Yet another incredibly offensive piece of racism and xenophobia was recently featured in a Canadian publication. And it wasn’t Maclean’s!
The article is called “Cultural Violence Can’t be Talked into Disappearing,” authored by Adrian MacNair and published in the National Post. In the piece, MacNair criticizes the federal government’s decision to financially support communities who seek to end gender-based violence. This is in itself reprehensible, considering the cuts to women’s organizations across the nation since Stephen Harper was voted in. But what makes this already racist and xenophobic point of view even more disgusting is the colonial paternalism displayed by MacNair. The whole article is rife with a fear-mongering superiority complex that would make Bill O’Reilly proud.
Basically, MacNair argues that we shouldn’t be wasting hard-earned-assimilated-tax-payer dollars on work to end violence against women in certain immigrant communities because apparently violence against women is inherently ingrained in “those cultures.” In this context, “those cultures” are South Asian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Middle Eastern - which are all complex and multifaceted, but what does MacNair care? To him they’re all one big mass of violent brown men and oppressed brown women. Thus, he recommends that the great, white Canadian WE should force the primitive brown THEM to sign a contract upon their arrival to our fair nation (get the pun there? FAIR!) promising not to condone the beating or killing of their wives and daughters.
This article reeks of “us and them” language that only further marginalizes immigrant communities of colour within the dominant Canadian imaginary. MacNair sets up a binary of moral superiority based entirely upon race. According to him, the problem is that the homogenous immigrant “they” are from “parts of the world where women aren’t exactly given prominent positions in community representation.”
This statement is completely ignorant of the work of immigrant women of colour in our communities in Canada (and globally). We may not all have fancy, glamourous jobs writing op-eds, but women from “other parts of the world” are valiant and consummate workers in the revolution for gender justice. Clearly, you did not do your homework when writing this article, or you would have come across No One is Illegal, Antidote, AWARE Canada, Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of British Columbia, Justice For Girls, MOSAIC, the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association, the South Asian Women’s Centre … these are just a few of many, many organizations helmed by women and girls of colour, for women and girls of colour. They serve their local communities, as well as serving on a provincial and national level. All these organizations work to end violence and sexism within their own communities, and would probably be more than than eager to apply for those grants from Status of Women.
Furthermore, women of colour are often engaged in activist work in their communities that would not even be recognized as such by someone like MacNair. This work is quiet; it occurs among women behind closed doors; it’s the support we give to a friend, it’s the meals we cook for your community centre, it’s the love we give our children; it’s the leadership we take in our own lives, under our own terms. It’s not always grand, sweeping institutional change – it’s love and care, and it makes us and our families and communities stronger bit by bit.
Women are systemically denied access to positions of authority everywhere in the world. Canada is no exception to this. Yes, women have made incredible strides in increasing our representation in government, the workforce, media, the academy and the arts, but we’ve got centuries of sexist oppression to overcome, and it’s taking just as long to combat that legacy. Add intersections of race, ability, sexuality, gender, class, etc., to the mix and it gets even harder.
But in MacNair’s Canada, none if this matters. Because he lives in a fairyland of invisible male, white and Christian privilege, which allows him to posit this recommendation: that “any immigrant who lands in Canada is required to promise to uphold and observe the egalitarian values of our country.” This claim upon a Canadian egalitarian ideology sustains the dominance of a Canadian “we” that is uniformly white and Christian, whose institutional and imagined national values have grown from a history of genocide, violence, and colonialist patriarchy.
MacNair remarks that it is Canada’s fault that violence against women occurs in immigrant communities, because:
“Official multiculturalism celebrates the preservation and open practice of imported culture … even if those customs are utterly incompatible with western civilization, such as the covering of women in religious modesty clothing that was never indigenous to this continent.”
Imported culture … customs not indigenous to this continent … Excuse me for a moment while my head explodes, because, dude: YOU ARE NOT INDIGENOUS TO THIS CONTINENT.
I mean, as far as I can tell. Feel free to contradict me if you are in fact a descendant of the peoples who rightfully claim indigenaeity to Turtle Island, and I will apologize. But regardless of that possibility, the culture you are claiming to be indigenous to Canada (which only exists as a nation because of the historical and continuing repression of indigenous sovereignty) is a colonial culture. Colonial being western European and Christian. So it is not, in fact, indigenous. It is imperial; it is, in fact, “imported culture”! (Also, along the line of religious modesty clothing somehow only worn by brown women - may I introduce you to NUNS?!)
MacNair then goes on to write these gems:
“I’m pretty sure there’s no chance my son is going to murder my daughter for shaming the family. In fact, as far back as my family history goes, I can find no evidence of domestic violence based on a sense of lost honour … we have correctly identified that this is a problem among specific cultures from a specific part of the world.”
I guess this guy has never heard of sexism. Or that the reason it exists is exactly because of the twisted prevailing ideology of heterosexual masculinity, which HONOURS violent behaviour in men and submissive behavior in women; which spreads fear of female empowerment, fear of our intelligence, our bodies, our sexuality, our right to identify with genders outside the binary. Violence against women is not confined to certain cultures. It is global. Patriarchy and misogyny may be enacted differently within different communities, but they are everywhere. Even in white, so-called egalitarian, Canada, one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and over 78% of incidents of sexual violence go unreported (according to a survey taken by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in 2004). From my own work with survivors of sexual violence, I can vouch that many women are assaulted or abused by their own partners and that this is experienced across identities of race, class and citizenship. So beyond the fact that it is utterly ridiculous to propose that one group of people have direct control over another group’s culture, MacNair utterly fails in realizing that “his” society is just as culpable when it comes to gender based violence.
This article, far from offering any new or innovative solution to gender based violence, is simply old colonial propaganda, the popular tale of the white knight sweeping in to save the woman of colour from her land, her men, her culture, all of which are considered violent and primitive. This lie has been and continues to be used to justify invasion, genocide and thievery, from Western European colonialism to current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; it’s a lie that hides the real reason for dominance (accumulation of resources and land) behind a heroic fairytale rescue.
Adrian MacNair, you are not a white knight. You are a white nightmare. You know nothing of our communities; you do not live our lives, you do not do our work. The last thing we need is someone like you telling the rest of Canada who we are. We are the authorities of our own experiences. We are strong and smart and we love each other. You want to end violence against women? Look to yourself. Look to your peers and your family. White heterosexual non-trans men have plenty of gender issues. When we want you in this particular conversation, we’ll let you know. Until then, we immigrant women of colour and our brothers and gender non-conforming siblings can handle ourselves.