HIMANI BANNERJI: “On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of “Canada”” AKA “RUDHRO, DON’T FORGET TO BRING SAMOSAS TO THE ‘WE LOVE MULTICULTURALISM’ PARTY!”

Copyright Trent University Fall 1996

On the Dark Side of the Nation: Politics of Multiculturalism and the State of “Canada”


This paper is primarily concerned with the construction of “Canada” as a social and cultural form of national identity, and various challenges and interruptions offered to this identity by literature produced by writers from non – white communities. The first part of the paper examines both literary and political – theoretical formulations of a “two – nation,” “two solitudes” thesis and their implications for various cultural accommodations offered to “others,” especially through the mechanism of “multiculturalism.” The second part concentrates on the experiences and standpoint of people of colour, or non – white people, especially since the 1960s, and the cultural and political formulating derivable from them.

I am from the country Columbus dreamt of. You, the country Columbus conquered. Now in your land My words are circling blue Oka sky they come back to us alight on tongue.

Protect me with your brazen passion for history is my truth, Earth, my witness my home, this native land.

OKA NADA”: A New Remembrance, Kaushalya Bannerji

The Personal and the Political: A Chorus and a Problematic

When the women’s movement came along and we were coming to our political consciousness, one of its slogans took us by surprise and thrilled and activated us: “the personal is political!” Since then years have gone by, and in the meanwhile I have found myself in Canada, swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England, giving up the passport of a long – fought – for independence, and being assigned into the category of “visible minority.” These years have produced their own consciousness in me, and I have learnt that also the reverse is true: the political is personal.

The way this consciousness was engendered was not ideological, but daily, practical and personal. It came from having to live within an all – pervasive presence of the state in our everyday life. It began with the Canadian High Commission’s rejection of my two – year – old daughter’s visa and continued with my airport appearance in Montreal, where I was interrogated at length. What shook me was not the fact that they interviewed me, but rather their tone of suspicion about my somehow having stolen my way “in.”

As the years progressed, I realized that in my life, and in the lives of other non – white people around me, this pervasive presence of the state meant everything – allowing my daughter and husband to come into the country; permitting me to continue my studies or to work, to cross the border into the USA and back; allowing me the custody of my daughter, although I had a low income; “landing” me so I could put some sort of life together with some predictability. Fear, anxiety, humiliation, anger and frustration became the wire – mesh that knit bits of my life into a pattern. The quality of this life may be symbolized by an incident with which my final immigration interview culminated after many queries about a missing “wife” and the “head of the family.” I was facing an elderly, bald, white man, moustached and blue – eyed – who said he had been to India. I made some polite rejoinder and he asked me – “Do you speak Hindi?” I replied that I understood it very well and spoke it with mistakes. “Can you translate this sentence for me?” he asked, and proceeded to say in Hindi what in English amounts to “Do you want to fuck me?” A wave of heat rose from my toes to my hair roots. I gripped the edge of my chair and stared at him – silently. His hand was on my passport, the pink slip of my “landing” document lay next to it. Steadying my voice I said, “I don’t know Hindi that well.” “So you’re a PhD student?” My interview continued. I sat rigid and concluded it with a schizophrenic intensity. On Bloor Street in Toronto, sitting on the steps of a church – I vomited. I was a landed immigrant.

Throughout these 25 years I have met many non – white and Third World legal and illegal “immigrants” and “new Canadians” who feel that the machinery of the state has us impaled against its spikes. In beds, in workplaces, in suicides committed over deportations, the state silently, steadily rules our lives with “regulations.” How much more intimate could we be – this state and we? It has almost become a person – this machinery – growing with and into our lives, fattened with our miseries and needs, and the curbing of our resistance and anger.

But simultaneously with the growth of the state we grew too, both in numbers and protest, and became a substantial voting population in Canada. We demanded some genuine reforms, some changes – some among us even demanded the end of racist capitalism – and instead we got “multiculturalism.” “Communities” and their leaders or representatives were created by and through the state, and they called for funding and promised “essential services” for their “communities,” such as the preservation of their identities. There were advisory bodies, positions, and even arts funding created on the basis of ethnicity and community. A problem of naming arose, and hyphenated cultural and political identities proliferated. Officially constructed identities came into being and we had new names – immigrant, visible minority, new Canadian and ethnic. In the mansion of the state small back rooms were accorded to these new political players on the scene. Manoeuvring for more began. As the state came deeper into our lives – extending its political, economic and moral regulation, its police violence and surveillance – we simultaneously officialized ourselves. It is as though we asked for bread and were given stones, and could not tell the difference between the two.

Part I

In or Of the Nation? The Problem of Belonging

Face it there’s an illegal Immigrant Hiding in your house Hiding in you Trying to get out!

Businessmen Custom’s officials Dark Glasses Industrial Aviation Policemen Illegal Bachelorettes Sweatshop – Keepers Information Canada Says You can’t get their smell off the walls.”

Domestic Bliss: Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, 1981(f.2)

The state and the “visible minorities,” (the non – white people living in Canada) have a complex relationship with each other. There is a fundamental unease with how our difference is construed and constructed by the state, how our otherness in relation to Canada is projected and objectified. We cannot be successfully ingested, or assimilated, or made to vanish from where we are not wanted. We remain an ambiguous presence, our existence a question mark in the side of the nation, with the potential to disclose much about the political unconscious and consciousness of Canada as an “imagined community.”(f.3) Disclosures accumulate slowly, while we continue to live here as outsider – insiders of the nation which offers a proudly multicultural profile to the international community. We have the awareness that we have arrived into somebody’s state, but what kind of state; whose imagined community or community of imagination does it embody? And what are the terms and conditions of our “belonging” to this state of a nation? Answers to these questions are often indirect and not found in the news highway of Canadian media. But travelling through the side – roads of political discursivities and practices we come across markers for social terrains and political establishments that allow us to map the political geography of this nation – land where we have “landed.”

We locate our explorations of Canada mainly in that part where compulsorily English – speaking visible minorities reside, a part renamed by Charles Taylor and others as “Canada outside of Quebec” (COQ).(f.4) But we will call it “English Canada” as in common parlance. This reflects the binary cultural identity of the country to whose discourse, through the notions of the two solitudes, survival and bilingualism, “new comers” are subjected.(f.5) Conceptualizing Canada within this discourse is a bleak and grim task: since “solitude” and “survival” (with their Hobbesian and Darwinist aura) are hardly the language of communitarian joy in nation making.

What, I asked when I first heard of these solitudes, are they? And why survival, when Canada’s self – advertisement is one of a wealthy industrial nation? Upon my immigrant inquiries these two solitudes turned out to be two invading European nations – the French and the English – which might have produced two colonial – nation states in this part of North America. But history did not quite work out that way. Instead of producing two settler colonial countries like Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and South Africa, they held a relationship of conquest and domination with each other. After the battle at the Plains of Abraham one conquered nation/nationality, the French, continued in an uneasy and subjected relation to a state of “Canada,” which they saw as “English,” a perception ratified by this state’s rootedness in the English Crown. The colonial French then came to a hyphenated identity of “franco – something,” or declared themselves (at least within one province) as plain “Quebecois.” They have been existing ever since in an unhappy state, their promised status as a “distinct society” notwithstanding. Periodically, and at times critically, Quebec challenges “Canadian” politics of “unity” and give this politics its own “distinct” character. These then are the two solitudes, the protagonists who, to a great extent, shape the ideological parameters of Canadian constitutional debates, and whose “survival” and relations are continually deliberated. And this preoccupation is such a “natural” of Canadian politics that all other inhabitants are only a minor part of the problematic of “national” identity. This is particularly evident in the role, or lack thereof, accorded to the First Nations of Canada in the nation – forming project. Even after Elijah Harper’s intervention in the Meech Lake Accord, the deployment of the Canadian Army against the Mohawk peoples and the long stand – off that followed, constant land claims and demands for self – government/self – determination, there is a remarkable and a determined political marginalization of the First Nations. And yet their presence as the absent signifiers within Canadian national politics works at all times as a bedrock of its national definitional project, giving it a very particular contour through the same absences, silences, exclusions and marginalizations. In this there is no distinction between “COQ” or English Canada and Quebec. One needs only to look at the siege at Oka to realize that as far as these “others” are concerned, Europeans continue the same solidarity of ruling and repression, blended with competitive manipulations, that they practised from the dawn of their conquests and state formations.

