Monday, April 23, 2012

Wildrose bearing the White Man's Burden

So, there's a provincial election happening in Alberta this week, and it's largely being waged between an incumbent Conservative Party and an upstart even more conservative party called Wildrose. And this happened:

This is actually a pretty wonderful "teachable moment", even if it's a mildly idiotic statement. (I say "mildly" because, let's face it, it could've been a lot worse.) Because a lot of white people actually do believe this and would probably find themselves in complete agreement with Ron Leech.

What makes this particularly teachable, though, is how succinctly it manages to demonstrate three things that people who study race know to be true about what it means to have white skin:
  • That white people often don't think they have a "race". In the discourse of critical race studies, we talk about how whiteness is akin to invisibility - that what actually marks "race" is its difference from white skin. Thus, someone who lacks those visual markers appears to lack race altogether.
  • That having a race (or, perhaps, having too much race) is a disadvantage. What Leech says, here, is that people who have race also have difficulty seeing past it and their own race's interests. (Of course, this would hardly be inflammatory if he hadn't already removed himself from the tacit list of People With a Race.) To belong to a "special interest group", it's implied, is to have primary responsibility to that group, and only a secondary responsibility to society as a whole.
  • Leech, though, demonstrates that he thinks he has no special interest group, and so his responsibility is to all of society. And that's because white people forget that they, themselves, constitute an interest group - but the only one that routinely mistakes itself for the whole of society.
There is, probably, a White Man's Burden thing happening here, too. Leech seems to be saying that the non-white folks in Alberta can't get along on their own, can't listen to or understand each other (but he can! ha!), and so the white man needs to take care of them and demonstrate what leadership looks like. (And I mean "looks like", of course, in both the literal and figurative sense.) Because, y'know, that kind of colonial thinking has always worked out so well in the past, right?

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