Comprehensive Exam 2.4

This is the last of three questions that I answered during my comprehensive exam in April. I had one week to write three answers (chosen from six questions). I am a bit reluctant to share them in their unpolished state, but I think it will be useful for others to see what I generated in the time available (and plan accordingly for your own exam!). I did pass this section, but my committee pointed out that my voice was a bit lacking in my responses. (Although they also told me to be a fly on the wall and set the theories in dialogue with each other – I just should have positioned myself within that dialogue more clearly.)

Question the Third

Multiculturalism has encouraged cultural diversity in Canadian society. But in the process, it has also limited cultural mobility for certain minority groups. As Sunera Thobani writes: “The changed cultural climate in Canada, enabled by the adoption of multiculturalism, increased people of colour’s access to formal citizenship and its entitlements and their inclusion into the regime of liberal multiculturalist social formation. Increased inclusion was the reward for the race compromise forged by people of colour, and multiculturalism deepened integration into national fantasies and white domination. Immigrants who might have self-identified along any number and combination of possible identities, including those of class, gender and age, instead find themselves to be over-determined culturally over and above all other aspects of their identities. State-sponsored multiculturalism compels them to negotiate and comprehend their identities on very narrow grounds, discouraging and possibly foreclosing the possibility of alliances that might allow a systemic challenge to white dominance, patriarchy and global corporate capitalism” (2007: 175). Offer a critique of multiculturalism as a hegemonic strategy that entrenches the dominance of Whiteness in Canadian society.

Kieran Keohane opens Symptoms of Canada with a discussion of “multiculturalism, problem of” (1997: 197). Many scholars consider multiculturalism as a problem in the context of the predominately white settler colony commonly known as Canada (Angus 1997; Bannerji 2000; Dhamoon 2009; Francis 1997; Isin & Wood 1999; Keohane 1997; Kobayashi 1993; Kymlicka 2003; Mackey 1999; Strong-Boag et al. 1998; Taylor et al. 1994; Thobani 2007). Though multiculturalism has encouraged cultural diversity in Canada, it has also served as a hegemonic strategy that re-entrenches the dominance of Whiteness in Canadian society, thereby limiting cultural mobility for certain groups. Three factors maintain this tension: the category of Whiteness, the term “multiculturalism,” and the so-called problems of multiculturalism that play out in the various interactions of immigrant individuals and communities, linguistic groups, Indigenous nations, governmental policies, racist violence, members of the mosaic, academic rhetoric, and what Eva Mackey terms “unmarked, non-ethnic, and usually white, ‘Canadian-Canadian[s]’” (Mackey 1999: 20). As Pierre Bourdieu argues, “nothing classifies somebody more than the way he or she classifies” (1989: 19). Therefore, it is worth considering how and why so many scholars address the problem of Canadian multiculturalism and how some citizens are inscribed as Canadian-Canadians while others are constructed as the embodiment of difference from this norm.

Several scholars problematize the taken-for-granted assumptions of normative whiteness. Richard Dyer famously argues that much of the power of whiteness comes from its fluidity as a category. Since “[t]he 1933 Oxford English Dictionary and the 1992 Collins English Dictionary both give ‘colourless’ as one of the meanings of white,” the category of whiteness is literally a blank slate for various agendas and power relations (Dyer 1997: 46). He challenges readers to “come to see that [banal, common-sense, implicit] position of white authority in order to help undermine it” (Dyer 1997: xiv). In response, Mackey interrogates Canada’s “icy white nationalism” (Mackey 1999: 30) and Daniel Coleman challenges how “white civility”—which he defines as a conflation of British civility with whiteness—is “naturalized as the norm for English Canadian cultural identity” (Coleman 2008: 5).