The Anglo – French rivalry therefore needs to be read through the lens of colonialism. If we want to understand the relationship between visible minorities and the state of Canada/English Canada/COQ, colonialism is the context or entry point that allows us to begin exploring the social relations and cultural forms which characterize these relations. The construction of visible minorities as a social imaginary and the architecture of the “nation” built with a “multicultural mosaic” can only be read together with the engravings of conquests, wars and exclusions. It is the nationhood of this Canada, with its two solitudes and their survival anxieties and aggressions against “native others,” that provides the epic painting in whose dark corners we must look for the later “others.” We have to get past and through these dual monoculturalist assumptions or paradigms in order to speak about “visible minorities,” a category produced by the multiculturalist policy of the state. This paper repeats, in its conceptual and deconstructive movements, the motions of the people themselves who, “appellated” as refugees, immigrants or visible minorities, have to file past immigration officers, refugee boards, sundry ministries and posters of multi – featured/coloured faces that blandly proclaim “Together we are Ontario” – lest we or they forget!

We will examine the assumptions of “Canada” from the conventional problematic and thematic of Canadian nationhood, that of “Fragmentation or Integration?” currently resounding in post – referendum times. I look for my place within this conceptual topography and find myself in a designated space for “visible minorities in the multicultural society and state of Canada.” This is existence in a zone somewhere between economy and culture. It strikes me then that this discursive mode in which Canada is topicalized does not anywhere feature the concept of class. Class does not function as a potential source for the theorization of Canada, any more than does race as an expression for basic social relations of contradiction. Instead the discursivities rely on hegemonic cultural categories such as English or French Canada, or on notions such as national institutions, and conceive of differences and transcendences, fragmentation and integration, with regard to an ideological notion of unity that is perpetually in crisis. This influential problematic is displayed in a Globe and Mail editorial of 29 March 1994. It is typically pre – occupied with themes of unity and integration or fragmentation, and delivers a lecture on these to Lucien Bouchard of the Bloc Quebecois.

It has been an educational field trip for Lucien Bouchard. On his first venture into “English Canada” (as he insists on calling it) since becoming leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Mr. Bouchard learned, among other things, there is such a thing as Canadian Nationalism: not just patriotism, nor yet that self – serving little prejudice that parades around as Canadian Nationalism – mix equal parts elitism, statism and Anti – Americanism – but a genuine fellow – feeling that binds Canadians to one another across this country – and includes Quebec.

Lest this statement appear to the people of Quebec as passing off “English Canada” disguised as “the nation” and locking Quebec in a vice grip of “unity” without consent or consultation, the editor repeats multiculturalist platitudes meant to mitigate the old antagonisms leading to “separatism.” The demand for a French Canada is equated with, “self – serving little prejudice” and “patriotism,” and promptly absorbed into the notion of a culturallyand socially transcendent Canada, which is supposedly not only non – French, but non – English as well. How can this non – partisan, transcendent Canada be articulated except in the discourse of multiculturalism? Multiculturalism, then, can save the day for English Canada, conferring upon it a transcendence, even though the same transcendent state is signalled through the figure of Her Majesty the Queen of England and the English language. The unassimilable “others” who, in their distance from English Canada, need to be boxed into this catch – all phrase now become the moral cudgel with which to beat Quebec’s separatist aspirations. The same editorial continues:

Canada is dedicated to the ideal that people of different languages and cultures may, without surrendering their identity, yet embrace the human values they have in common: the “two solitudes” of which the poet wrote, that “protect and touch and greet each other,” were a definition of love, not division.

But this poetic interpretation of solitudes, like the moral carrot of multicultural love is quickly followed by a stick. Should Quebec not recognize this obligation to love, but rather see it as a barrier to self – determination, Canada will not tolerate this. We are then confronted with other competing self – determinations in one breath, some of which ordinarily would not find their advocate in Globe and Mail editorials. What of the self – determination of the Cree, of the anglophones, of federalists of every stripe? What of the self – determination of the Canadian nation? Should Mr. Bouchard and his kind not recognize this national interest, it is argued, then the province’s uncertainties are only beginning. In the context of the editorial’s discourse, these uncertainties amount to the threat of a federalist anglophone war. The “self – determination of the Cree” is no more than an opportunistic legitimation of Canada in the name of all others who are routinely left out of its construction and governance. These “different (from the French) others,” through the device of a state – sponsored multiculturalism, create the basis for transcendence necessary for the creation of a universalist liberal democratic statehood. They are interpellated or bound into the ideological state apparatus through their employment of tongues which must be compulsorily, officially unilingual – namely, under the sign of English.(f.6)

Canada,” with its primary inscriptions of “French” or “English,” its colonialist and essentialist identity markers, cannot escape a fragmentary framework. Its imagined political geography simplifies into two primary and confrontational possessions, cultural typologies and dominant ideologies. Under the circumstances, all appeal to multiculturalism on the part of “Canada Outside Quebec” becomes no more than an extra weight on the “English” side. Its “difference – studded unity,” its “multicultural mosaic,” becomes an ideological sleight of hand pitted against Quebec’s presumably greater cultural homogeneity. The two solitudes glare at each other from the barricades in an ongoing colonial war. But what do either of these solitudes and their reigning essences have to do with those whom the state has named “visible minorities” and who are meant to provide the ideological basis for the Canadian state’s liberal/universal status? How does their very “difference,” inscribed with inferiority and negativity – their otherwise troublesome particularity – offer the very particularist state of “English Canada” the legitimating device of transcendence through multiculturalism? Are we not still being used in the war between the English and the French?

It may seem strange to “Canadians” that the presence of the First Nations, the “visible minorities” and the ideology of multiculturalism are being suggested as the core of the state’s claim to universality or transcendence. Not only in multiplying pawns in the old Anglo – French rivalry but in other ways as well, multiculturalism may be seen less as a gift of the state of “Canada” to the “others” of this society, than as a central pillar in its own ideological state apparatus.(f.7) This is because the very discourse of nationhood in the context of “Canada,” given its evolution as a capitalist state derived from a white settler colony with aspirations to liberal democracy,(f.8) needs an ideology that can mediate fissures and ruptures more deep and profound than those of the usual capitalist nation state.(f.9) That is why usually undesirable others, consisting of non – white peoples with their ethnic or traditional or underdeveloped cultures, are discursively inserted in the middle of a dialogue on hegemonic rivalry. The discourse of multiculturalism, as distinct from its administrative, practical relations and forms of ruling, serves as a culmination for the ideological construction of “Canada.” This places us, on whose actual lives the ideology is evoked, in a peculiar situation. On the one hand, by our sheer presence we provide a central part of the distinct pluralist unity of Canadian nationhood; on the other hand, this centrality is dependent on our “difference,” which denotes the power of definition that “Canadians” have over “others.” In the ideology of multicultural nationhood, however, this difference is read in a power – neutral manner rather than as organized through class, gender and race. Thus at the same moment that difference is ideologically evoked it is also neutralized, as though the issue of difference were the same as that of diversity of cultures and identities, rather than those of racism and colonial ethnocentrism – as though our different cultures were on a par or could negotiate with the two dominant ones! The hollowness of such a pluralist stance is exposed in the shrill indignation of anglophones when rendered a “minority” in Quebec, or the angry desperation of francophones in Ontario. The issue of the First Nations – their land claims, languages and cultures – provides another dimension entirely, so violent and deep that the state of Canada dare not even name it in the placid language of multiculturalism.

