And Canada's most racist city is....
January 25, 2015 10:23 PM   Subscribe

Maclean's brings to the forefront the dark reality faced by the country's aboriginal population. Maclean's article on Winnipeg has generated a lot of buzz in the city and beyond, and a mixed reaction. What's more, the statistics speak to those still tempted to claim the problem isn't as bad as America's race issues.
posted by xm (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I'm heartened by the news that Winnipeg's mayor is acknowledging the criticism and vowing to do better. And I've also been really glad to see this article appear many time in my news feed over the last few days, even by people who don't normally share such things. People seem to care. I don't know yet if it will lead to meaningful change, but I think it's a start.

However, I have to admit that I'm a little worried that by focusing so much attention on Winnipeg, we're ignoring the larger picture of racism across all of Canada. It seems to me that racism against First Nations people in Toronto/GTA/southern Ontario is less prevalent not because of some moral high ground but simply because proportionately fewer First Nations people live here. We seem very eager to point an accusatory finger at Winnipeg and other parts of the country while ignoring the fact that racism and other systemic disadvantages are already prevalent right here in our own backyard.
posted by mr. manager at 11:40 PM on January 25, 2015 [12 favorites]

Winnipeg is a wonderful, complicated city that I haven't visited nearly recently enough. I'm sorry to hear how things are hard there right now. So much is genuine there, though -- so much is decent and honest and well-intentioned. When I read about Eric Garner in Staten Island, I know Staten Island and Staten Island is instantly the jackass. When I read about this in Winnipeg, I hardly know Winnipeg anymore but I think Winnipeg can figure out a way to be better about this soon. Please, Winnipeg.
posted by mississippi at 11:51 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm glad to see the issue being raised and (seemingly) taken seriously. And I'm not at all surprised to see the Sun plug its fingers in its ears and cry "nuh-uh." But I was disappointed to see MacLeans discuss colonialism only in passing, since it's a huge factor in creating the racism addressed in the article. Even the very first quote in the article was dripping with colonial superiority.

Doug Cuthand wrote a response tying anti-indigenous racism to colonialism:
Western Canada has a particular form of [racism] known as settler racism. This type of racism is a combination of fear and guilt, based on the fact that the land acquired for settlement came at a price. The continuing presence of all those Indians continues to reinforce it.

Settler racism is a type of superiority where the settlers assume that they are smarter and better equipped to occupy the country once inhabited by the indigenous peoples. How many times have you heard that the land was empty and going to waste before the settlers came?
posted by Banknote of the year at 12:19 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Mr. Manager....I agree... And the irony is the Maclean's article tries to get us to stop pointing fingers at the USA in order to look at ourselves.
Winnipeg mayor, Brian Bowman, didn't get defensive, but stepped up to say Winnipeg could face the challenge of taking on racism. I hope he's right, and like you, I think that needs to happen across the country.
posted by chapps at 12:20 AM on January 26, 2015

In other news, Macleans is totally not part of any racist agenda that might use dodgy interpretations of stats to tell whatever story they want.

Seriously, racism in the West is pretty bad. But fuck Macleans for their hand wringing after all these years of everyone else reporting it.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:02 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

We shouldn't as Canadians take the opportunity that's being handed to us on a platter here, to point at Winnipeg, say Oh, It's Only Those People and retire to our usual comfortable sanctimony. Winnipeg might be at the far end of the inequality spectrum but this is a nation-wide, systemic and structural problem. There's less difference between Winnipeg and Toronto, in both degree and kind, than you might think.
posted by mhoye at 6:25 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I thought a lot about the settler culture after living in the priaries of Canada. At first it was easy to feel superior. I disliked cowboy culture because it valourizes independence and ignores the rights of those who were on the land before (both farmers and native people). But the only difference between my ancestors from the east coast and the ones that settled the west was timing. The politics of colonialism was the same. The erasure of native people is the same. Without a large population of aboriginal people, people forget that they exist.

