A National Voice
A core activity of the CRRF is to research and report, and give voice to, the current issues that impact Canada’s democratic principles and multiculturalism policies. These include issues and events connected to race relations, Canadian identity, belonging, and the mutuality of citizenship rights and responsibilities.
The CRRF regularly posts press releases via the Canadian Newswire Service, and articles and announcements via the website and the Foundation's monthly newsletter. The Foundation's spokespersons regularly comment on issues related to contemporary race relations.
Why the Dress Matters
For a few intense days recently, people around the world were fascinated by the differences in the ways we perceived the colours of a dress: was the dress in the photograph white and gold or was it blue and black? The dress's true colours and the reasons why our brains perceived those colours differently were the subject of endless debate even after a second photo posted online revealed its true colours.
The dress challenged our perceptions and – to take it a step further – challenged the ways in which we understand and talk about our perceptions. And when the flurry of online discussions quieted down, we were comfortable with – and accepting of – our differences.
Wouldn't it be great if we could view all our differences in this way? Let's apply the dress principle to four recent incidents to see how they could have – should have – been handled differently.
Incident number one
P.K. Subban is a hockey superstar who plays for the Montreal Canadiens. He is also of Caribbean descent but, for some reason, the producers of a theatrical farce used a white man in blackface to represent him. Naturally, people complained, but a spokesperson for the production, while expressing sympathy, insisted no malice or racism had been intended.
Incident number two
Rania El-Alloul is a Muslim woman in Quebec who wears a hijab, the scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face exposed. Rania felt humiliated as she stood before a judge who refused to begin a proceeding while Rania wore her hijab. The judge, based on her view of courtroom dress codes, equated Rania's religious or cultural practice of covering her head with a person who wears sunglasses in a courtroom.
Incident number three
Maria Morrison is a First Nation woman from Winnipeg. She and her daughter were returning to Winnipeg on an Air Transat flight when an attendant handed her daughter an in-flight activity package intended for children. Maria and her daughter were both shocked to see that the cover, as well as activities found inside the publication, featured an illustration of a red-skinned cartoon character with shark-like teeth wearing a feathered headdress. Despite complaints by Maria and others, the company would not pull the publication, according to media reports. Furthermore, a representative said the publication's approach reflected the way they cherish "diversity, promote culture and heritage, and strive to do this while avoiding clichés and stereotypes."
Incident number four
Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginals expressed outrage at language and hashtags that had been posted on social media accounts belonging to a Canadian clothing designer. The language, which stereotyped people of Aboriginal descent, was quickly deleted from the company's social media accounts but no apology or explanation has been offered to date.
What do these incidents teach us?
Although different communities were touched, these incidents share common themes, and they challenge us to consider how we might respond in a way that makes room for us to truly understand and respect each other's perspectives.
But first, the question must be asked: what were they thinking? Should we not, as a society, already be enlightened enough to understand what it means to be culturally sensitive? Unfortunately, as these incidents make clear, we have not yet arrived at that point.
These avoidable errors in judgement were further compounded by responses that can, at best, be deemed inadequate. While there may have been no racist intent, the responses – or lack of response – to complaints reflected a cultural insensitivity that is not shared by most Canadians. For example, in the CRRF's Report on Canadian Values, Canadians told us that they consider respect for cultural and religious differences to be an essential part of coexistence.
However, despite our best intentions, the picture is not overwhelmingly rosy. Based on this and other surveys conducted recently by and for the CRRF, we know that Canadians overwhelmingly support multiculturalism, yet many are uncomfortable with its outward manifestations, such as religious apparel or religious institutions. We also know that many Canadians are the targets of bigotry based on their racial or religious backgrounds on an all too frequent basis. We've come a long way but we've still got a way to go to bring our actions into line with our shared Canadian values of tolerance and acceptance of difference.
Let's apply the dress principle to these types of incidents. Instead of shutting down, let's talk about those things that we see differently, so we can understand why we see them in such a different light sometimes. As our conversations about the dress have taught us, it is only when we understand why we see things differently, that we can respect each other's ways of seeing and, by extension, our ways of being.
Stay in touch!
P.K. Subban blackface portrayal denounced by Montreal artists – CBC News Montreal (14 January 2015)
Judges refusal to hear case of woman in hijab left her in tears – CTV News (27 February 2015)
First Nation woman calls Air Transat's kids activity package racist – CBC News Manitoba (27 February 2015)
Fixing a faux-pas: How fashion brands deal with controversy – The Toronto Star (23 March 2015)
Photo credit: "The Dress (viral phenomenon)" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.
A busy year ahead … This has been a very busy time for the CRRF, as the three-year Our Canada project is well underway and we continue to advance the overall mission of the Foundation. This year promises to be one of our busiest and most productive yet, so we are also launching a new monthly newsletter to help keep you informed about our many interesting activities. CRRF February newsletter > To learn more about some of the thought-provoking programs we have offered recently, be sure to take ti...