The importance of the discourse of multiculturalism to that of nation – making becomes clearer if we remember that “nation” needs an ideology of unification and legitimation.(f.10) As Benedict Anderson points out, nations need to imagine a principle of “com – unity” or community even where there is little there to postulate any.(f.11) A nation, ideologically, can not posit itself on the principle of hate, according to Anderson, and must therefore speak to the sacrificing of individual, particularist interests for the sake of “the common good.”(f.12) This task of “imagining community” becomes especially difficult in Canada – not only because of class, gender and capital, which ubiquitously provide contentious grounds in the most culturally homogeneous of societies – but because its socio – political space is saturated by elements of surplus domination due to its Eurocentric/racist/colonial context. Ours is not a situation of co – existence of cultural nationalities or tribes within a given geographical space. Speaking here of culture without addressing power relations displaces and trivializes deep contradictions. It is a reductionism that hides the social relations of domination that continually create “difference” as inferior and thus signifies continuing relations of antagonism. The legacy of a white settler colonial economy and state and the current aspirations to imperialist capitalism mark Canada’s struggle to become a liberal democratic state. Here a cultural pluralist interpretive discourse hides more than it reveals. It serves as a fantastic evocation of “unity,” which in any case becomes a reminder of the divisions. Thus to imagine “com – unity” means to imagine a common – project of valuing difference that would hold good for both Canadians and others, while also claiming that the sources of these otherizing differences are merely cultural. As that is impossible, we consequently have a situation where no escape is possible from divisive social relations. The nation state’s need for an ideology that can avert a complete rupture becomes desperate, and gives rise to a multicultural ideology which both needs and creates “others” while subverting demands for anti – racism and political equality.

Let me illustrate my argument by means of Charles Taylor’s thoughts on the Canadian project of nation making. Taylor is comparable to Benedict Anderson insofar as he sees “nation” primarily as an expression of civil society, as a collective form of self – determination and definition. He therefore sees that culture, community, tradition and imagination are crucial for this process. His somewhat romantic organicist approach is pitted against neo – liberal projects of market ideologies misnamed as “reform.”(f.13) Taylor draws his inspiration, among many sources, from an earlier European romantic tradition that cherishes cultural specificities, local traditions and imaginations.(f.14) This presents Taylor with the difficult task of “reconciling solitudes” with some form of a state while retaining traditional cultural identities in an overall ideological circle of “Canadian” nationhood. This is a difficult task at all times, but especially in the Canadian context of Anglo – French rivalry and the threat of separatism. Thus Taylor, in spite of his philosophical refinement, is like others also forced into the recourse of “multiculturalism as a discourse,” characterized by its reliance on diversity. The constitution then becomes a federal Mosaic tablet for encoding and enshrining this very moral/political mandate. But Taylor is caught in a further bind, because Canada is more than a dual monocultural entity. Underneath the “two solitudes,” as he knows well, Canada has “different differences,” a whole range of cultural identities which cannot (and he feels should not) be given equal status with the “constituent elements” of “the nation,” namely, the English and the French. At this point Taylor has to juggle with the contending claims of these dominant or “constituent” communities and their traditions, with the formal equality of citizenship in liberal democracy, and with other “others” with their contentious political claims and “different cultures.” This juggling, of course, happens best in a multicultural language, qualifying the claim of the socio – economic equality of “others” with the language of culture and tolerance, converting difference into diversity in order to mitigate the power relations underlying it. Thus Taylor, in spite of his organicist, communitarian – moral view of the nation and the state, depends on a modified liberal pluralist discourse which he otherwise finds “American,” abstract, empty and unpalatable.(f.15)

Reconciling the Solitudes and Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition are important texts for understanding the need for the construction of the category of visible minorities to manage contentions in the nationhood of Canada. Even though Taylor spends little time actually discussing either the visible minorities or the First Nations, their importance for the creation of a national ideology is brought out by his discussion of Anglo – French contestation. Their visceral anxieties about loss of culture are offset by “other” cultural presences that are minoritized with respect to both, while the commonality of Anglo – French culture emerges in contrast. Taylor discovers that the cultural essences of COQ have something in common with Quebec – their Europeanness – in spite of the surface of diversity. This surface diversity, he feels, is not insurmountable within the European – Anglo framework, whose members’ political imagination holds enough ground for some sort of commonality.

What is enshrined here is what one might call first level diversity. There are great differences in culture and outlook and background in a population that nevertheless shares the same idea of what it is to belong to Canada. Their patriotism and manner of belonging is uniform, whatever their differences, and this is felt to be necessary if the country is to hold together.(f.16)

Taylor must be speaking of those who are “Canadians” and not “others”: the difference of visible minorities and First Nations peoples is obviously not containable in this “first level diversity” category. As far as these “others” are concerned the Anglo – European (COQ) and French elements have much in common in both “othering” and partially “tolerating” them. Time and time again, especially around the so – called Oka crisis, it became clear that liberal pluralism rapidly yields to a fascist “sons of the soil” approach as expressed by both the Quebec state and its populace, oblivious to the irony of such a claim. It is inconsistent of Taylor to use this notion of “first level diversity” while also emphasizing the irreducible cultural ontology of Quebec as signalled by the concept of a “deep diversity.”(f.17) But more importantly, this inconsistency accords an ownership of nationhood to the Anglo – French elements. He wrestles, therefore, to accommodate an Anglo – French nationality, while the “deep diversities” of “others,” though nominally cited, are erased from the political map just as easily as the similarity of the “two nations” vis – a – vis those “others.” Of course, these manipulations are essential for Taylor and others if the European (colonial) character of “Canada” is to be held status quo. This is a Trudeau – like stance of dual unification in which non – European “others” are made to lend support to the enterprise by their existence as a tolerated, managed difference.

This multicultural take on liberal democracy, called the “politics of recognition” by Taylor, is informed by his awareness that an across – the – board use of the notion of equality would reduce the French element from the status of “nation” to that of just another minority. This of course must not be allowed to happen, since the French are, by virtue of being European co – conquerors, one of the “founding nations.” At this point Taylor adopts the further qualified notion of visible minorities as integral to his two – in – one nation – state schema. For him as for other majority ideologues they constitute a minority of minorities. They are, in the scheme of things, peripheral to the essence of Canada, which is captured by “Trudeau’s remarkable achievement in extending bilingualism” to reflect the “Canadian” character of “duality.”(f.18) This duality Taylor considers as currently under a threat of irrelevancy, not from anglo monoculturism, but from the ever – growing presence of “other” cultures. “Already one hears Westerners saying … that their experience of Canada is of a multicultural mosaic.”(f.19) This challenge of the presence of “others” is, for Taylor, the main problem for French Canadians in retaining their equality with English Canadians. But it is also a problem for Taylor himself, who sees in this an unsettling possibility for the paradigm of “two solitudes” or “two nations” to which he ultimately concedes. In order to project the irreducible claims of the two dominant and similar cultures, he refers fleetingly and analogically, though frequently, to aboriginal communities: “visible minorities” also enter his discourse, but both are terms serving to install a “national” conversation between French and English, embroidering the dialogue of the main speakers. His placement of these “other” social groups is evident when he says: “Something analogous [to the French situation] holds for aboriginal communities in this country; their way of being Canadian is not accommodated by first level diversity.”(f.20) Anyone outside of the national framework adopted by Taylor would feel puzzled by the analogical status of the First Nations brought in to negotiate power sharing between the two European nations. Taylor’s approach is in keeping with texts on nationalism, culture and identity that relegate the issues of colonialism, racism and continued oppression of the Aboriginal peoples and the oppression visited upon “visible minorities” to the status of footnotes in Canadian politics.

