The Goal is Equality, not Revenge

September 1 st 1996

As someone who was immersed in racism when others were immersed in French language instruction, I have been deeply disturbed for some time by the increasingly prevalent trends of turning over every rock in a search for racism; of blaming racism for every leaf that falls; of the mindless use of violence in confronting racism; and of trying to socially engineer the eradication of racism.

The recent controversy at Metro Council is a case in point. The debate over whether Anti-Racist Action, a group of mostly young people supposedly dedicated to eradicating racism should be awarded an $8,000 grant vividly illustrates how questions of racism can be boring, counterproductive, emotional, silly and serious—often all at the same time.

In the past, this group has had a rather violent way of confronting racism which has made many thoughtful people quite uneasy.

In addition, the Canadian Anti-racism Education and Research Society (CARES), the body which was Anti Racist Action's sponsor became legally defunct two years ago.

By itself, this case is not a monument to ignorance. However, it does exemplify the impossible job bureaucrats are faced with in evaluating grant applications. They can't possibly know everything there is to know about a group.

That's why grants should only be given sparingly by governments—if at all. Groups who feel they have a valuable service to offer should be compelled to sell themselves in the marketplace. They should be forced to convince their prospective supporters directly. Gaining indirect public "support" through the tax coffers by taking advantage of some harried, well meaning but ignorant bureaucrat is objectionable.

The virulence of racism should not be trivialized by thoughtless or poorly considered strategies.

Dealing with racism

My awareness of racism and my unmitigated hatred for it began early. Many of my earliest childhood memories are suffused with overt racism—name-calling and social marginalization.

But, I am equally contemptuous of the social engineering schemes touted to deal with racism. Policies like employment equity or others that give preferential treatment to race or gender, which are inherently unjust, simply enrage me.

Our educational and other public institutions need an infusion of stamina to escalate their struggle against these poisonous public policy trends because they are anathema to everything a liberal democratic society stands for.

Our universities especially need to be encouraged and supported to continue the struggle against these politically correct, iniquitous trends because the universities are potentially our best allies.

While the university should be a crucible for vigorous and rigorous debate, that debate should not be confined to the hallowed halls of academia. There must be a public benefit. The knowledge that is available and the deliberations that take place in our universities must be applied and contribute to informed public policy formulation. I hope stories like mine will provide the needed infusion of stamina to re invigorate the opposition to much of the current ideological trendiness.

I was born to parents who did not have much formal education. After immigrating to Canada, my father was, in turn, a student, dishwasher, chef and, later in life, an interpreter in the Old City Hall courts and in immigration hearings. Since he came to Canada at the age of 10, he did not have much formal education in Chinese either.

In Canada, he went to school for a few years and fortunately came under the tutelage of a teacher who drilled him in phonics at her summer cottage (in return for doing chores) so that he developed the ability to read and appreciate reading. Because he subsequently spoke English without an accent, he was able to move a little more freely in mainstream English speaking society—although he was not necessarily always welcomed.

My mother's family, white immigrants from England, disowned her for taking up with a "Chinaman" or "Chink"—derogatory terms not often heard today, at least not publicly!

Not surprisingly, being ostracized by her family and friends had an impact on her because my earliest memories recall numerous arguments about race—about her "mistake" in choosing father. These arguments persisted throughout his life.

Occasionally, when I was old enough, he would take me along when he had to go to court after a police raid on a Chinese gambling den. Often, when my father was out of earshot, (but I wasn't), I would hear snide comments about his "white" wife and "halfbreed" children. These remarks were made by lawyers, police officers and other court officials—people who should have known better.

My father and other Asians could not vote in federal elections until 1948. Despite the adversity and overt racial discrimination, he remained in Canada and became a naturalized citizen.

As I got older and developed a more adult relationship with him, I asked why he would stay here in such an openly hostile, racist environment.

His answer was simple and pragmatic: no matter how bad things were in Canada, circumstances were worse in China—especially after 1949, the end of the Chinese civil war. The racial climate in Canada was improving and bound to continue improving. He also felt you could not blame an entire race of people for the ignorance and weakness of one woman's family, nor could you blame an entire nation for the stupidity and racism exhibited by some of its members since it was the prevailing temper of the times.

It seemed as if he and a handful of friends and relatives sensed the winds of change and elected to remain in Canada. They never regretted it.

To be fair, and to put our lives in context, my father did have white friends and confidants who helped and guided him. Some were also very kind to me.

Equity exploitation

Having grown up in a rather racially charged environment, I had a lot of bottled up anger and hostility which I had channelled into school and sports and other extra curricular activities. However, that wasn't enough to totally extinguish my anger at the injustice that had been openly heaped on my father and the burden it had psychologically imposed on me.

