issues of race.

      Being dealt out of power is one thing. But for those in power to refuse to recognize the roots of the problem is another thing altogether.

      To borrow a term from Jungian psychology, I call it the Great Canadian Shadow.

      And this refusal to acknowledge racism—in fact, the irritation that arises when it's pointed out to many white people—is something that we all need to spend a lot more time talking about.

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