Yet multiculturalism as an ideological device both enhances and erodes Taylor’s project. Multiculturalism, he recognizes at one level, is plain realism – an effect of the realization that many (perhaps too many) “others” have been allowed in, stretching the skin of tolerance and “first level diversity” tightly across the body of the nation. Their “deep diversity” cannot be accommodated simply within the Anglo – French duality. The situation is so murky that, “more fundamentally, we face a challenge to our very conception of diversity.”(f.21) “Difference,” he feels, has to be more “fundamentally” read into the “nation”:

In a way, accommodating difference is what Canada is all about. Many Canadians would concur in this.(f.22)

Many of the people who rallied around the Charter and multiculturalism to reject the distinct society are proud of their acceptance of diversity – and in some respects rightly so.(f.23)

But this necessary situational multiculturalism acknowledged by Taylor not only creates the transcendence of a nation built on difference, it also introduces the claims of “deep diversities” on all sides. Unable to formulate a way out of this impasse Taylor proposes an ideological utopia of “difference” (devoid of the issue of power) embodied in a constitutional state, a kind of cultural federalism:

To build a country for everyone, Canada would have to allow for second – level or “deep” diversity in which a plurality of ways of belonging would also be acknowledged and accepted. Someone of, say, Italian extraction in Toronto or Ukrainian extraction in Edmonton might indeed feel Canadian as a bearer of individual rights in a multicultural mosaic. His or her belonging would not “pass through” some other community, although the ethnic identity might be important to him or her in various ways. But this person might nevertheless accept that a Quebecois or a Cree or a Dene might belong in a very different way, that these persons were Canadian through being members of their national communities. Reciprocally, the Quebecois, Cree, or Dene would accept the perfect legitimacy of the “mosaic” identity.(f.24)

This utopian state formation of Taylor founders, as do those of others, on the rocky shores of the reality of how different “differences” are produced, or are not just forms of diversity. For all of Taylor’s pleas for recognizing two kinds of diversity, he does not ever probe into the social relations of power that create the different differences. It is perhaps significant from this point of view that he speaks of the “deep diversities” of Italians or Ukrainians but does not mention those of the blacks, South Asians or the Chinese. In other words, he cannot raise the spectre of real politics, of real social, cultural and economic relations of white supremacy and racism. Thus he leaves out of sight the relations and ideologies of ruling that are intrinsic to the creation of a racist civil society and a racializing colonial – liberal state. It is this foundational evasion that makes Taylor’s proposal so problematic for those whose “differences” in the Canadian context are not culturally intrinsic but constructed through “race,” class, gender and other relations of power. This is what makes us sceptical about Taylor’s retooling of multicultural liberal democracy by introducing the concept of “deep diversity” as a differentiated citizenship into the bone marrow of the polity, while leaving the Anglo – French European “national” (colonial and racist) core intact. He disagrees with those for whom the model of citizenship has to be uniform, or [they think] people would have no sense of belonging to the same polity. Those who say so tend to take the United States as their paradigm, which has indeed been hostile to deep diversity and has sometimes tried to stamp it out as “un – American.”(f.25)

This, for Taylor, amounts to the creation of a truly Canadian polity that needs a “united federal Canada” and is able to deliver “law and order, collective provision, regional equality and mutual self – help…”(f.26) None of these categories – for example, that of “law and order” – is characteristically problematized by Taylor. His model “Canada” is not to be built on the idea of a melting pot or of a uniform citizenship based on a rationalist and functional view of polity. That would, according to him, “straight – jacket” deep diversity. Instead,

The world needs other models to be legitimated in order to allow for more humane and less constraining modes of political cohabitation. Instead of pushing ourselves to the point of break up in the name of a uniform model, we would do our own and some other peoples a favour by exploring the space of deep diversity.(f.27)

What would this differentiated citizenship look like in concrete example, we ask? Taylor throws in a few lines about Basques, Catalans and Bretons. But those few lines are not answer enough for us. Though this seems to be an open invitation to join the project of state and nation making, the realities of a colonial capitalist history – indentures, reserves, First Nations without a state, immigrants and citizens, illegals, refugees and “Canadians” – make it impossible. They throw us against the inscription of power – based “differences” that construct the self – definition of the Canadian state and its citizenship. We realize that class, “race,” gender, sexual orientation, colonialism and capital can not be made to vanish by the magic of Taylor’s multiculturalism, managed and graduated around a core of dualism. His inability to address current and historical organizations of power, his inability to see that this sort of abstract and empty invitation to “difference” has always enhanced the existing “difference” unless real social equality and historical redress can be possible – these erasures make his proposal a touch frightening for us. This is why I shudder to “take the deep road of diversity together” with Charles Taylor.(f.28) Concentration and labour camps, Japanese internment, the Indian Act and reserves, apartheid and ethnic “homelands” extend their long shadows over the project of my triumphal march into the federal utopia of a multiculturally differentiated citizenship. But what becomes clear from Taylor’s writings is the importance of a discourse of difference and multiculturalism for the creation of a legitimate nation space for Canada. Multiculturalism becomes a mandate of moral regulation as an antidote to any, and especially Quebec’s, separatism.

Part II

On the Dark Side of the Nation: Considering “English Canada”

If one stands on the dark side of the nation in Canada everything looks different. The transcendent, universal and unifying claims of its multiculturally legitimated ideological state apparatus becomes susceptible to questions. The particularized and partisan nature of this nation – state becomes visible through the same ideological and working apparatus that simultaneously produces its national “Canadian” essence and the “other” – its non – white population (minus the First Nations) as “visible minorities.” It is obvious that both Canada and its adjectivized correlates English or French Canada are themselves certain forms of constructions. What do these constructions represent or encode? With regard to whom or what are we otherized and categorized as visible minorities? What lies on the dark side of this state project, its national ethos?

Official multiculturalism, mainstream political thought and the news media in Canada all rely comfortably on the notion of a nation and its state both called Canada, with legitimate subjects called Canadians, in order to construct us as categorical forms of difference. There is an assumption that this Canada is a singular entity, a moral, cultural and political essence, neutral of power, both in terms of antecedents and consequences. The assumption is that we can recognize this beast, if and when we see it. So we can then speak of a “Pan – Canadian nationalism,” of a Canada which will not tolerate more Third World immigrants or separatism, or of what Canada needs or allows us to do. And yet, when we scrutinize this Canada, what is it that we see? The answer to this question depends on which side of the nation we inhabit. For those who see it as a homogeneous cultural/political entity, resting on a legitimately possessed territory, with an exclusive right to legislation over diverse groups of peoples, Canada is unproblematic. For others, who are on the receiving end of the power of Canada and its multiculturalism, who have been dispossessed in one sense or another, the answer is quite different. For them the issues of legitimacy of territorial possession, or the right to create regulations and the very axis of domination on which its status as a nation – state rests, are all too central to be pushed aside. To them the same Canada appears as a post – conquest capitalist state, economically dependent on an imperialist United States and politically implicated in English and US imperialist enterprises, with some designs of its own. From this perspective “Pan – Canadianism” loses its transcendent inclusivity and emerges instead as a device and a legitimation for a highly particularized ideological form of domination. Canada then becomes mainly an English Canada, historicized into particularities of its actual conquerors and their social and state formations. Colonialism remains as a vital formational and definitional issue. Canada, after all, could not be English or French in the same sense in which England and France are English and French.

Seen thus, the essence of Canada is destabilized. It becomes a politico – military ideological construction and constitution, elevating aggressive acts of acquisition and instituting them into a formal stabilization. But this stability is tenuous, always threatening to fall apart. The adjective “English” stamped into “Canada” bares this reality, both past and present. It shows us who stands on the other side of the “Pan – Canadian” project. Quebeckers know it well, and so their colonial rivalry continues. And we, the “visible minorities” – multiculturalism notwithstanding – know our equidistance from both of these conquering essences. The issue at stake, in the end, is felt by all sides to be much more than cultural. It is felt to be about the power to define what is Canada or Canadian culture. This power can only come through the actual possession of a geographical territory and the economy of a nation – state. It is this which confers the legal imprimatur to define what is Canadian or French Canadian, or what are “sub” – or “multi” – cultures. Bilingualism, multiculturalism, tolerance of diversity and difference and slogans of unity cannot solve this problem of unequal power and exchange – except to entrench even further the social relations of power and their ideological and legal forms, which emanate from an unproblematized Canadian state and essence. What discursive magic can vanish a continuously proliferating process of domination and thus of marginalization and oppression? What can make it a truly multicultural state when all the power relations and the signifiers of Anglo – French white supremacy are barely concealed behind a straining liberal democratic facade?

The expression “white supremacist,” harsh and shocking as it may sound to many, encodes the painful underpinnings of the category visible minorities. The ideological imperatives of other categories – such as immigrants, aliens, foreigners, ethnic communities or New Canadians – constellate around the same binary code. There is a direct connection between this and the ideological spin – off of Englishness or Frenchness. After all, if nations are “imagined communities,” can the content of this national imagination called Canada be free of its history and current social relations of power? Does not the context inflect the content here and now?

