Last week, around the York, Ryerson, and U of T campuses, amid the usual ads for suspect essay aides and dubious LSAT tutors, there appeared posters that would have been right at home in the 1930’s.
Featuring the stylized outlines of two statuesque white men, the poster was boldly captioned, ‘WHITE STUDENTS UNION!’ (Complete with the exclamation mark and grammatical error). The handsome white men in the poster — doubtless fanciful self-portraits of the group’s founders — are dressed in a pea-coat and a parka, presumably to ward off the chilliness of the isolated moral high ground they inhabit. They display searching expressions, looking, one assumes, for the facts to back up their opinions.
The effect of all this would be comical, were the issues it raises not so serious.
Students for Western Civilization (SFWC) — that is, the organization behind these posters — calls for the creation of white students’ unions on Canadian university campuses that would “promote and celebrate the culture of Western Civilisation” while working to “advance the political interests of the Western peoples.”
Let us evaluate the goals of SFWC, leaving aside, for a moment, the fact that it is preposterous to try to define any cultural element as being intrinsically western. Members of SFWC must be calling for an increase in stone tablet etchings when they say they want more promotion and celebration of western culture, the majority of Canadian media is already dominated by white anchors and white writers, discussing issues pertaining to white people.
This problem of racial bias in the media is so extensive that people have built their whole lives around analyzing it — take, for example, Frances Henry and Carol Tator, whose 272-page book Discourse of Domination meticulously traces how “Canadian journalism is dominated by White people.” As such, SFWC’s cry for increased celebration of western civilization is, at best, a sad joke, akin to the calls for a straight people’s pride parade.
SFWC’s aim to advance the political interests of ‘western peoples’ is equally laughable. The Parliament of Canada is overwhelmingly white — 90 per cent to be exact — while the country’s demography is also majority white (76 per cent). Whose interests, then, are really at risk of being underrepresented here? Members of SFWC clamber for social change, but what they clearly need is internet access.
More generally, despite SFWC’s protests against the contrary, the very idea of a white people’s union is racist. White people are not structurally oppressed based on their race — as such, a white students union does nothing except consolidate and celebrate the unequal power dynamics of which they are already the primary beneficiaries. By appropriating the struggle for racial solidarity and political rights, a white students union is grievously distracting from the systemic disadvantages faced by racial minority.
The issues of racism are certainly real and numerous — from anti-black police brutality, to Islamophobia, to the continued colonization of indigenous land — but they are all to the benefit, not detriment, of white folks.
Apologists for the organization will fling themselves onto the life raft of free speech, and decry those seeking to suppress such noxious bigotry as leftist censor. However, while the founders of SFWC certainly have the right to voice their opinions, they do not have free reign over the forum. SFWC was not a registered organization on any of the campuses it targeted; as such, the university’s disassociation from, and condemnation of, SFWC false advertising could hardly be called censorship.
It is unfortunately inevitable that university campuses, as centres of intellectual debate, will continue to have to deal with extreme opinions of this kind. However, as students, it is our duty as part of the academe be critical of the lazy, irresponsible arguments presented by organizations such as SFWC. So, for all the odiousness of an organisation such as SFWC, we can thank them for stirring up ire and attention towards racial inequality rooted in Canadian society.
Incidents like these should be a constant reminder of the long challenges ahead, and serve as a rallying cry for our generation to chip away at the entrenched advantages white Canadians still hold at every level of power. In the meantime, SFWC’s posters have been consigned to the original birthplace of the organization’s own opinions, and hopefully the final resting place of this sort of dialogue — the garbage bin.
Jeffery Chen is a third–year student at Trinity College studying English and European studies.