It’s been a little over two weeks since Maclean’s magazine gave Winnipeg, my home for the last six and a half years, the title of Canada’s most racist city. What I want to talk about in this post is how the reaction to another major story in the same time period – Winnipeg’s first ever city-wide boil water advisory – has shifted some of my own understanding of what this title as Canada’s most racist city means.
When it comes to Winnipeg’s racism, I have tended to understand it in systemic rather than at the legislative or personal terms. And it is true that (unless I am grossly ignorant) we don’t have KKK equivalent vigil-ante groups carrying out acts of violence against aboriginal persons and property or laws that are aimed at restricting people based on their ethnicity. We do have a colonial heritage and setting that, in subtle and non-subtle ways, tends to empower white people and disenfranchise aboriginal peoples, influencing everything from police actions to informal but very real segregation in the city. In this sense detractors of the Maclean’s story who point out that Rinelle Harper was assaulted by two aboriginal men are missing the point: this story is one powerful example of a city valuing aboriginal lives less than other lives. This is verified by statistics, but can only really be understood through telling stories.
In any case, that is where I was coming from when I first read the Maclean’s story. Continue reading Winnipeg’s Racism
[Addendum, Jan 11: Based on the nature of the critiques against me on the post I cite below, there seems to be some confusion on the relationship between this post and my comments there. To clarify, this post is not an expansion on the arguments in my comments. On the contrary, it is something I decided not to address in my comments (with the exception of a brief question, as a separate paragraph, in the first comment), both because they were long enough already and because (rightly or wrongly) I saw this point on privilege discourse as relatively tangential to the main thrust of the post.]
The discourse of white privilege is one topic that a recent discussion over at Ortus Memoria has touched on. A fellow commenter has well-articulated one of the general claims about privilege discourse: “that leftist white people [having] the capacity to call themselves out on their privilege does not do enough to fundamentally dismantle the structures of white supremacy from which they benefit.”
I agree with this argument. People recognizing themselves as privileged, on its own, does not accomplish anything. However, I disagree with a supposedly consequent claim (made directly by the original poster, but not by the commenter): that this means that the discourse of privilege has failed. This is because I understand privilege discourse as an effective tool for introducing people to problematic power dynamics. At the same time, I do not think it is useful on its own for effecting a transformation of society; this is not what it is made for or how it is supposed to be used. Continue reading On the discourse of privilege