At this point we need to remind ourselves that there are different kinds of nationalisms – some aggressive and others assertive. Benedict Anderson makes a useful distinction between an “official nationalism” of imperialism, and the “popular nationalism” of lived relations of a settled society and its shared historical/cultural relations.(f.30) The former, Anderson claims, is about hate and aggression; the latter, about love and sacrifice of a people for a shared culture, ancestral history and a shared physical space. This “popular nationalism” in my view is clearly not possible for Canada, whose context is the colonization and continued marginalization of the First Nations while seeking to build a liberal democratic state. In Canada, such “popular nationalism” contains legal/coercive strategies and the means of containment and suppression of all “others.” The kinship or blood – ties of which Anderson speaks as elements of a nation are ranged along two contending sides.(f.31) On the side of Canada there is a history and kinship of European/English colonial and subsequently American complicity in domination, of bad faith and broken promises and, at best, of guilt. On the other side is the labour – migration kinship of all who stand in the underside of this Canada, roped in by relations of colonialism and imperialism with their race – gender and cultural discrimination. This European domination is coded as “civilized” and “modernizing” and signified through “white,”(f.32) while global resistance or acquiescence to them are carried on by “others” who are colour coded as “visible,” meaning non – white, black or dark.

The case of Canada and its nationalism, when considered in this light, is not very different from the “official nationalism” of South Africa, erstwhile Rhodesia, or of Australia. These are cases of colonial “community” in which nation and state formations were created through the conquering imagination of white supremacy.(f.33) An anxiety about “them” – the aboriginals, pre – existing peoples – provides the core of a fantasy which inverts the colonized into aggressors, resolving the problem through extermination, suppression and containment.(f.34) Dominant cultural language in every one of these countries resounds with an “us” and “them” as expressed through discursivities of “minority/sub/multi – culture.” A thinly veiled, older colonial discourse of civilization and savagery peeps out from the modern versions. Here difference is not a simple marker of cultural diversity, but rather, measured or constructed in terms of distance from civilizing European cultures. Difference here is branded always with inferiority or negativity. This is displayed most interestingly in the reading of the non – white or dark body which is labelled as a visible and minority body.(f.35) The colour of the skin, facial and bodily features – all become signifiers of inferiority, composed of an inversion and a projection of what is considered evil by the colonizing society. Implied in these cultural constructions is a literal denigration, extending into a valorized expression of European racist – patriarchy coded as white.

This inscription of whiteness underwrites whatever may be called Englishness, Frenchness, and finally Europeanness. These national characteristics become moral ones and they spin off or spill over into each other. Thus whiteness extends into moral qualities of masculinity, possessive individualism and an ideology of capital and market.(f.36) They are treated as indicators of civilization, freedom and modernity. The inherent aggressiveness and asociality of this moral category “whiteness” derives its main communitarian aspect from an animosity towards “others,” signalling the militaristic, elite and otherizing bond shared by conquerors. The notion of Englishness serves as a metaphor for whiteness, as do all other European national essences. Whiteness, as many have noted, thus works as an ideology of a nation – state. It can work most efficiently with an other/enemy in its midst, constantly inventing new signifiers of “us” and “them.” In the case of Canada the others, the First Nations, have been there from the very inception, modulating the very formation of its state and official culture, constantly presenting them with doubts about their legitimacy. Subsequently, indentured workers, immigrants, refugees and other “others” have only deepened this legitimation crisis, though they also helped to forge the course of the state and the “nation.”(f.37) “English,” as an official language, has served to create a hegemonic front, but it is not a powerful enough antidote as an ideological device to undermine antagonisms that are continually created through processes of ruling; it is the ideology of “whiteness/Europeanness” that serves as the key bonding element. Even though the shame of being an Italian, that is, non – English, in Canada outweighs the glory of the Italian renaissance, “Italian” can still form a part of the community of “whiteness” as distinct from non – white “others.” It is not surprising, therefore, to see that one key element of white supremacy in Canada was an “Orange” mentality connecting Englishness with whiteness and both with racial purity. Books such as Shades of Right, for example, speak precisely to this, as does the present day right – wing nationalism of “English” – based groups. Quebec’s “French” nationalism has precisely the same agenda, with a smaller territorial outreach. In fact, racialization and ethnicization are the commonest forms of cultural or identity parlance in Canada. This is not only the case with “whites” or “the English” but also with “others” after they spend some time in the country. A language of colour, even self – appellations such as “women of colour” (remember “coloured women?”), echo right through the cultural/political world. An unofficial apartheid, of culture and identity, organizes the social space of “Canada,” first between whites and non – whites, and then within the non – whites themselves.

Part III

A Rose by Any Other Name: Naming the “Others”

The transcendence or legitimation value of the official/state discourse of multiculturalism – which cherishes difference while erasing real antagonisms – breaks down, therefore, at different levels of competing ideologies and ruling practices. A threat of rupture or crisis is felt to be always already there, a fact expressed by the ubiquity of the integration – fragmentation paradigm in texts on Canada. Instead of a discourse of homogeneity or universality, the paradigm of multiculturalism stands more for the pressure of conflict of interests and dynamics of power relations at work. This language is useful for Canada since imagining a nation is a difficult task even when the society is more homogeneously based on historic and cultural sharing or hegemony. Issues of class, industry and capital constantly destabilize the national project even in its non – colonial context. Gramsci for example, in “Notes on Italian History,” discusses the problem of unification inherent in the formation of a nation – state in the European bourgeois context.(f.38) Unificatory ideologies and institutions, emanating from the elite, posturing as a class – transcendent polity and implanted on top of a class society, reveal as much as they hide. These attempts at unification forge an identifiable ideological core, a national identity, around which other cultural elements may be arranged hierarchically. It transpires that the ability and the right to interpret and name the nation’s others forms a major task of national intellectuals, who are organic to the nation – state project.(f.39)

If this difficulty dogs European bourgeois nationalism, then it is a much more complicated task for Canada to imagine a unificatory national ideology, as recognized by members of the “white” ideological bloc espousing non – liberal perspectives. Ultra – conservatives in general have foresworn any pretence to the use of “multi – cultural” ideology. They view multiculturalism as an added burden to a society already divided, and accord no political or cultural importance to groups other than the French. The political grammar of “national” life and culture, as far as the near and far right are concerned, is common – sensically acknowledged as “English.” According importance to multiculturalism has the possibility of calling into question the “English” presence in this space, by creating an atmosphere of cultural relativism signalling some sort of usurpation. This signal, it is felt, is altogether best removed. English/Europeanness, that is, whiteness, emerges as the hegemonic Canadian identity. This white, Canadian and English equation becomes hegemonic enough to be shared even by progressive Canadians or the left.(f.40) This ideological Englishness/whiteness is central to the programme of multiculturalism. It provides the content of Canadian culture, the point of departure for “multiculture.” This same gesture creates “others” with power – organized “differences,” and the material basis of this power lies both below and along the linguistic – semiotic level. Multiculturalism as the “other” of assimilation brings out the irreducible core of what is called the real Canadian culture.

So the meaning of Canada really depends on who is doing the imagining – whether it is Margaret Atwood or Charles Taylor or Northrop Frye or the “visible minorities” who organize conferences such as “Writing Thru ‘Race.'” Depending on one’s social location, the same snow and Canadian landscape, like Nellie McClung and other foremothers of Canadian feminism, can seem near or far, disturbing, threatening or benign. A search through the literature of the “visible minorities” reveals a terror of incarceration in the Canadian landscape.(f.41) In their Canada there is always winter and an equally cold and deathly cultural topography, filled with the RCMP, the Western Guard, the Heritage Front and the Toronto Sun, slain Native peoples and Sitting Bull in a circus tent, white – faced church fathers, trigger – happy impassive police, the flight and plight of illegals, and many other images of fear and active oppression. To integrate with this Canada would mean a futile attempt at integrating with a humiliation and an impossibility. Names of our otherness proliferate endlessly, weaving margins around “Canada/English/French Canada.” To speak of pan – Canadian nationalism and show a faith in “our” national institutions is only possible for those who can imagine it and already are “Canada.” For “others,” Canada can mean the actuality of skinhead attacks, the mediated fascism of the Reform Party, and the hard – fist of Rahowa.(f.42)

It is time to reflect on the nomenclature extended by multiculturalism to the “others” of “Canada.” Its discourse is concocted through ruling relations and the practical administration of a supposed reconciliation of “difference.” The term visible minorities is a great example: one is instantly struck by its reductive character, in which peoples from many histories, languages, cultures and politics are reduced to a distilled abstraction. Other appellations follow suit – immigrants, ethnics, new Canadians and so on. Functional, invested with a legal social status, these terms capture the “difference” from “Canada/English/French Canada” and often signify a newness of arrival into “Canada.” Unlike a rose which by any other name, would smell as sweet, these names are not names in the sense of classification. They are in their inception and coding official categories. They are identifying devices, like a badge, and they identify those who hold no legitimate or possessive relationship to “Canada.” Though these are often identity categories produced by the state, the role played by the state in identity politics remains unnoticed, just as the whiteness in the “self” of “Canada’s” state and nationhood remains unnamed. This transparency or invisibility can only be achieved through a constellation of power relations that advances a particular group’s identity as universal, as a measuring rod for others, making them “visible” and “minorities.”

An expression such as visible minorities strikes the uninitiated as both absurd and abstract. “Minority,” we know from J.S. Mill onwards, is a symptom of liberal democracy, but “visible?” We realize upon reflection that the adjective visible attached to minority makes the scope of identity and power even more restricted. We also know that it is mainly the Canadian state and politics which are instrumental in this categorizing process and confers this “visibility” upon us. I have remarked on its meaning and use elsewhere:

Some people, it implies, are more visible than others; if this were not the case, then its triviality would make it useless as a descriptive category. There must be something “peculiar” about some people which draws attention to them. This something is the point to which the Canadian state wishes to draw our attention. Such a project of the state needed a point of departure which has to function as a norm, as the social average of appearance. The well – blended, “average,” “normal” way of looking becomes the base line, or “us” (which is the vantage point of the state), to which those others marked as “different” must be referred … and in relation to which “peculiarity” [and, thus, visibility] is constructed. The “invisibility” … depends on the state’s view of [some] as normal, and therefore, their institution as dominant types. They are true Canadians, and others, no matter what citizenship they hold [and how many generations have they lived here?] are to be considered as deviations….(f.43)

Such “visibility” indicates not only “difference” and inferiority, but is also a preamble to “special treatment.” The yellow Star of David, the red star, the pink triangle, have all done their fair share in creating visibility along the same lines – if we care to remember. Everything that can be used is used as fodder for visibility, pinning cultural and political symbols to bodies and reading them in particular ways. Thus for non – whites in Canada, their own bodies are used to construct for them some sort of social zone or prison, since they can not crawl out of their skins, and this signals what life has to offer them in Canada. This special type of visibility is a social construction as well as a political statement.(f.44)

Expressions such as “ethnics” and “immigrants” and “new Canadians” are no less problematic. They also encode the “us” and “them” with regard to political and social claims, signifying uprootedness and the pressure of assimilation or core cultural – apprenticeship. The irony compounds when one discovers that all white people, no matter when they immigrate to Canada or as carriers of which European ethnicity, become invisible and hold a dual membership in Canada, while others remain immigrants generations later.

The issue of ethnicity, again, poses a further complexity. It becomes apparent that currently it is mainly applied to the non – white population living in Canada. Once, however, it stringently marked out white “others” to the Anglo – French language and ethos; while today the great “white” construction has assimilated them. In the presence of constrasting “others,” whiteness as an ideological – political category has superseded and subsumed different cultural ethos among Europeans. If the Ukrainians now seek to be ethnics it is because the price to be paid is no longer there. Now, in general, they are white vis – a – vis “others,” as is denoted by the vigorous participation of East Europeans in white supremacist politics. They have been ingested by a “white – Anglo” ethos, which has left behind only the debris of self – consciously resurrected folklores as special effects in “ethnic” shows. The ethnicities of the English, the Scottish, the Irish, etc. are not visible or highlighted, but rather displaced by a general Englishness, which means less a particular culture than an official ideology and a standardized official language signifying the right to rule. “Ethnicity” is, therefore, what is classifiable as a non – dominant, sub – or marginal culture. English language and Canadian culture then cannot fall within the ministry of multiculturalism’s purview, but rather within that of the ministry of education, while racism makes sure that the possession of this language as a mother tongue does not make a non – white person non – ethnic. Marginalizing the ethnicity of black people from the Caribbean or Britain is evident not only in the Caribana Festival but in their being forced to take English as a second language. They speak dialects, it is said – but it might be pointed out that the white Irish, the white Scots, or the white people from Yorkshire, or white Cockney speakers are not classified as ESL/ESD clients. The lack of fuss with which “Canadians” live with the current influx of Eastern European immigrants strikes a profound note of contrast to their approach to the Somalis, for example, and other “others.”

The intimate relation between the Canadian state and racism also becomes apparent if one complements a discussion on multiculturalism with one on political economy. One could perhaps give a finer name than racism to the way the state organizes labour importation and segmentation of the labour market in Canada, but the basic point would remain the same. Capitalist development in Canada, its class formation and its struggles, predominantly have been organized by the Canadian state. From the days of indenture to the present, when the Ministry of “Manpower” has been transformed into that of “Human Resources,” decisions about who should come into Canada to do what work, definitions of skill and accreditation, licensing and certification, have been influenced by “race” and ethnicity.(f.45) This type of racism cannot be grasped in its real character solely as a cultural/attitudinal problem or an issue of prejudice. It needs to be understood in systemic terms of political economy and the Gramscian concepts of hegemony and common sense that encompass all aspects of life – from the everyday and cultural ones to those of national institutions. This is apparent if one studies the state’s role in the importation of domestic workers into Canada from the Philippines or the Caribbean. Makeda Silvera, in Silenced, her oral history of Caribbean domestic workers, shows the bonds of servitude imposed on these women by the state through the inherently racist laws pertaining to hiring of domestic workers.(f.46) The middle – man/procurer role played by the state on behalf of the “Canadian” bourgeoisie is glaringly evident. Joyce Fraser’s Cry of the Illegal Immigrant is another testimonial to this.(f.47) The issue of refugees is another, where we can see the colonial/racist as well as anti – communist nature of the Canadian state. Refugees fleeing ex – Soviet bloc countries, for example, received a no – questions acceptance, while the Vietnamese boat people, though fleeing communism, spent many years proving their claim of persecution. The racism of the state was so profound that even cold – war politics or general anti – communism did not make Vietnamese refugees into a “favoured” community. The story of racism is further exposed by the onerous and lengthy torture – proving rituals imposed on Latin Americans and others fleeing fascist distatorships in the Third World. In spite of Canada’s self – proclaimed commitment to human rights, numerous NGOs, both local and international, for years have needed to persuade the Canadian state and intervene as advocates of Third World refugees. Thus the state of “Canada,” when viewed through the lens of racism/difference, presents us with a hegemony compounded of a racialized common sense and institutional structures. The situation is one where racism in all its cultural and institutional variants has become so naturalized, so pervasive that it has become invisible or transparent to those who are not adversely impacted by them. This is why terms such as visible minority can generate so spontaneously within the bureaucracy, and are not considered disturbing by most people acculturated to “Canada.”

