The roots of racism, those feelings of fear, resentment, and hate, run very deep in the human psyche. I don't believe anyone, no matter how benevolent or compassionate, remains unscathed. We are all, in one way or another, the victims of racism, whether directly or indirectly, because it poisons our society and generates division, anger, and violence. Those of us who are not racialized, and therefore not the direct victims of racism, are not only made poorer in every way by being in a society that harbours racism, but we also, sometimes unwittingly, have somewhere in ourselves lingering feelings in some aspect of our lives that have been generated by the racist milieu in which we have been raised and continue to live. Racism in our society against Indigenous people, for example, is still openly expressed and tolerated, and I'm not talking here just of the misinformation that so many continue to espouse and spread, but of the straight-up nasty, blatant type.
Many people, I hope the majority, who espouse racist beliefs do so unwittingly by reiterating things that they have heard (by our politicians for example) that are disguised as upright political opinion but are, in the bright light of day, really just veiled racism of one kind or another. Unfortunately, this kind of low-level attempt at disguising racism gains traction in our society, particularly among those who have some deep-seated fear or resentment that has been handed to them in their childhood, a childhood where white privilege was more or less unquestioned. And this back-ground of white privilege is really at the heart of this kind of racism because it is what generates the speciously justified claims that we need to exclude those who somehow don't fit with our "values."
Because straight-up, explicit racism no longer sells very well, it is this exclusionary narrative that is now being used by contemporary politicians. Thus conservative politicians (whether from real conviction or in an effort simply to garner votes from a group of angry whites) generates this narrative of difference and exclusion as a wedge issue that itself (again, whether inadvertently or not) generates real feelings of racism as well as opening the space for more explicit racism to be "legitimately" vocalized. The nuts and bolts of this kind of narrative is one in which politicians essentially tie entire groups with the most outrageous or egregious actions of people within that group. Thus last year when the Harper government was eager to ban certain clothing worn by muslim women, the narrative was not really about the burqa or the niqab, these articles of clothing were simply convenient vehicles for an effort to enflame feelings of fear and division. This effort creates in people's mind an association between some relative innocuous activity by members of a group with the very worst activities undertaken by a few, mostly distant and far-flung members of that group. Harper and his cronies thus victimized a very small group of women (and by extension the entire group) by creating fear of an entire religious and cultural community.
Cut forward to the deeply disturbing actions of Kellie Leitch, MP and now candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Last year when Ms Leitch (along with another deeply objectionable MP Chis Alexander) announced their ill-fated "barbaric cultural practices tip line" she was engaging in precisely this sort of racism-generating associational narrative. Anything that one might have been legitimately reported on such a tip line was already a criminal act and it was therefore a rather explicit attempt at generating fear of the 'other.' Ms Leitch later tearfully recanted her part in this announcement (though she by no means condemned the principle). However, as we all know, Ms Leitch was back this week with her racism part two, another attempt to garner votes by generating fear and loathing. This time Leitch has attempted to generate fear of the entire group of potential immigrants by suggesting that she could vet them based upon some abstract notion of "Canadian Values." The implication here is, of course, that somewhere out there is a large group of potential immigrants who are just waiting to undermine society by bringing in offensive (and potentially violent) beliefs that they will then spread like a poison. I think that it unduly lends credibility to Ms Leitch to take up some in-depth conversation about what exactly are "Canadian Values." One only need consider the fact that Leitch represents a party that very recently opposed equal rights for lesbian and gay citizens, continues to oppose equal rights for transgender people, and did a great deal to undermine women's rights here and abroad. People like Leitch and her ilk want to drag us into a semantic maze of discussion about so-called Canadian values because such a discourse will only further promote the idea that there is a core group of "real" (old-stock?) Canadians on the one hand and a bunch of interlopers on the other who threaten our cultural purity.
It is because racism runs so deep in people's psyche that politicians are able to take advantage of it. And because white privilege has actually begun (very slowly) to whither, the fear felt by many people can be manipulated into racist action. What should be clear, however, is that people like Kellie Leitch by no stretch of the imagination represent the best of what we hope to be. Rather, Leitch represents the mean-spirited, narrow-minded, elitist and racist values that sew division and generate inequality, and will (if we are not very careful) be the real death of our society.