Words are important tools in human interaction and, used in certain ways, they become weapons. Politics these days is the art of twisting language to do harm to your enemies.
Let us examine how certain words and phrases have lost their original meanings and have become useful clubs with which to thrash healthy heterosexual males, white people, and folks of all colours who are insufficiently enthusiastic about the revolution.
Take “race” for a start. This word originated in the idea that physical characteristics such as skin colour and skull shape could be used to subcategorize the human species; it’s an idea as least as old as civilization. In the nineteenth century “racial science” was used to explain how inhabitants of western Europe and their colonial cousins had become globally dominant. This was cutting-edge thinking at the time and contained both an unsavoury and a philanthropic element – white folk could believe that other races were inferior and should die off, or believe that other races were inferior and should be helped to develop: the so-called “White Man’s Burden”.
Hitler’s use of such ideas to murder millions of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, and other Untermenschen gave thinking about racial differences a bad name, and beginning after World War II Canadian schoolchildren were taught that “racist” was a bad thing to be. Martin Luther King was a hero to my generation and we applauded his hope that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But that sort of colour-blind thinking was dangerous to left-wing ideologies like Black Power or the American Indian Movement who needed to stoke ethnic grievances, so racism was redefined as a power relationship. Because they were the dominant social force, only white people could be termed racists; people of other colours were allowed – nay, encouraged — to use offensive terms against whites and demand unequal treatment. The same logic applied to “sexism”, which became something that only men could be accused of.
Pretty soon every disobliging remark about any other social or religious group came to be called racist. Do you dislike hip-hop music? You’re a racist. Not fond of immigrants who commit honour killings? Racist. Do you think that the murders of Indigenous women doesn’t really amount to genocide? Well, by now you know the word for the kind of person that makes you.
The promiscuous use of the term eventually meant that the once-potent cry of “racist” was so overused that it simply came to mean “I disagree with you”. Thus the need for some stronger linguistic acid to be hurled at one’s foes produced the charge of “white supremacy”.
That is illustrated by the federal NDP leader’s adolescent outburst in the House of Commons when a Bloc Québécois M.P. refused unanimous consent to introduce a resolution attacking the RCMP for “systemic racism”. For calling the Bloc Québécois M.P. a racist and refusing to apologize, the federal NDP leader was given the parliamentary equivalent of being sent to his room. The next day the unrepentant fellow was back and engaged in an unseemly bit of mutual preening with the Prime Minister over systemic racism with the pair agreeing that urgent action needed to be taken to wipe out its scourge on Canada’s fair domain. That this display only helped to kill any NDP hopes of winning seats in secular Québec and allowed the Liberal leader to once again out-flank him on the left seems to have escaped the NDP leader.
Which brings us to an examination of the final twisted term: “systemic racism”. To most speakers of the English language, these words mean a racial prejudice, written or unwritten, built into law or bureaucracy. It is easy to see that systemic racism once held sway in Canada’s immigration legislation, where people from certain countries were placed at a disadvantage in applying to come to Canada, but it is by no means clear that it has any reality in the operations of the RCMP. If it has, no one has explained how it manifested itself beyond the federal NDP leader’s citing of a tiny number of recent deaths of natives at the hands of police. The Bloc Québécois M.P. was absolutely right to deny a fast-track condemnation of our national constabulary without any evidence of wrongdoing.
But this doesn’t mean that systemic racism is not built into Canadian institutions. We do live in a systemically racist system thanks to our 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15.1 which boldly proclaims that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” is immediately gutted by Section 15.2 which notes that the foregoing clause “does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” Thus the plethora of “affirmative action” regulations in government, industry and education that disadvantage healthy heterosexual white males moves women, non-whites, homosexuals, and the disabled to the front of the line.
Until more Canadians are aware of this systemic bias and Canadian politicians confront its pernicious influence, all talk of inbuilt national racism should cease.
Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.