By Jim Miles
It has been interesting over the past few days watching the different reactions to the blackface photos of a younger Justin Trudeau. Of course, the local Conservative opposition is going to paint it in as bad a light as possible while Canadian Liberal supporters hope that the open admission of its racial prejudice implications and an apology for such actions will help carry over the attacks and allow them to move on to other election issues.
In between the political opposites were many comments with some accepting Trudeau’s apologies. Others weren’t so sure about Trudeau’s intentions but wished to move on to more pressing issues, health issues being the main concern, followed by climate change in its aspect of a carbon tax.
Finally, at the other end of the spectrum are those not accepting an apology and wanting Trudeau to resign. The actual motives for the whole range of responses is probably a combination of political positioning within Canada combined with a genuine concern about racism.
Beyond the pure racial prejudice aspect and the denigration of others from these specific incidents is a large underlying problem – that of white privilege and all its inherent ignorance, bias, and hubris.
Western society since its technological and societal advances of the renaissance has been the driving force and controller of large portions of the world. The many European empires – Portuguese, Spanish, French, and British as the main contenders – used their self anointed “doctrine of discovery” based on a hugely prejudiced white Christian ethos in order to command and control the world and its resources. Along the way, they instigated wars, created corrupt governments, used genocide in a variety of forms – military, disease, starvation, ethnic cleansing – in order to obtain the richness of the world.
That racial prejudice has stretched out into our modern world, with the same tactics still in play, especially in the Middle East as the many wars still ongoing in the region and the ongoing British/U.S. support of Israel’s conquest and settlement of Palestine. It is also ongoing with the revival of the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America – it never really died out as most Latin American governments have once again succumbed to U.S. imperial desires.
Much of Asia and Africa are still under this doctrine of white racial privilege. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of International Settlements, the SWIFT payment system (Society for Interbank Financial Communication) all help the “indispensable empire” control the governments, financial transactions, labor and resources of the world. India/Pakistan and South Africa still struggle with the effects of white imperial privilege even though ostensibly having removed themselves from under the British imperial yoke.
Canada: A Country of White Privilege
Canada is a prime example of the effects of the doctrine of discovery. The indigenous people of Canada have suffered genocide in a variety of forms. One aspect was their removal from their native territories and put in reservations in Canada’s own version of apartheid well before South Africa or Israel borrowed the idea. Across the prairies starvation, relocation, disease, and physical violence were all used to kill them off and ‘assimilate’ the remainder. Even into the modern era, Canada supported cultural genocide with the removal of children from homes and local bands for “re-education” in Christian schools.
As much as Canada boasts about its role as a ‘peacemaker’ and an ‘honest broker’ when it comes to international affairs, it is solidly in line with U.S. imperial desires. It supports the U.S. neoliberal order that calls for the falsehood of free trade – free for corporations to ignore local laws and regulations for labor, health, and the environment. It supports U.S. adventurism overseas with the current Saudi Arabian debacle highlighted as Canada sold billions of dollars of military equipment to them for – obviously – their use in war with Yemen and to violently control dissident voices domestically and with their dictatorial neighbors.
Trudeau Represents Canada’s White Privilege
Canada is a country of white privilege with admittedly some whites having more privileges than others. Trudeau is in the upper echelon of this countries privileged.
The tricky part comes back to the current political-social problems represented by those blackface photos. Trudeau grew up in an enormously privileged manner – but consider – without this being an apologetic – that he was so immersed in it that he was truly blind to it. Most whites are and will deny their prejudices without recognizing that the very structures of our society from the local cop up to the top military and political leaders are based on and biased for whites.
Canada as a whole is an ignorant biased society when it comes to indigenous rights, military and financial imperialism, and other aspects of their privilege. Our lifestyles are predicated on the use and abuse of that privilege domestically and around the world. Trudeau, and you (not all of you obviously) and me are all part and parcel of that privilege.
Is Change Possible?
Once understanding the essence of white privilege and its hubris and prejudice, is it possible that an individual can change their emotional responses, their basic humanitarian understanding and responses as well as their overt political and socially acceptable responses? Is it enough to apologize, recognizing the ignorance and prejudice and then move on to constructive actions to remove the reality of white privilege and move towards a more equal environmentally sustainable world?
I cannot answer that, while hoping that the answer is yes. But real change will only come with significant recognition of white societies role in suppressing other people of the world through their military and financial structures.
Domestically Trudeau may be hurt politically and Canada will find out on October 21. While this “globalization” of Trudeau’s problems may seem over-stretched for some, the photos are but a small representation of a worldwide problem. Within Canada, small steps will probably be implemented and some are already in progress. But real change, real action to eliminate (it cannot be ‘reformed’) white privilege encompasses huge areas of necessary actions, from the environment through to the arresting of the imperial military-financial empire as supported by most Canadians and most western whites.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.