For this blog assignment, I would like you to research and summarize one of the state or governing activities, such as The Royal Proclamation 1763, the Indian Act 1876, Immigration Act 1910, or the Multiculturalism Act 1989 – you choose the legislation or policy or commission you find most interesting. Write a blog about your findings and in your conclusion comment on whether or not your findings support Coleman’s argument about the project of white civility.
In introduction, I will be discussing the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which you can find here if you are interested in reading/skimming for better understanding.
“Neil Bissoondath argues in Selling Illusions (1994) that multiculturalism leads to ethnic and cultural segregation and the ghettoization of cultural groups rather than to an integrated community” (CanLit guide). When you consider the idea of nationalism in Canada from the viewpoint of race and ethnicity, it immediately becomes apparent that the the concept of “nationalism” in Canada is of white European origin and construction. Introduction of the idea of multiculturalism did not erase the distinct lines drawn by white Anglo-Canadian society. When it comes to multiculturalism policy, the main role of inclusion is focused on performative displays of diversity, for example: food, dance, song, art. Little focus is given to policy that will affect actual social change and correct social injustices.
The white, Anglo-Canadian hierarchy is never forgotten in the supposed steps towards a multicultural Canada. When recent immigrants or visible minority groups are welcomed into Canada, they are greeted by this hierarchy, which works to enforce gratitude, “forming a host/guest hierarchy” (CanLit guide). In a similar position, Indigenous peoples “have resisted being categorized in the frame of multiculturalism, as their societies predate the formation of the nation-state of Canada” (CanLit guide). However, Indigenous peoples should rightfully be playing the part of “host” in the “host/guest” hierarchy. Instead, they have received little acknowledgement or gratitude for the sharing of their lands, and have alone experienced enough social injustice to call into question the concept and ideals behind Canada’s take on multiculturalism.
An important feature of the Multiculturalism Act, and arguably one of its most damaging flaws is its focus on individual origins. This, by its very nature, prevents the presented idea of Canada as a nation of “we,” instead promoting a nation of “me,” or “us” and “them.” Canada, in comparison to The United States, is known as a mosaic, rather than a melting pot, but this does not seem to be a truly accurate description or division, especially when considering the Canadian justice system, which is based on an English model, and slow to adapt to change. That our justice is based on a single, separate nation’s justice system defies the inclusion of multiculturalism. This becomes a problem with situations where the cultural practices of minority groups collide with white Anglo-Canadian Law, such as with the niqab and the citizenship-swearing oath. The woman in this article is perfectly willing to remove her veil for security reasons, but refuses to do so during a citizenship-swearing ceremony just because someone else doesn’t like it. (I’d like to note that she did remove it before hand to prove her identity, but did not want to leave it removed to swear the oath, as this is not a security concern).
On the topic of cultural management, Canada’s multiculturalism label again fails. There are many examples of Indigenous peoples occupying/protesting on their ancestral lands against unwanted development or encroachment, such as this one. These protests, most often non-violent, are met with police force. This response emphasizes the issues surrounding multiculturalism in the sense of communities, borders, and state-power.
Coleman describes white civility as romantic notions of nationalism founded on a British perspective and sense of civility. Coleman emphasizes two major points in his discussion: 1) nation building has a fictive, romanticized, element and 2) the only way to maintain the fiction is to practice forgetfulness. When applied to multiculturalism, both of his points seem relevant. Multiculturalism may have been thought up with good intention, but it does not actually force those in power (white Anglo-Canadians) to give up or share their power with other cultures, rather it is a romanticized concept possibly meant to placate or to provide a pat-on-the-back to “white civility.” When this idea of multiculturalism is called upon by minority groups and Indigenous peoples, Canada seems to have a policy of forgetfulness that determines anything outside of the white Anglo-Canadian comfort zone as dangerous (or harmful to those in power keeping their power).
Browne, Rachel. “Canada Wants Muslim Women to Take Off Their Face Coverings for Citizenship Oath | VICE News.” VICE News RSS. VICE News, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.
“Canadian Multiculturalism Act (R.S.C., 1985, C. 24 (4th Supp.)).” Legislative Services Branch. Government of Canada, 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 08 July 2016.
“Nationalism, 1980s Onwards: Contesting Multiculturalism.” CanLit Guides. UBC, n.d. Web. 08 July 2016.
Trumpener, Betsy. “RCMP Planning Mass Arrests at Pipeline Protest Camp, Northern B.C Chiefs Fear – British Columbia – CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.
“Unist’ot’en Camp/Vimeo.” Digital image. CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.