The deep political and cultural tremors rattling the United States these days are sending waves crashing ashore in Canada. They always do.
President Donald Trump ignited a resurgence of America’s dominant cultural characteristic — white supremacy. His election exalted white privilege as the defining national characteristic and was based on a promise to reassert its eminence, couched in the phrase Make America Great, Again.
That argument is loosely lifted from an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, and can be found fully formed in a collection of Coates’s writing covering the Obama era, titled We Were Eight Years in Power (2017, Penguin Random House).
Meanwhile, back in Canada, the national government is conducting low-key consultations in preparation of an anti-racism strategy to address institutional and systemic racism.
Even this timid federal initiative has drawn criticism from political commentators, who are unable to find evidence of racism in their immediate, pale circles, so declare it non-existent or unimportant.
They’re joined by such practiced experts on intolerance as former Conservative MP and founder of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, who took to Twitter to condemn the consultation as, “More Liberal identity politics to divide us into tribes, buy votes and justify big gov programs.”
Affirmation and a troubling tide
In Halifax and other Canadian cities, Halloween brought out hooded, frightened white boys, who posted crude “It’s okay to be white” signs. The phrase has a long white supremacist connotation that it’s not OK to be anything but.
The federal government’s strategy isn’t a response to anything happening in America. But, given the troubling tide running in the opposite direction, this is a good time to affirm official Canadian fealty toward tolerance, diversity and equality.
White supremacy, as defined by Coates, is the product of centuries of uninterrupted official, hereditary and implicit white privilege. So his use of the phrase isn’t limited to the hateful brand associated with neo-Nazi-white-nationalists — groups in which Trump finds “some good.”
“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broad skepticism toward others. Black America lives under that skeptical eye,” Coates writes.
And in that characterization of racism, Canada shares an ignoble heritage with America.
When the police conduct random street checks in Halifax and other Canadian cities, black Canadians and indigenous people are disproportionately targeted. They fall under the skeptical eye of law enforcement.
Crimes committed by white people are universally seen as an individual pathology, but that’s not the case when race is introduced. When a crime is committed by a black or aboriginal Canadian it becomes associated with that community.
The vast majority of white Canadians believe racism is much less prevalent in Canada than it is in the United States.
Similar, but less pronounced
Canadians from minority communities have a different experience and consistently tell researchers that racism is as common in Canada, where it comes in more insidious, covert wrapping.
In the U.S., hostility toward minority ethnic and religious communities has taken a decided turn to the horrendous since Donald Trump succeeded America’s only black president, Barack Obama.
The number of hate crimes and the proliferation of known hate groups are sharply ascendant in America, and a similar, while less pronounced trend is evident in Canada. In both nations, black citizens are the most likely victims of racially motivated hate and Jews are the most likely victims of religious hate crimes.
In recent days, America has again experienced appalling, hate-based violence, most tragically against the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.
Only those who refuse to see fail to draw a direct line from the president’s principal political device — activation of white America’s fear and loathing of all but white, Christian Americans — and the nation’s descent into its contemptable past.
Trump explainers like to blame his election on working class whites, whose culpability they excuse by referring to the working man’s dislocation from the old American dream. The truth is that every economic strata of white Americans voted, in the majority, for Donald Trump, and no Americans are more dislocated from the American dream — however it’s defined — than are African Americans, but that didn’t convince them to support Trump.
Today, Georgians of colour are once again being denied voting rights. The African-American candidate for governor of Florida is subjected to the basest racial invective and stereotyping by the president himself.
America is rotting from the head down, and while the Canadian government’s anti-racism strategy is a faint-hearted defence against contagion, it is something, which makes it better than nothing.