When I grew up we learned the Canada was a great country that was heavily involved with peacekeeping. That was less sexist and racist that other countries. We "never" had slavery. Never mind the fact that we are a white colonial country that has treated people of color like crap ever since we could get away with it. (The buffalo disappearing really helped that process!)
posted by Gor-ella at 7:03 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a great post and some really good reporting from Maclean's. Canada is a shockingly racist country. This week the Globe and Mail reported that Statscan doesn't collect employment information from reserves because it is "too difficult." Hard to find a better example of institutional racism.
posted by wollaston at 7:18 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Racism is definitely not limited to the USA, nor even North America. On a taxi ride from the airport in Singapore the driver (who was Singaporean) rambled on at length about the South Indian foreign workers, telling us how the pejorative "kling-klang" referred to the sounds their shackles made and exclaiming that they were "So dark! So ugly!"

It was horrifying.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:29 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's less difference between Winnipeg and Toronto, in both degree and kind, than you might think.


Anti-First Nations racism is pervasive and permissible among white people in Canada. As a white Canadian, I hear them express these opinions all the time because they think they're talking to a white guy who shares their views. I do not.

I was raised in a small city where the nearest reserve is essentially ring-fenced with petrochemical refineries and such. This may have contributed to more than a couple WTF moments for me in my formative years.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

American Racism: Were post-racist. Fuck you. We solve that shit the moment we freed the slaves (at gunpoint).

Canadian Racism: Sorry about that, we'll work on it.
posted by el io at 8:17 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

It seems to me that racism against First Nations people in Toronto/GTA/southern Ontario is less prevalent not because of some moral high ground but simply because proportionately fewer First Nations people live here.

Bingo. I lived in Toronto for the first three years after I emigrated to Canada and one of the biggest differences I noticed almost from second one of relocating to Calgary--which, by Western Canadian standards, doesn't even have much of an Aboriginal population--was the huge number of Native people here. And again, Calgary, despite being braced by reserves immediately east and west of the city, has not remotely the Native presence that Edmonton, Sask, Regina, Winnipeg, or even Kamloops has.

Anyway, Canada's "racial issue" is around Natives, full stop, and Toronto (and even Montreal, far far far moreso Montreal) is for all intents and purposes lily white despite its diversity in the same sense that, in the US rust belt where I grew up, people were either black or non-black (Mexicans and the tiny number of Asians were honourary white people: "If you're white, you're all right; if you're brown, stick around"). Toronto, with its neighbourhoods full of white people and voluntary immigrants of whatever colour, has basically nothing but non-Natives. That means it has not remotely, not REMOTELY, the racial antipathies that Winnipeg does. And can sit back and tut tut Winnipeg.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:23 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I dunno about calling Toronto "lily white". It is one of the most ethnically diverse city in the world, and about 50% of the population are visible minorities.

That said, I agree that most people in southern Ontario are completely ignorant about the terrible racism against aboriginals in a lot of Canada.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2015

fimbulvetr: Regarding Southern Ontario, I don't think most people living around the Six Nations reserve - which is the most populous reserve in Canada - are completely ignorant about the terrible racism against aboriginal people in Canada. They're happily pulling their weight perpetrating a lot of it themselves.
posted by northernish at 10:14 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the record, almost every time I meet a white person from a US state that has any kind of reservation or Native population, they say something shockingly racist about them and also resentful of all the sweet government cash they supposedly get.
posted by emjaybee at 10:22 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Paging Tom King.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Canadian Racism: Sorry about that, we'll work on it

More like "that's crazy talk. We're awesome. But holy fuck how racist are those Americans, amirite!!?"
posted by dry white toast at 11:14 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I lived in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Lethbridge and currently Calgary. This is not a problem only in Winnipeg. I feel like Winnipeg has been the focus because Manitoba has a very high aboriginal population. The attitude focused on in Winnipeg exists in ALL of Canada, it's not a Winnipeg issue but a Canadian issue. This is a very unsettling and complicated issue, I don't have answers but I wish the focus would be on 'What can we do to improve conditions? How can we change this mindset?'