Erol Lawrence in his Gramscian critique “Plain Common Sense: the ‘roots’ of racism,” uses the notion of common – sense racism to explain the relationship between the British blacks and the state. He displays how common sense of “race” marks every move of the state, including official nomenclatures and their implementation in social and political culture. Lawrence remarks on how hegemony works through common sense or expresses itself as such:

The term common sense is generally used to denote a down – to – earth “good sense.” It is thought to represent the distilled truths of centuries of practical experience; so much so that to say of an idea or practice that it is only common sense, is to appeal over the logic and argumentation of intellectuals to what all reasonable people know in their “heart of hearts” to be right and proper. Such an appeal can all at once and at the same time (serve) to foreclose any discussion about certain ideas and practices and to legitimate them.(f.49)

The point of this statement becomes clearer when we see how the Canadian state, the media and political parties are using “visible minorities,” “immigrants,” “refugees” and “illegals” as scapegoats for various economic and political problems entirely unrelated to them. For this they rely on common sense racism: they offer pseudo – explanations to justify crises of capitalism and erosion of public spending and social welfare in terms of the presence of “others.” Unemployment, endemic to capital’s “structural adjustment,” is squarely blamed on “these people.” This explanation/legitimation easily sticks because it replicates cultural – political values and practices that pre – exist on the ground. These labelling categories with racialized underpinnings spin – off into notions such as unskilled, illiterate and traditional, thus making the presence of Third World peoples undesirable and unworthy of real citizenship. Englishness and whiteness are the hidden positive poles of these degrading categories. They contain the imperative of exclusion and restriction that neatly fits the white supremacist demand to “keep Canada white.” The multiculturaliststance may support a degree of tolerance, but beyond a certain point, on the far edge of equality, it asserts “Canadianness” and warns off “others” from making claims on “Canada.” Through the same scale of values East European immigrants are seen as desirable because they can be included in the ideology of whiteness.

Difference” read through “race,” then, produces a threat of racist violence. The creation of a “minority” rather than of full – fledged adult citizens – the existence of levels of citizenship – adds a structural/legal dimension to this violence. Inequality within the social fabric of Canada historically has been strengthened by the creation of reserves, the Department of Indian Affairs, the exclusion of Jews, and the ongoing political inequalities meted out to the Chinese, the Japanese and South Asians. These and more add up to the tenuousness of the right and means to existence, jobs and politics of the “visible minorities.” Being designated a minority signals tutelage. It creates at best a patron – client relationship between the state and “others” who are to be rewarded as children on the basis of “good conduct.” Social behaviour historically created through class, “race” and gender oppression is blamed on the very people who have been the victims. Their problems are seen as self – constructed. The problem of crime in Toronto, for example, is mainly blamed on the black communities. Black young males are automatically labelled as criminals and frequently shot by the police. It is also characteristic that an individual act of violence performed by any black person is seen as a representative act for the whole black community, thus labelling them as criminal, while crime statistics among the white population remain non – representative of whiteness.

Visible minorities, because they are lesser or inauthentic political subjects, can enter politics mainly on the ground of multiculturalism. They can redress any social injustice only limitedly, if at all. No significant political effectiveness on a national scale is expected from them. This is why Elijah Harper’s astute use of the tools of liberal democracy during the Meech Lake Accord was both unexpected and shocking for “Canadians.” Other than administering “difference” deferentially, among the “minority communities” multiculturalism bares the political processes of cooptation or interpellation. The “naming” of a political subject in an ideological context amounts to the creation of a political agent, interpellating or extending an ideological net around her/him, which confers agency only within a certain discursive – political framework. At once minimizing the importance and administering the problem of racism at a symptomatic level, the notion of visible minority does not allow room for political manoeuvre among those for whose supposed benefit it is instituted. This is unavoidably accompanied by the ethnicization and communalization of politics, shifting the focus from unemployment due to high profit margins, or flight of capital, to “problems” presented by the immigrant’s own culture and tradition. Violence against women among the “ethnics” is thought to be the result of their indigenous “traditions” rather than of patriarchy and its exacerbation, caused by the absolute power entrusted by the Canadian state into the hands of the male “head of the family.” The sponsorship system through which women and children enter into the country seems calculated to create violence. Food, clothes and so – called family values are continually centre – staged, while erasing the fundamental political and economic demands and aspirations of the communities through multicultural gestures of reconciling “difference.” The agent of multiculturalism must learn to disarticulate from his or her real – life needs and struggles, and thus from creating or joining organizations for anti – racism, feminism and class struggle. The agencies (wo)manned by the “ethnic” elements – within terms and conditions of the state – become managers on behalf of the state. In fact, organizing multiculturalism among and by the non – white communities amounts to extending the state into their everyday life, and making basic social contradictions to disappear or be deflected. Considering the state’s multicultural move therefore allows a look into the state’s interpellative functions and how it works as an ideological apparatus. These administrative and ideological categories create objects out of the people they impact upon and produce mainstream agencies in their name. In this way a little niche is created within the state for those who are otherwise undesirable, unassimilable and deeply different. Whole communities have begun to be re – named on the basis of these conferred cultural – administrative identities that objectify and divide them. Unrelated to each other, they become clients and creatures of the multicultural state. Entire areas of problems connected to “race,” class, gender and sexual orientation are brought under the state’s management, definition and control, and possibilities for the construction of political struggles are displaced and erased in the name of “ethnic culture.” The politics of identity among “ethnic communities,” that so distresses the “whites” and is seen as an excessive permissiveness on the part of the state, is in no small measure the creation of this very culturalist managerial/legitimation drive of the state.

What, then, is to be done? Are we to join forces with the Reform Party or the small “c” conservative “Canadians” and advocate that the agenda of multiculturalism be dropped summarily? Should we be hoping for a deeper legitimation crisis through unemployment and rampant cultural racism, which may bring down the state? In theory that is an option, except that in the current political situation it also would strengthen the ultra – right. But strategically speaking, at this stage of Canadian politics, with the withdrawal and disarray of the left and an extremely vulnerable labour force, the answer can not be so categorical. The political potential of the civil society even when (mis)named as ethnic communities and reshaped by multiculturalism is not a negligible force. This view is validated by the fact that all shades of the right are uneasy with multiculturalism even though it is a co – opted form of popular, non – white political and cultural participation. The official, limited and co – optative nature of this discourse could be re – interpreted in more materialist, historical and political terms. It could then be re – articulated to the social relations of power governing our lives, thus minimizing, or even ending, our derivative, peripheral object – agent status. The basic nature of our “difference,” as constructed in the Canadian context, must be rethought and the notion of culture once more embedded into society, into everyday life. Nor need it be forgotten that what multiculturalism (as with social welfare) gives us was not “given” voluntarily but “taken” by our continual demands and struggles. We must remember that it is our own socio – cultural and economic resources which are thus minimally publicly redistributed, creating in the process a major legitimation gesture for the state. Multiculturalism as a form of bounty or state patronage is a managed version of our antiracist politics.

We must then bite the hand that feeds us, because what it feeds us is neither enough nor for our good. But we must wage a contestation on this terrain with the state and the needs of a racist/imperialist capital. At this point of the new world order, short of risking an out – and – out fascism, the twisted ideological evolution of multiculturalism has to be forced into a minimum scope of social politics. Until we have developed a wider political space, and perhaps with it keeping a balance of “difference,” using the avenues of liberal democracy may be necessary. Informed with a critique, multiculturalism is a small opening for making the state minimally accountable to those on whose lives and labour it erects itself. We must also remember that liberalism, no matter who practises it, does not answer our real needs. Real social relations of power – of “race,” class, gender and sexuality – provide the content for our “difference” and oppression. Our problem is not the value or the validity of the cultures in which we or our parents originated – these “home” cultures will, as living cultures do in history, undergo a sea – change when subjected to migration. Our problem is class oppression, and that of objectifying sexist – racism. Thinking in terms of culture alone, in terms of a single community, a single issue, or a single oppression will not do. If we do so our ideological servitude to the state and its patronage and funding traps will never end. Instead we need to put together a strategy of articulation that reverses the direction of our political understanding and affiliation – against the interpellating strategies of the ideological state apparatus. We need not forget that the very same social relations that disempower or minoritize us are present not only for us but in the very bones of class formation and oppression in Canada. They are not only devices for cultural discrimination and attitudinal distortion of the white population, or only a mode of co – optation for “visible minorities.” They show themselves inscribed into the very formation of the nation and the state of “Canada.” Thus the politics of class struggle, of struggle against poverty or heterosexism or violence against women, are politically more relevant for us than being elected into the labyrinth of the state. The “visible minorities” of Canada can not attain political adulthood and full stature of citizenship without struggling, both conceptually and organizationally, against the icons and regulations of an overall subordination and exploitation.

