Monday, November 08, 2010

"Canada: Our time to lead: 8 Discussions We Need To Have"

The Globe and Mail, which fancies itself Canada's answer to The New York Times, has been running weekly features (the "8 Discussions We Need To Have" that are referenced in the title of this post) of ostensible national importance over the past month.

Luckily(?), these discussions are providing me with some pretty fantastic teachable moments for my students, who are learning about ideas of privilege, oppression, power, and politics. This is because the way the Globe is marketing this series is surprisingly (even shockingly) problematic: racist, sexist, classist... really, I'm just waiting for the inevitable homophobic discussion question.

The topics have been showing up on billboards throughout the city, and I've been writing them down or photographing them as I see them. Of course, I'm lazy, so I don't necessarily have those pictures in front of me as I type this. So with the caveat that I might get a word or two wrong, here's what's been discussed thus far, as captured on the billboards:
  1. "Multicultural mosaic or mistake?"
  2. "Do women need to leave Canada to be successful?"
  3. "Boys aren't failing. They just need lower standards."
  4. "Should our military be helping the good guys or killing the bad ones?"
  5. "Your weekend or your career. Choose one."
So when I showed this to my students, I asked "who is the 'we' who need to be having these discussions?" And I told them that they couldn't resort to the knee-jerk "it's Old White Guys" answer, which, while correct, is lazy - with this short list, you can actually prove that it's old white guys through deductive reasoning alone.

One other thing to note, here, is that the 'discussions' are actually 'problems'. So part of the task of identifying who is having the discussion is in identifying who the discussion is about - who or what is the problem that needs to be remedied, presumably by someone else?
  1. 'Multicultural mosaic' is a reference to Canada's framing of its officially policy on multiculturalism and immigration. Clearly, the people being addressed here are the people who would consider themselves neither multicultural nor immigrants, people who also feel entitled to decide whether Canadian immigration policy has been mistaken ('mistake' reads pejoratively, to me, as if to say that either assimilation or rejection are implicitly the other options). Only white, native-born, and English-speaking Canadians fall outside the scope of this discussion, so they're presumably the ones having it.
  2. And...
  3. ...both concern gender, and are far more revealing when taken together. As one of my female students asked, 'Why am I supposed to leave but we can fix things for boys?' The short answer is because boys are entitled to success, and expected to succeed, and women aren't. The long answer, though, would also have to consider that boys aren't failing in the first place - that, despite the fact that Canadian girls have performed better in school for over 30 years, Canadian men aged 25-40 still make 10% more than women of the same age. But to answer the "who's 'we'?" question, it seems like it's not boys or women, though boys would seem to be less of a problem (because their problem can be fixed) than women.
  4. While not obviously speaking to the -isms in the way that the first three and the last of the five topics do, the military question is no less problematic. First problem: Who's good, who's bad, and who gets to decide? Dunno, though, presumably, it's up to the white guys who were having the previous three discussions. Second problem: Arguably, peacekeeping has never been only about 'helping the good guys', and in its current incarnation as "peace enforcement" is now admittedly even less so. So one of the two options we're given doesn't exist, and probably never has.
  5. Is it even necessary to point out how ridiculously classist the question is? Just how many people even have "careers" at this point, and how many people can actually choose to not work on the weekend?
So the identity of the 'we' who need to have these discussions is, at the very least, as follows: white, non-immigrant, male, adult, middle-to-upper class. Like I said, it's the Old White Guys, but this way you can actually prove it.

(Edit: The sixth discussion is phrased thusly on the billboard: "Money can buy anything. Unless you have a lump in your breast." So we're going the classism route, again.)

No comments: