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I have been on an interesting journey looking at racism in the Canadian context. It has been both a personal journey and one of coming to understand what it means to be part of the dominant culture in North America.
My main reason for the study was dissatisfaction with Mennonite Central Committee's anti-racism training called Damascus Road. At Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), we use Damascus Road at orientations for volunteers. My frustration is its overwhelming focus on the United States.
Because MVS is a binational program, we ought to have a presentation that addresses racism in both Canada and the U.S. I hope my study will help us create this. What follows is a summary of what I learned.
The differences between Canada and the U.S. are too many to mention, but here are some key differences:
• We have a deep-seated, historical concept of two founding nations: France and England. The U.S. does not.
• Our history of dealing with First Nations people is different. We carried out a slow and relatively nonviolent process of systematic genocide, whereas the U.S. had a much more blatant policy of cultural eradication and assimilation.
• Canada does not have one particular People of Color that makes a significant impact on the dominant culture. The U.S. has two—African American and Hispanic people.
• We have multiculturalism as a national policy; the U.S. does not.
• We bear the sociological impact of having the U.S. as a neighbor; the U.S. doesn't have such an outside influence.
I have learned that much of the history we are taught is questionable—those who “won the war” write the history. To better understand things today, we need to delve into the complex realities of immigration trends, native cultural trends, distinctions between groups of people, and the workings of systematic genocide.
For example, we never learn about the racism found in the speeches of our early prime ministers. We don't learn how the government set policies to keep people of color “under control.”
Two founding nations: The reality is that all immigrant groups in Canada are measured against the French-English “norm.” Even as this reality changes, these two “founding nations” still dominate the agenda of Canadian life. This may be one of the least-researched and most powerful influences on racism in Canada.
First Nations: In the United States, the practice was to eradicate the Indians to clear the way for European settlers. Canada did not experience such a massive European influx—we had no Kansas or Oklahoma land rushes. Here, government policy turned into a slow genocide of First Nations peoples.
So today, Canada is still deeply embroiled in land claims and native rights issues such as self-government. In the U.S., these are virtually nonissues. The native population in the U.S. appears to have assimilated much more into U.S. society. We are in very different places when it comes to First Nations peoples.
People of color: In the U.S., two dominant people of color carry a significant weight. The African-American population numbers about 32 million, the Hispanic 30 million (total U.S. population is about 267 million). In Canada, which has a population of 30 million, the largest people of color is identified as “East and Southeast Asian” at 1.27 million (1996 statistics). First Nations population is approximately 477,630.
Multiculturalism: In the United States, multiculturalism is a bad word; in Canada, it's national policy. How does this affect our thinking in Canada?
I was saddened to read that the multiculturalism policy in Canada was basically a Liberal government plan to appease immigrants and keep their votes. Most minority groups would say the policy is a failure, but not all agree. Speak to groups such as Ukrainians, Jews, Estonians, and the view is different. Has it been worth the journey?
U.S. as neighbor: As the U.S. sends a barrage of cultural ideas across the border, we in Canada find it difficult to discern what is distinct about our history and society. But most Canadians would say, “We don't have a problem with racism like they do in the U.S.” This adds one more level of complexity to facing racism in Canada.
One form of racism we have inherited from the U.S. is “hate groups.” These groups would have taken root in Canada in some form even if the U.S. were not our neighbor. However, many of these groups are based in the U.S. Canada has a wide range of hate groups, including people known for their racist views, such as Ernst Zundell, Jim Keekstra, and Terry Long.
Anti-Semitism seems to be a more prominent issue in Canada than other forms of racism. Hate groups spend most of their time on issues such as the Holocaust and Jewish conspiracies. Perhaps this is because the Jewish community challenges each accusation, making it more visible. Are other “minority” groups simply not as organized?
Economics and race relations: In my readings and conversations, I continually return to economics and its role in perpetuating racism. (One can use other words in place of economics, such as class or power imbalances.) The common thread is that wherever there is economic disparity or an imbalance of power, racist ideas seem to manifest themselves.
An example is the recent fishing dispute in New Brunswick. For many years, aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishers have worked side by side, sharing the sparse resource. The recent Supreme Court decision allowed aboriginal fishers to go out three weeks before the official lobster season. As soon as the native fishers headed out to sea, racial slurs and violence began.
Did this rapid imbalance of power manifest itself in racism? Would it have made a difference if the group given “special” rights had been Mennonite or Ukrainian?
I continue to wrestle with several questions and I invite readers to engage these questions as well:
•Did racism exist before colonialism?
•How does our simplistic understanding of history feed into our racism?
•How would Canada be different if we did not have an official policy of multiculturalism?
•How does one deal with a perceived power imbalance, especially when others fail to see the same reality?
•How does our Mennonite understanding of service play into a racist theology?
Brad Reimer, Winnipeg, Manitoba, is associate director of Mennonite Voluntary Service.
© Good Books, Intercourse, PA 17534
B.Short Fiction, I
1.Aunt Liz, a short story by Arlene Koch Holdeman
2.The Riotous Walls, a short story by Diana Reneez
C.By the Editors
1.Minding Us Mennonites by Phyllis Pellman Good
Observations, confessions, and questions about the current state and health of Mennonites.
2.Who's Not Borrowing? by Merle Good
Many Mennonites are critical of other Mennonites because they appear to “borrow” their ideas or theology from a non-Mennonite source.
1.Man answers God by Rhoda Janzen
2.Singing at Orangefield Mennonite Church by Cheryl Denise
3.Overflow by Jean Janzen
4.Cruise by Jeff Gundy
E.Featured Articles, Essays, and Opinions, II
1.A Few Thoughts on Home and Community (and Voices from the Margins) by Hildi Froese Tiessen
Why do Mennonites seem to want to release the marginal, to let them go?
2.Peace and Unity by Levi Miller
Are we discrediting our peace position by privatizing it? During a time of intense fragmentation, might a modest unity of belief still be possible?
3.Humility Is Valuing Others by Ardie S. Goering
Seeing humility as less about meekness and more about empathy would change how we relate to each other.
4.Toward a Culture of Global Understanding by Pakisa K. Tshimika
A Mennonite Brethren leader from Congo (the country with the second largest population of Mennonite groups in the world) reflects on the challenges of international cooperation.
5.Mennonites and Music by Isaac R. Horst
An Old Order Mennonite from Ontario muses.
6.Closed on Sundays by Arthur Bert
A prominent businessman recounts his decision to close his popular restaurant on Sundays—and the reaction and criticism he received.
7.What Families Should Value by John D. Roth
Three suggestions to consider as we engage issues related to families and values.
8.A Benedictine Mennonite: Prefer Nothing Whatever to Christ by Arthur Paul Boers
Anabaptism has much in common with monasticism.
9.Micah, My Twin by Robert J. Baker
The embarrassment and satisfaction of making restitution.
10.Living on the Iceberg: “The Artist as Critic and Witness” 36 Years Later by Rudy Wiebe
Our most famous novelist re-examines an essay he wrote 36 years ago about writing, meaning, and truth. Has he changed his mind?
Who Is the Greatest in the Kingdom? by David Ewert
Jesus responds to a perverse question.
1.Menno Simons Shares the Podium with Myron Augsburger and Tony Campolo at the Mennonite General Assembly; by Leonard Nolt
2.Menno Simons Sighs and Leans Back in His Seat by Leonard Nolt
3.Mennonites and Love, a dramatic monologue by Merle Good
H. Short Fiction, II
1.Dickie Derksen, a short story by David Elias
2.Gone, a short story by Kate Good
1.Coat of a Visiting Nurse by Julia Kasdorf
2.God and Farmers by Cheryl Denise
3.Ice by Jean Janzen
4.Thinking of Certain Mennonite Women by Julia Kasdorf
J.A Longer Essay
A Traditioned Theology of Mission by Wilbert R. Shenk
How have Anabaptism, “Mennonitism,” and other sources shaped Mennonite mission activity?
1.The Journey Toward Reconciliation by John Paul Lederach; reviewed by Bernie Wiebe
2.Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947 by Rachel Waltner Goossen, reviewed by Kimberly Schmidt
3.Do I Still Have a Life? by John M. Janzen and Reinhild Kauenhoven Janzen, reviewed by John A. Lapp
4.From Anabaptist Seed by C. Arnold Snyder, reviewed by Mikha Joedhiswara
5.Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: A People Transformed by T. D. Regehr; Mennonites in American Society, 1930-1970: Modernity and the Persistence of Religious Community by Paul Toews, reviewed by Pamela E. Klassen
6.Mennonite Education in a Post-Christian World: Essays Presented at the Consultation on Mennonite Higher Education, Winnipeg, 1997, by Henry Huebner, ed., Education for Peoplehood: Essays on the Teaching Ministry of the Church by Ross T. Bender, Theological Education on Five Continents: Anabaptist Perspectives, by Nancy R. Heisey and Daniel S. Schipani, eds., reviewed by Rodney J. Sawatsky
7.Changing Frontiers in Mission by Wilbert R. Shenk, reviewed by Harold D. Lehman
8.Golden Apples in Silver Bowls: The Rediscovery of Redeeming Love, translated by
Elizabeth Bender and Leonard Gross, edited by Leonard Gross, reviewed by Walter Klaassen
L.Film Ratings and Video Guide, 2000
by Merle Good
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O.About the Editors