White power structures are particularly apparent at borders. Citing her difficulty at a border crossing in New York City, Sara Ahmed discusses how whiteness functions as a habit that implicitly informs social action “as a background to experience” (2007:150). As Paul Gilroy notes, “cultural racism… constructs and defends an image of national-culture, homogeneous in its whiteness yet precarious and perpetually vulnerable to attack from enemies within and without” (Gilroy 1990: 196 in Mackey 1999: 8). Isin and Wood agree that “we should begin with an idea of citizenship as an exclusionary practice” because “modern citizenship has always been allocated only to select groups, despite its universal language” (1999: 55).Keohane notes how this plays out in the Canadian context:

According the national anthem, we are always “stand(ing) on guard” against possible threats to our way of life…. People who oppose immigration most often do so because they fear that it will alter the ethnic composition of the country, and thus “endanger our way of life.” (Keohane 1997: 20)

Gilroy explains the appeal of such rhetoric in an anxiety-addled era:

Identity has come to supply something of an anchor amid the turbulen[ce] of… ‘globalization.’ Taking pride or finding sanctuary in an exclusive identity affords a means to acquire certainty about who one is and where one fits, about the claims of community and the limits of social obligation. (Gilroy 2000: 107)

Angus agrees that “[t]he border is not difference; it allows difference to appear. … To perceive an Other, the border must be maintained” (1997: 134). In the words of Martin Heidegger, “the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing” (in Bhabha 1994: 1).

Rita Dhamoon notes that Canadian immigration laws are discriminatory and exclusive, designed to keep most of the world out of Canada; after all, “all non-white women fall short of the preference for the citizen-subject who is white and male” (2009:126, emphasis in original). However, Will Kymlicka argues that with “race-neutral admissions criteria (the ‘points system’)… immigrants to Canada are increasingly from non-European (and often non-Christian) societies” (2003: 370). Strong-Boag et al. complicate Kymlicka’s rosy interpretation of Canadian immigration, arguing that “[t]he overt historical project of developing Canada as a white colony… continues in the class, race, and gender biases of a supposedly neutral immigration policy” (1998: 5).

In their comparison of New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Peru, Zimbabwe, Algeria, and Israel, Stasiulis and Nira note a common theme in the immigration policies of settler colonies:

Because there is usually an insufficient supply of ‘desirable’ immigrants, the immigration policies of most settler societies can be described as a process of accommodation which involves gradually opening the gates to ‘less desirable’ immigrants.… Later, immigration policy often comes to seek out those with capital or valued professional qualifications, from groups that have historically ranked low in racial/ethnic desirability.… Bodies such as the United Nations have exerted pressure on different countries for less racist immigration legislation and more generous refugee policies. (Stasiulis & Nira 1995: 24)

As Yasmeen Abu-Laban argues: “the primary purpose of immigration policy is to deny Canadian citizenship to the majority of the world’s inhabitants.… Immigration policy serves an important function in maintaining an inequitable world system because it involves the denial of citizenship and its attendant rights” (Abu-Laban 1998: 71 in Dhamoon 2009: 70).

Kymlicka maintains that “shifts in the colour line have made it possible for various visible minorities to gain equality with whites in North America” (2001: 189). Advocating integration, he argues:

Just as the Irish have become white, so I think that Latin Americans and Arabs are increasingly seen as white by many Canadians. And some day I suspect that the Japanese will be seen as white. The problem, however, is that each of these groups… are seen as decent, hard-working and law-abiding citizens, as opposed to the promiscuous, lazy, and criminal blacks. (Kymlicka 2001: 189)

Isin and Wood critique his position, which they argue “implicitly condones an assimilation paradigm” because integration “is the quintessential logic of maintaining the status quo” (1999: 59). Furthermore, the problem is not whether Latin Americans and Arabs are increasingly seen as white, but rather, as Dyer points out, that the fluid category of white privilege persists and maintains social inequity, differentials in power, and a demonized Other.

Ian Angus argues that “[m]any ethnic communities in Canada are fundamentally structured by traumatic political events that occurred elsewhere and motivated their departure”(1997: 142). He addsthat“[t]he ‘outside’ is brought in and, through its civic expression, thereby loses the demonized character that leads to ethnic violence” (Angus 1997: 149). This commentary effectively white-washes the traumatic colonization of Indigenous communities within Canada (and, therefore, supposedly within the multicultural framework).AsLinda Peake and Brian Ray argue, “the one enduring meta-narrative of Canadian society is ‘whiteness,’” institutionalized in “white Canada immigration policies” as well as academic erasure of inconvenient historical realities (2001: 180).

