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Don't worry, white men. You're not oppressed yet

| January 11, 2016
 Don't worry, white men. You're not oppressed yet

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Reports of the death of the white man are not only greatly exaggerated, but also fairly ridiculous.

In fact, the white man remains thoroughly alive and kicking, despite multiple eulogies and panegyrics mourning the passing of his power. The latest announcement of his demise (or at least severe incapacitation) issues from the pen of politician Ujjal Dosanjh, former Premier of British Columbia, who warns that his white male colleagues are being silenced by the scourge of political correctness. Dosanjh laments:

"What started as a legitimate change to bring about equality and transformation of how we viewed, treated and spoke about each other has now ossified into a rarely breached wall of silence;...call it white man's burden or guilt; a guilt for the sins of the past now manifesting itself in the white man's fear.

This fear has habituated many Western leaders in their frailty to speak the unvarnished truth about the need for the refugees and immigrants welcomed into these societies to fully integrate in them. It is not about changing one's religion or bleaching one's skin to make it paler. It is about learning the moral, ethical, social and political anchors that, in this case, Canada is rooted in."

(But what about "refugees and immigrants" whose skins are already "pale," no "bleaching" required? Or is Dosanjh only anxious about the need to "fully integrate" those from the swarthier end of the complexion spectrum?)

Let's start with some vital statistics on white men in Canada, to allay any concerns about the "frailty" of this supposedly "burdened" and "fearful" demographic. Twenty-two out of twenty-three Canadian Prime Ministers have hailed from the white and manly among us (the lone exception -- Kim Campbell, Prime Minister for four months in 1993 -- is white but not male). In Parliament as a whole, 62 per cent of seats (211 out of 338) are held by white men, approximately 40 per cent of the total population.

And this constitutes a decrease in white men's share of power from previous governments: Canadians elected a record number of "visible minorities," and slightly more women and Indigenous representatives than before, in the 2015 election.

White men are also over-represented in Canadian media, where they are afforded privileged platforms to offer "unvarnished" (although not-infrequently ill-informed) analyses on a wide array of topics. As Davide Mastracci writes,

"People of colour make up only 3.4 percent of staff at Canadian newspapers, according to a 2004 study by Ryerson University professor emeritus John Miller, the most recent on the matter....Stats specifically examining the race makeup of Canadian columnists do not exist, but a scan through a staff list at any major Canadian newspaper suggests the opinion pages are even less diverse. A 2014 J-Source investigation also revealed that the median age of national columnists is 58.5 and 73 percent of the columnists surveyed were men. In other words, opinion writing in Canada is dominated by old white men."

These are some "unvarnished truths" about white men that are clearly pertinent to the "honest debates on equality, race and culture" Dosanjh claims we need -- and yet are mysteriously absent from his jeremiad, which so thoroughly lacquers over the realities of race and gender in Canada that they become inverted.

It is quite true that white men (and others) are now generally prevented from publicly expressing certain opinions they could once freely expound. For example, it is difficult to imagine any contemporary politician, uber-white-mensch Donald Trump excluded, echoing Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald's remarks regarding the impossibility of "the Aryan races...wholesomely amalgamat[ing] with Africans or the Asiatics. It is not desired that they come, that we should have a mongrel race; that the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed."

Or arguing alongside Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King that if the "lower races" were permitted into Canada, they would "debase" Anglo-Saxon civilization just as "the baser metals tended to drive the finer metal out of circulation."

But Dosanjh is incensed about a more sweeping and deleterious muting of white men, beyond the suppression of such overtly racist perspectives. "It seems some of us have so thoroughly shamed the white men into complete submission regarding our misplaced belief that Canada has no core identity or core values; so much so that even our prime minister won't defend what was so dear to his own father -- what he had fought so hard for."

Dosanjh depicts white men as the inventors and defenders of Canada's "core identity" and "core values" -- floating above the fray of identity politics to objectively adjudicate on the Canadian-ness of various non-white "refugees and immigrants." With white men debilitated by such "thorough shaming," who remains to forge the "moral, ethical, social and political anchors" of our society? Certainly not those with more pigment or less testosterone!

The idea that white men have a uniquely neutral grasp on truth and ethics has a long history in Euro-American philosophy (not entirely surprising, since the conventional canon of philosophy is mostly populated by white men). Despite decades of critique, white male thinkers are still often portrayed as the source of universal philosophy, while thinkers of other races and genders are relegated to identitarian particularity.

As Columbia University Professor Hamid Dabashi asks: "Why is European philosophy 'philosophy,' but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, in the same way that Indian music is ethnomusic?"

White male authority has been so naturalized that any erosion of it is decried as "complete submission"; white male perspectives have been so dominant that any decentering of them is declaimed as "silencing." The enduring strength of white male hegemony is revealed in its internalization by those who are not white and/or not male.

If Ujjal Dosanjh's attitude is any indication, then white men are doing just fine in Canada.

Azeezah Kanji is a graduate of University of Toronto's Faculty of Law and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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