A recently distributed version of Global Affairs’s training guide for Canadian diplomats explicitly focuses on anti-racism through a critical race theory lens. The theory believes that race is salient and is the axis on which all other things function. It's a notably different approach compared to similar material in the past, which focused on understanding and accommodating multiculturalism.
Kathy Hogarth is a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Waterloo, with a focus on critical race, racism and equity in Canada and international contexts. She says this approach based in critical race theory is crucial in order for things to be different moving forward.
“What we’ve been doing is saying race is important but it’s not the pivot, it’s not front and centre, so we never get to call race on any issue,” she tells Yahoo Canada News. “Race becomes something that is a maybe. Critical race theory says no, let us centralize race. Understand it as the pivot in which all things move. When we take that approach, it causes us to look at things in a different way.”
'Myths and Facts' about racism covered in training
The booklet is divided into several sections: Myths and Facts, a lexicon of terms to know, which includes words like “ally”, “microaggression” and “whiteness”, a first-person testimonial from a biracial deputy minister arguing a National Post columnist’s claim that Canada isn’t a racist country, and a presentation on challenging racism in the workplace.
One of the myths addressed in the training material states: “Myth #1 Reverse racism exists, BIPOC can be racists towards white people.” Some critics took issue with the point that it implies if you aren’t white, then you can’t be racist.
Hogarth says while racist ideologies can be held by anyone regardless of colour, this is a matter of dividing words, since racism is associated with power.
“A lot of white people will say ‘I don’t have power so I can’t be racist,’” she explains “What we’re talking about isn’t your individual power, it’s the power associated with your grouping. In the world globally, whiteness is expressed as the power holder, the dominant. It’s that attribution to whiteness that allows us to understand racism. Within racial groupings, that power element is non-existent.”
Another critic took issue with a point in the guide that states “Perfectionism” and “worship of the written word” are identified as markers of white supremacy.
Hogarth says this decontextualized some elements, which is dangerous.
“One of the things we say when doing this work is give yourself permission for an imperfect practice,” she says. “What perfectionism does is that it excuses our behaviour. ‘I cannot be perfect, therefore I will not be anti-racist.’ That’s the context of it. Perfectionism can’t be used as an excuse for inaction and anti-racism.”
A representative for Global Affairs could not be reached for comment.
Hogarth says Ottawa’s new approach to addressing anti-racism is necessary, because if you aren’t antiracist you’re complicit.
“Neutrality isn’t an option in dismantling systems of racism,” she says. “We’re either dismantling it or building it. We’re either anti-racists or we’re supporting a racist system.”