Peake and Ray demonstrate how Whiteness is reinforced in banal boundary-making terminology used in the media and daily conversations:

[T]he geographies of white Canada set an implicit (and frequently explicit) norm around which belonging is constructed. The residential geographies of Afro-Caribbean immigrants in Canadian cities have frequently been described in terms of ‘ghetto’ or ‘nearghetto’ imagery, but the same descriptors have never been attributed to the even more ‘segregated’, but entirely normalized, geographies of white Canadians living in the distant suburbs of Toronto and Montreal. (Peake & Ray 2001: 180)

This exemplifies yet another way that Whiteness operates as “unseen… unmarked, unspecific, [and] universal” (Dyer 1997:45). When difference is consistently measured against the supposed normativity of Whiteness, the category retains its immense (and invisible) power, particularly when coupled with the rhetoric of multiculturalism. Therefore, it is necessary to unpack the “structural privilege of whiteness” in Canadian society and interrogate the role of Whiteness in reinforcing exclusionary practices concealed by the rhetoric of multiculturalism (Dhamoon 2009:72). As Dhamoon argues, “Whiteness… haunts multiculturalism” (2009: 71).

Enging F. Isin and Patricia K. Wood note that the term “multicultural” “has taken on so many meanings” and interpretations in various contexts (1999: 47). Homi K. Bhabha defines multiculturalism as:

a portmanteau term for anything from minority discourse to postcolonial critique, from gay and lesbian studies to chicano/a fiction…. The multicultural has itself become a ‘floating signifier’ whose enigma lies… in the discursive uses of it to mark social processes where differentiation and condensation seem to happen almost synchronically. (Bhabha 1996: 55 in Hall & DuGay)

Ian Angus agrees that “‘multiculturalism’ can be used in several ways” (1997: 138). He applies it “to a social ideal that expresses how English Canada ought to conduct itself… an ideal that is relevant throughout social interaction” (Angus 1997: 139-140).

Keohane summarizes the conflict around multiculturalism in the Canadian context:

Official multiculturalism’s project to reconcile unity and diversity has been criticized as ideological, paternalistic, and counterproductive. Critics… argue that it masks and perpetuates structural inequalities, that it reifies and marginalizes so-called ‘ethnics’ as categories while giving token acknowledgement to the contribution of ‘minorities’ to the ‘mainstream,’ and that, by emphasizing differences that divide, it undermines the development of collective identification and social solidarity that it intends to cultivate. (Keohane 1997: 3)

Indeed, along with Sunera Thobani, Peake and Ray point out some of the shortcomings of multiculturalism:

Multiculturalism policy has not dealt with systemic racism, nor has it adequately addressed the normalized qualities of uneven geographies that are integral to racist representations and practices. (Peake & Ray 2001: 182)

Pointing to the contradictions of Canada, Himani Bannerji challenges multiculturalism for “establish[ing] anglo-Canadian culture as the ethnic core culture while ‘tolerating’ and hierarchically arranging others around it as ‘multiculture’” (2000: 78).

In the Australian context, Sneja Gunew warns that “multiculturalism functions to amalgamate and spuriously to unify nationalism and culture into a depoliticized multimedia event” (1990: 112). Furthermore, “multiculturalism is often reduced to a custodial operation or becomes… a type of costume of folkloric exotica and nostalgia firmly oriented towards the past so that it cannot possibly be seen to have relevance in the present” (Gunew 1990: 112). James Clifford offers the example of the 1991 Los Angeles Festival, which showcased difference in a way that disempowered and depoliticized multicultural claims, “as if the problem were multinationalism—issues of translation, education, and tolerance—rather than of economic exploitation and racism” (1994: 313). Daniel Francis explains how folk-art, and even the highly touted mosaic, were “employed initially by the CPR to promote Canadian culture as a tourist attraction” that later evolved into widespread commercialization of multicultural others (Francis 1997: 83).