In conclusion, then, to answer the questions “How are we to relate to multiculturalism?” and “Are we for it or against it?” we have to come to an Aesopian response of “ye, ye” and “nay, nay.” After all, multiculturalism, as Marx said of capital, is not a “thing.” It is not a cultural object, all inert, waiting on the shelf to be bought or not. It is a mode of the workings of the state, an expression of an interaction of social relations in dynamic tension with each other, losing and gaining its political form with fluidity. It is thus a site for struggle, as is “Canada” for contestation, for a kind of tug – of – war of social forces. The problem is that no matter who we are – black or white – our liberal acculturation and single – issue oriented politics, our hegemonic “subsumption” into a racist common sense, combined with capital’s crisis, continually draw us into the belly of the beast. This can only be prevented by creating counter – hegemonic interpretive and organizational frame – works that reach down into the real histories and relations of our social life, rather than extending tendrils of upward mobility on the concrete walls of the state. Our politics must sidestep the paradigm of “unity” based on “fragmentation or integration” and instead engage in struggles based on the genuine contradictions of our society.


(f.1) Kaushalya Bannerji, A New Rememberance (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1993) 20.

(f.2) Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, Domestic Bliss (Toronto: Five Press, 1981) 23.

(f.3) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Community (London: Verso, 1991).

(f.4) This division of Canada into Quebec and Canada outside of Quebec (COQ) is used as more than a territorial expression by Charles Taylor in Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism, Guy Laforest ed. (Montreal and Kingston: McGill – Queen’s University Press, 1993).

(f.5) For an exposition of the notions of “solitude” and “survival” see Margaret Atwood, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (Toronto: House ofAnansi Press, 1972).

(f.6) For an elaboration of these concepts see Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London: New Left Books, 1977).

(f.7) On multiculturalism, its definition and history, see Angie Fleras and Jean Leonard Elliot eds., Multiculturalism in Canada: The Challenge of Diversity (Scarborough: Nelson, 1992).

(f.8) On the emergence of a liberal state from the bases of a white settler colony see B. Singh Bolaria and Peter Li eds., Racial Oppression in Canada (Toronto: Garamund Press, 1988); also see Peter Kulchyski ed., Unjust Relations: Aboriginal Rights in Canadian Courts (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1994) and Frank Tester and Peter Kulchyski, Tammarniit (Mistakes): Relocation in the Eastern Arctic (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1994). For a “race”/gender inscription into a semi – colonial Canadian state see Patricia Monture – Angus, Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks (Halifax: Fernwood, 1995).

(f.9) For an in – depth discussion of mediatory and unificatory ideologies needed by a liberal democratic, i.e., capitalist state, see Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society (London: Quartet Books, 1984) chs. 7 & 8.

(f.10) For a clarification of my use of this concept see Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975). This use of “legitimacy” is different from Charles Taylor’s Weberian use of it in Reconciling the Solitudes.

(f.11) See Anderson, Imagined Communities, Introduction and ch. 2. Anderson says, “I … propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (6).

(f.12) Ibid. ch. 2.

(f.13) In Reconciling the Solitudes, ch. 4, on “Alternative Futures” for Canada, Taylor fleshes out his desirable and undesirable options for Canada. This is also found in his Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

(f.14) Taylor is quite direct about his German romantic intellectual heritage. In Reconciling, in an essay entitled “Institutions in National Life” he states, “In Herder I found inspiration, ideas that were very fruitful for me, precisely because I was from here, I was able to understand him from the situation I had experienced outside school, outside university, and I was able to engage with his thought, internalize it, and (I hope) make something interesting out of it” (136).

(f.15) For an exposition of this idea, and Taylor’s rejection of an “American” solution for “Canadian” identity, see “Shared and Divergent” in Reconciling.

(f.16) Ibid. 182.

(f.17) Ibid. 183.

(f.18) Ibid. 164.

(f.19) Ibid. 182.

(f.20) Ibid.

(f.21) Ibid.

(f.22) Ibid. 181.

(f.23) Ibid. 182.

(f.24) Ibid. 183.

(f.25) Ibid.

(f.26) Ibid.

(f.27) Ibid. 184.

(f.28) Ibid.

(f.29) On the development of active white supremacist groups in Canada, and their “Englishness,” see Martin Robb, Shades of Right: Nativist and Fascist Politics in Canada, 1920 – 1940 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992); also William Peter Ward, White Canada Forever (Montreal: McGill – Queen’s University Press, 1978).

(f.30) Anderson, Imagined Communities 86; but see also the chapter on “Official Nationalism and Imperialism.”

(f.31) Ibid. 19.

(f.32) On the construction of “whiteness” as an ideological, political and socio – historical category see Theodor Allen, The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control (London: Verso, 1994); David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1993); also Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

(f.33) On the use of “whiteness”/Europeanness as an ideology for ruling, including its formative impact on sexuality of the ruling, colonial nations, see Ann Laura Stoller, Race and the Education of Desire: Foulcault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).

(f.34) On this theme see Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).

(f.35) On the reading of the black, dark or “visible minority” body see the collection of essays in Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ed., “Race,” Writing and Difference (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985), especially Sander Gillman, “Black Bodies, White Bodies.”

(f.36) See Stoller, Race and the Education of Desire, but also Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).

(f.37) The history of immigration and refugee laws in Canada, and of the immigrants, indentured workers and refugees themselves, must be read to comprehend fully what I am attempting to say. See The Law Union of Ontario, The Immigrant’s Handbook (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1981); also A Report of the Canadian Immigration and Population Study: Immigration Policy Perspective (Ottawa: Department of Manpower and Immigration and Information Canada, 1974); and Equality Now: Report of the Special Committee on Visible Minorities (Ottawa: House of Commons, 1986).

(f.38) Antonio Gramsci, “Notes of Italian History” in Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Smith, (New York: International Publishers 1971).

(f.39) On organic intellectuals as intellectuals who are integral to any ideological and class project, see Gramsci, “The Intellectuals” in Ibid.

(f.40) This becomes evident when we follow the controversies which are generated by writers’ conferences, such as “Writing thru Race,” or the black communities’ response and resistance to Royal Ontario Museum’s exhibition on African art and culture – “Out of the Heart of Africa.”

(f.41) See, for example, Dionne Brand, Winter Epigrams (Toronto: Williams – Wallace, 1983); Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, The 52nd State of Amnesia (Toronto: TSAR, 1993); Himani Bannerji, Doing Time (Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1986); and collections such as Diane McGifford and Judith Kearns eds., Shakti’s Words (Toronto: TSAR, 1990).

(f.42) The acronym for Racial Holy War, a neo – Nazi rock band.

(f.43) Himani Bannerji, “Images of South Asian Women” Bannerji ed., Returning the Gaze: Essays on Racism, Feminism and Politics (Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1993) 148. On this theme of social construction of a racialized “minority” subject and its inherent patriarchy, see Linda Carty and Dionne Brand, “Visible Minority Women: A Creation of the Colonial State,” and Roxana Ng, “Sexism, Racism, Canadian Nationalism,” in Ibid.

(f.44) Ibid. 149.

(f.45) See Donald Avery, Reluctant Host: Canada’s Response to Immigrant Workers, 1896 – 1994 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995). Much work still needs to be done in this area in which class formation is considered in terms of both “race” and gender. But a beginning is made in Dionne Brand’s No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario, 1920s to 1950s (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1991); and Dionne Brand and Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta eds., Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism (Toronto: Cross Cultural Communications Centre, 1985).

(f.46) This is powerfully brought forth through the issue of importation of domestic workers in Toronto from the Caribbean by Makeda Silvera, Silenced: Talks with working class Caribbean women about their lives and struggles as domestic workers in Canada, 2nd edition (Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1989).

(f.47) Joyce Fraser, Cry of the Illegal Immigrant.

(f.48) Erol Lawrence, “Just Plain Common Sense: the ‘roots’ of racism,” in The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain (London: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Hutchinson, in association with the Centre for Cultural for Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1986).

(f.49) Ibid. 48.

Himani Bannerji is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at York University. She is the author of Thinking Through: Essays on Feminism, Marxism and Anti – racism (Women’s Press, 1995) and co – editor of Returning the Gaze: Essays on Racism, Feminism and Politics (Sister Vision, 1992). Her current research interests include feminist theory, issues of anti – racism and representation, and political theory.


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