The aboriginal population has the highest birthrate in Canada, the focus needs to be on what we can do to give them skills, opportunities and understanding so they can have a chance. Mindsets on both ends need to change.
posted by bluehermit at 11:40 AM on January 26, 2015

mr. manager has it.

Canada as a whole has a serious racism problem w.r.t. native people. Any other major centre with Winnipeg's demographics and geography would have nearly the same issues, but there are a couple of factors that exacerbate it here.

Winnipeg is the only major centre in Manitoba...if you're in a bad place, and you're going to drift somewhere, it'll be Winnipeg. If you go somewhere looking for work, or a change, it'll be Winnipeg, and if it doesn't work out for you, you wind up hitting bottom in Winnipeg.

There's the epic double-cross of the Métis that deprived them of the 1.4 million acres they should have had per the Manitoba Act. Fast forward to now, and you've got a large, visibly identifiable minority that has serious problems.

On top of that, most social services are concentrated in the downtown core. That means that the only regular interaction that most of the middle class non-native population has with native people is with mentally ill and addicted people living rough, in a downtown that they rarely visit except to work.

Essentially, you've got the baseline racism that you'll find in the rest of Canada, combined with a significant enough native and Metis population that they can't be ignored, and a fairly segregated city that allows non-natives to compartmentalise native and Metis issues as 'those people' in 'those neighbourhoods'.
posted by Kreiger at 12:07 PM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

The problem might not be unique to Winnipeg, but speaking as someone who was born and raised there, it feels like a huge fucking relief to see it get called out in such a direct, public way. The racist attitudes described in the Maclean's article are completely pervasive. If this controversy really does get some of those attitudes to change, I'm all for it.

And shame on the Winnipeg Sun for publishing that response. I guess there's some small comfort in knowing that historians will be quoting it a hundred years from now as a classic example of how other popular attitudes -- civic pride, anti-Toronto sentiment, etc. -- were deployed to deflect discussion away from the actual problem of pervasive, systemic racism towards aboriginal people.
posted by twirlip at 12:08 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I dunno about calling Toronto "lily white". It is one of the most ethnically diverse city in the world, and about 50% of the population are visible minorities.

I know. But in a country where the most important racial distinction is native vs non-native, a city like Toronto or Montreal, with effectively no native population at all, might as well be lily-white. That's why I drew the comparison to my American rustbelt hometown, where the only race that matters is African- American. It wasn't white vs black but non-black vs black.

In that respect, Regina and Winnipeg are both more "diverse" than is Toronto.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:14 PM on January 26, 2015

I'm torn between being very, very glad to see the issue of anti-Aboriginal racism being called out in a national publication and worrying that people will not really understand how (as many here have commented) it pervades all of Canada. You can't discuss the issue without acknowledging how deeply embedded anti-Aboriginal, colonial ideology is in our country's institutions.

For example, though a lot of the article was very good, this paragraph made me cringe:
Other Western cities celebrate their First Nations heritage. Salish art covers the hoods of Vancouver’s police cars, strip malls, even its pothole covers. The Vancouver Canucks wear a Haida whale on their jerseys. Fin, their mascot, beats a Haida drum; and the team’s player of the game dons a Haida hat. Major indigenous art installations dot the city (the inukshuk at English Bay became the symbol for the Vancouver Olympics).
Vancouver's 2010 Olympics are actually a terrible example of respectful relationships between a city and its local First Nations. The use of the inukshuk (actually an inunguat) was hardly uncontroversial. Although there are definitely people in BC working on respectful relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous groups, there are many, many reasons British Columbians can't pat ourselves on the back just yet.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:48 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Among people I know, it seem that a lot of the animosity towards the first nations is based upon some kind of envy at their perceived privileges (real or not). You know, the "they don't pay taxes", "they can hunt/fish without permits", "they get huge handouts from the government", "they do whatever they want the police does nothing", etc.
posted by coust at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2015

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