Other aspects of my life reinforced these undeveloped, latent feelings of rage that urged me to lash out—to exact a measure of revenge—against a racist, white-dominated society.

In high school, I came into closer contact with Japanese Canadians than I had before.

I played football and basketball with them and began dating a third generation Japanese Canadian girl, who I eventually married. (Another of life's ironies, considering the vivid Chinese memories of the rape of Nanking and other wartime atrocities.) Their stories of the forced evacuation from the West Coast, the internment camps, the confiscation of property with next to no compensation and the forced separation of families only fuelled my sense of moral outrage.

How could the Canadian government—my government—have repudiated the rights of Canadian citizens—especially those who were Canadian by birth—simply because of mere speculation they might have assisted an enemy invasion?

In sum, I was a prime candidate for policies like employment equity, racial quotas and other social engineering schemes because they exploit our sense of injustice (both past and present) and our desire to be compensated by those who have disadvantaged us or continue to do so.

However, something inside me kept me from wholeheartedly embracing those concepts and strategies. The thought that kept recurring was how I could reconcile what my father and inlaws struggled for and what I was being asked to support.

They never wanted preferential treatment; they only wanted equal treatment.

If my father was able to suffer the indignities and humiliation of being a pariah in his wife's family and adopted country, and my inlaws were able to overcome their adversity and still only demand equal treatment, who am I to demand more? To do so would be a total disavowal and repudiation of everything they stood for and fought for. Today they continue to serve as the model of fortitude and perseverance I revere and attempt to emulate.

And that's why the current ideological trendiness sweeping campuses across North American enrages me.

Demands are being made by groups and by a generation that are not entitled to make them.

These preferential policies, if implemented or sustained where they have already been implemented, are divisive and simply perpetuate the cycle of revenge so evident in the strident rhetoric of some of its advocates. They will further polarize an increasingly polarized society along race and gender lines. In the end, everyone loses.

Will this generation of whites simply take this frontal assault and turn the other cheek or will they devise some means to get even? How will it all end? Must the sins of grandfathers and fathers be visited on their sons?

Institutionalizing race and gender preferences in the present, in a bootless attempt to redress the invidious racism and sexism of the past, is not a remedy worth pursuing.

End the madness

If we are ever to have a strong, united Canada, our generation must end the madness.

The struggle is far from over. Even though Ontario has repealed the Employment Equity Act, the federal government continues to expand the scope of its legislation. Even Metro Council, of which I am a member, recently said in a news release "Employment equity legislation may be history, but not at Metro."

Even more alarming is that the doctrine of "disparate impact," a concept first invoked in the U.S. in the 1960s, surfaced here last year in a case argued in the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

Typically Canadian though, one of the judges renamed it "adverse impact" discrimination just as U.S. "affirmative action" had been renamed "employment equity" for putative Canadian individualism and sensibilities.

This case was raised in a Globe and Mail editorial on March 9 about the scope and limitations of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I quote: "A group of deaf people claimed that the provincial health plan, which covers most medical fees but does not pay for sign language interpreters to accompany the deaf on medical visits, was discriminatory. While the government may not have been actively discriminating, the argument goes, the effect of its inactio/n was to disadvantage the deaf relative to everyone else. Two judges on the panel rejected the argument and the notion that it was the court's business to create new spending programs. One of the judges, however, said that he found this a straightforward case of "adverse impact" discrimination (although he felt that, in tight fiscal times, the government's decision could be saved under Section 1 of the Charter, the reasonable limits clause)."

This case could easily have been about race or gender. It indicates a disturbing emerging trend that follows the well documented pattern established in the U.S.

And that is, when determined doctrinaire activists fail to achieve their objectives through the ballot box, they will run to the courts.

The courts must not be used as legislatures. Only those democratically elected should act as legislators—not people appointed to a judicial bench.

Save us from ourselves

Just as I thought the rage in me had died, it has been re-awakened—this time by those hell bent on saving us from ourselves.

Equally likely though is the unintended consequence of more polarized racial tension aggravated by the outrageous demands of some in the name of anti-racism.

Racism is a serious matter. My upbringing has sufficiently sensitized me to detect and distinguish between the frivolous or less serious accusations of racism and those that merit our attention.

Being referred to as a "half-breed" and being marginalized in one's formative years can tend to sensitize one to the ugliness and virulence of true racism.

"Half-breeds" like me would never be accepted in England or China as we are in Canada.

Canada is the country that provides the greatest hope for acceptance and cultivation of a multiracial society. If we allow the extreme zeal of the social engineers to override our common sense and irreparably polarize our society, that hope will evaporate.

 

Gordon Chong is a Toronto Metro Councillor.

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