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Opinion: Margaret Wente’s Massey College appointment reflects Canada’s apathy toward racism

Reviewing the summer’s controversial incident — and how it goes beyond U of T
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DIANA PHAM/THE VARSITY
DIANA PHAM/THE VARSITY

Margaret Wente is an award-winning Canadian journalist and former staff columnist at The Globe and Mail. She is regarded as “one of Canada’s leading columnists,” and she holds conservative and bold opinions that have often “provoked heated debate.” 

Given Wente’s achievements, it should have come as no surprise that Massey College, an affiliate of U of T, appointed her — alongside numerous other distinguished appointees — as a member of the Quadrangle Society this summer. 

However, despite Wente’s ostensible success, many of her pieces have been criticized for racism, sexism, and transphobia, alongside plagiarism. Her views can only be described as staunchly uptight and inherently flawed.

In her article, “Advice to younger women: Practice manning up,” Wente argues that young women must learn to withstand sexism and misogyny rather than suggesting that men should drop their locker-room culture. In an article about Nicholas Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, Wente contends that genetics, rather than society, have shaped many of the economic and political disparities existent between races. 

Furthermore, Wente’s 2016 article, “The bullies of Black Lives Matter,” described the Black Lives Matter movement in Toronto as “a tiny group of noisy activists who borrow their branding and their belligerence from the United States.” She further belittled the motives of the Black Lives Matter movement and mocked the notion of there being systemic racism within the police force. 

Thus, the appointment of someone such as Wente to a position within the U of T community prompts the question: how could this have happened? 

Despite her resignation from Massey College following backlash toward her appointment from the U of T community, the fact that Wente was able to publish such problematic articles at The Globe and Mail — one of Canada’s leading newspapers — and be appointed a position at Massey College reflects a tolerance for racism not only at the University of Toronto, but also in Canada as a whole. 

Wente’s appointment and subsequent resignation particularly stand out in the current political climate. The filming of the cruel death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police resulted in a worldwide reckoning that has made it impossible for people to remain ignorant of systemic racism. We are now at a pivotal moment in history to redefine race relations around the world, particularly in North America.

However, this mission proves to be difficult as many Canadians continuously refuse to believe in the existence of systemic racism within the country. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our diversity, kindness, and acceptance. There exists a strong belief that discrimination is something that only ever happens south of the border. 

In response to the anti-racism protests in the US, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said, “Thank God we’re different [from] the United States, and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years.” After receiving much criticism for his remarks, Ford said, “Of course there’s systemic racism in Ontario. There’s systemic racism across this country.” 

The reality is that many parallels exist between Canada and the United States — Canada has its own sordid past. However, we often reflect on Canada’s history with a convenient ignorance of racial discrimination. We never speak of the 200 years when slaves were forcibly brought to Canada. Nor do we speak of the racial segregation that occurred in primary, secondary, and postsecondary school institutions — including U of T. We have chosen to ignore the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and only briefly skim over the long history of residential schools.

When understood in the larger social and historical context, Wente’s appointment follows a pattern of behaviour within Canada. It is anything but an individual oversight. It represents what is merely a continuation in the long history of oppression and indifference.

There still exists a collective prejudice and ignorance among Canadians when it comes to systemic racism. Wente’s appointment — and the fact that issues regarding her beliefs went unnoticed by U of T — underscores this phenomenon. Canada is apathetic toward racism. 

We live under the pretense that we are moving forward in the pursuit of justice and tolerance — and that race relations at home don’t need to be critically examined. But to ignore racism is to be complicit in its perpetuation. 

While Canadians pat themselves on the back when looking at the events occurring in America, our neighbours south of the border have already begun a period of racial reckoning. Across America, remnants of the Confederacy are abandoned. Instead, the streets are flooded with people protesting anti-Blackness as more begin to educate themselves on its history in America. This all marks the beginning of what is hoped to be a new era in race relations. 

This is why the appointment of Wente represents such a critical moment for moving forward in a post-racial society. Appointing Wente — someone who openly expresses discrimination — shows that Canadians are complicit in systemic racism. Putting such people in positions of power and influence only serves to drive forward the institutional racism that is deeply embedded within our society. This ultimately results in a continuous cycle that perpetuates the disparities between races.

In an article written after her resignation, Wente preached the idea that the fight against systemic racism stifles the voices of heretics, and she contends that the attack on her is part of a larger crusade against free expression. But, if there’s anything Wente can really teach us, it’s that Canadians still have a long way to go in eradicating racism and our own deliberate ignorance.

Shernise Mohammed-Ali is a second-year at Victoria College studying neuroscience with minors in psychology and English.