Canadian multiculturalism has the capacity to accommodate ‘difference’ and to exclude those who do not maintain the status quo of normative Whiteness, ability, and heterosexuality (Dhamoon 2009: 70). By analyzing how immigration restrictions and the federal policy of multiculturalism in Canada allows violent, exclusionary action against groups and the “management of culturally different subjects,” Dhamoon challenges the state regulation of difference in Canada through the power structures of Whiteness (2009: 7). Sharing Dhamoon’s critique of liberal multiculturalism, Thobani notes: “Immigrants who might have self-identified along any number and combination of possible identities… instead find themselves to be over-determined culturally over and above all other aspects of their identities” (2007: 175). Similarly, Gunew critiques “the emphasis on cultural pluralism [that] has often functioned to obscure class differences and has pre-empted the possibilities for structural pluralism” (1990: 110). Their analyses demonstrate how “[s]tate-sponsored multiculturalism… discourage[es] and possibly foreclose[es] the possibility of alliances that might allow a systemic challenge to white dominance, patriarchy and global corporate capitalism” (Thobani 2007: 175).

In a commentary with striking (if not surprising) parallels to the Canadian context, Gunew cites Donald Horne’s Perils of Multiculturalism as a National Ideal:

[M]ulticulturalism becomes a way of keeping ‘the ethnics’ quiet while the ‘anglos’ can go on running things…. If the aim is to… set multiculturalism as a national goal, how, at the same time, can Australia be declaredly monocultural, as, not only symbolically, but constitutionally, it still is? … Multiculturalism will have real meaning… when the English are seen only as one group of ethnics among others and when Queen Elizabeth will be welcomed as a representative of one of Australia’s honoured ethnic communities. (Horne 1983: 3-4 in Gunew 1990: 110)

Angus echoes this sentiment:

The term ‘ethnic’ can refer to all those of non-British origin, as it once did, meaning more or less ‘those who are not like us,’ or, to the extent that the privileged British connection fades, it can refer to the ‘ethno-cultural roots of whatever group,’ including English Canadians. The latter usage pertains to multiculturalism as a social ideal, whereas the former refers to its origins in a critique of the colonial past. (Angus 1997: 142)

However, although Daniel Francis initially posits that “[t]oday, Britishness is a quaint artifact, largely confined to the tourist industry, one ‘tile’ among many in the cultural mosaic,” he also recognizes that “[t]he monarchy… is the pillar on which our system of parliamentary democracy rests” (1997: 86). For this reason, multiculturalism operates within an unequal framework of traditions, history, and institutions.

Keohane offers Bob and Doug Mckenzie as an “example of this particularity of the enjoyment of the endurance of the lack of particularity” (1997: 38). However, this lack of particularity—embodied by two male “Canadian-Canadian” characters (Mackey 1999: 20)—is precisely the sort of privileged White norm(al) that Coleman and others interrogate. On the topic of home decoration, Keohane adds: “what is it that is ‘Canadian’ about Canadian Living always eludes us…. The particularity then is not given by the material… It is only the equivalential articulation of enjoyment and endurance that puts a Canadian form on the content” (1997: 38). He concludes that the ability to enjoy other types of living (such as a Hawaiian-themed rec room) and “the presence and visibility of the diversity of enjoyments… allow one the vicarious pleasure of access to other enjoyments if one so desires” (Keohane 1997: 166). Using the metaphor of a restaurant to symbolize Canada, this cannibalistic enjoyment of other cultures—what he parenthetically terms “the colours and charms of multiculturalism”—is enshrined in state-sanctioned celebrations of multiculturalism (Keohane 1997: 166).

Francis problematizes the metaphor of the mosaic as a representation of multiculturalism as:

an idea originated by the white, Euro-Canadian mainstream [that] expresses a remarkably benign view of ethnic relations in the country. It celebrated diversity and encouraged mutual understanding, up to a point at least, while ignoring the realities of inequality and racial injustice in Canadian society. (Francis 1997: 83)

Bannerji adds that “images of a multicultural mosaic tend to mask over histories of white privilege” (2000: 92-3 in Dhamoon 2009: 6). Peake and Ray agree that “[t]he inscription of whiteness across the Great White North has a direct geneaoligical connection to material processes and cultural productions of colonization” (2001: 148).

Despite these challenges to the framework of multiculturalism, Canada has been posited as an exemplary model for the world by (white, male) politicians and academics. At a G20 Summit in 2009, Stephen Harper announced: “We’re the one country in the room everybody would like to be” (Ljunggren 2009). However, Kymlicka argues that Canadian uniqueness is not altogether unique:

On the contrary, the Canadian approach is best understood as an outgrowth or application of the same basic liberal-democratic values that are shared by all Western democracies. And, as a result, the way in which national and sub-state identities are negotiated and accommodated in Canada is, in many respects, as in other Western countries. (2003: 369)

Angus offers a similarly tempered view of “plural formations of social identities [as] an ineluctable feature of contemporary societies,” but maintains that “the success or failure of this task has ramifications for democratic theory beyond the conditions of its emergence in English Canada” (1997: 169).

