Recently, the issue of racism has appeared on campus and in the federal government. President Birgeneau’s well-publicized slip-of the-tongue regarding U of T’s diversity, and the alleged racial profiling going on at the Canada-U.S. border, have brought the topic front and centre to campus and national newspapers. But what’s the real issue at stake in these spats?
Certainly, Birgeneau embarrassed himself by saying that diversity deters prospective white students from enrolling. His subsequent apology, however, has redeemed him as an advocate of a mixed body of students and staff members. The Canada-U.S. border issue, which refers to Canadian citizens from specific Arab countries being fingerprinted and photographed prior to entering the U.S. (Globe and Mail, Nov. 2), has elicited mixed reactions from both sides of the fence. Many Canadians whined for special treatment from the U.S. against such “harsh” treatment. Others advocate the American policy, upholding that country’s domestic security obligation. The latest sentence from Osama bin Laden has probably quelled the former position, as the U.S. uses all means to up its security.
The intensely hostile reactions to both of these events reveal social discontent that cannot be explained solely by these incidents. Canadians are increasingly anxious and afraid as the likelihood of another terrorist attack increases. This vulnerability has also pervaded our campus. As a result, the wrong issue—race—is being scapegoated.
Neither President Birgeneau’s statements nor the U.S. border control policy show sufficient evidence of racist sentiment. Our campus has not recently experienced any significant incidents targeting a specific race. All ethnic minorities are welcomed at U of T.
The Canada-U.S. border issue was also blown way out of proportion. The U.S. has every right to protect itself from incoming terrorists by tightening controls; let us not forget that a lot of September 11 terrorists entered the U.S. from Canada.
So why all the fuss? Because in a time of national uncertainty, any target is more appealing than the unkown. The truth is, Canadians are extremely vulnerable right now to attacks at home and abroad.
It is easier to blame each other, using the race card, than to blame nameless, faceless terrorists. We cannot physically point our fingers at them, but we can point at each other.
Nobody likes turning on the T.V. and seeing another warning about a looming terrorist attack. But neither President Birgeneau nor the U.S. border policy is to blame. The unfortunate reality is that we cannot control acts of hate emanating from far off-sects of militant terrorists.
What we can do, however, is stop accusing one another of racist sentiments that do not exist.