Although some argue that “today it is as unthinkable today to deny the worth of the mosaic as it was to deny the racial superiority of British civilization seventy-five years ago,” a review of scholarship demonstrates that there is considerable disagreement regarding the value of Canada’s multicultural mosaic (Francis 1997: 83). Indeed, Thobani argues that “multiculturalism deepened integration into national fantasies and white domination” (2007: 175). Kymlicka recognizes that “immigrant groups… often doubt the sincerity of the dominant society’s commitment to multiculturalism, which they sometimes see as purely rhetorical” (Kymlicka 2003: 376-7). Angus argues that “multiculturalism has been more successful as practice than as theory” (1997: 144). Focusing on the dual linguistic nature of Canada, Ramsay Cook concludes that “heterogeneous pluralism itself… is the Canadian identity” (1971: 214). Amidst the conflicting assessments of Canada and Canadian identity in a multicultural framework, Angus points out that “[t]he multicultural issue says something very important about what English Canada has come to be in fact and, even more significant, about who we want to be (1997: 138). In a similar vein, Bannerji argues that “‘Canada’ remains an unformed union” and encourages a critical liberating framework for the future possibilities of the place known as ‘Canada’ (Bannerji 2000: 74).

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8(2). August 2007: 149-168.

Angus, Ian. A Border Within: National Identity, Cultural Plurality and Wilderness. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997.

Bannerji, Himani. “Geography Lessons: On Being an Insider/Outsider to the Canadian Nation” in The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000: 63-86

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Social Space and Symbolic Power.” Sociological Theory 7, 1989: 14–21.

Clifford, James. “Diasporas.” Cultural Anthropology 9(3), 1994: 302–338.

Coleman, Daniel. “White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada.” White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Cook, Ramsay. “Nationalism in Canada” in The Maple Leaf Forever: Essays on Nationalism and Politics in Canada. Macmillan of Canada, Toronto. 1971: 197-214.

Dhamoon, Rita. Identity/difference Politics: How Difference is Produced, and Why it Matters. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009.

Dyer, Richard. White. London; New York: Routledge, 1997.

Francis, Daniel. National Dreams: Myth, Memory and Canadian History. Vancouver: Arsenal, 1997.

Gilroy, Paul. “Identity, belonging, and the critique of sameness” in Between Camps: Race, Identity and Nationalism At The End of the Colour Line. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000: 97-134.

Gunew, Sneja. “Denaturalizing cultural nationalisms: multicultural readings of ‘Australia,’” in Nation and Narration. Homi K. Bhabha (ed.). London: Routledge, 1990.

Hall, Stuart, and Paul Du Gay (eds). Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage, 1996.

Isin, Engin F. and Patricia K. Wood. Citizenshipand Identity. London: Sage Publications, 1999.

Keohane, Kieran. Symptoms of Canada: an essay on the Canadian identity. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Kobayashi, Audrey. “Multiculturalism: Representing a Canadian Institution” in Place/culture/ representation. James Duncan and David Ley (eds). London: Routledge, 1993: 205-231.

Kymlicka, Will. “Being Canadian.” Government and Opposition, 2003: 357-385.

Kymlicka, Will. “A Crossroad in Race Relations” in Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001: 175-199.

Ljunggren, David. “Every G20 nation wants to be Canada, insists PM.” 25 September 2009.

Mackey, Eva. The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. London: Routledge, 1999.

Peake, Linda and Brian Ray. “Racialising the Canadian Landscape: Whiteness, Uneven Geographies and Social Justice.” The Canadian Geographer 45(1), 2001: 180-86.

Razack, Sherene H. (ed.). Race, Space, and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002.

Taylor, Charles, K. Anthony Appiah, Jurgen Habermas, Steven C. Rockefeller, Michael Walzer and Susan Wolf. Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Thobani, Sunera. Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

NB “–” indicates material supplemental to the exam list.

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