Will denouncing “white privilege” and “formal apologies” make us more equal?

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By Sabrina Almeida

There is a growing movement to denounce white privilege. In the hope that it will be a magic balm to end racism, even radicalism perhaps. After all don’t most if not all terrorists blame their misfortunes on the evil white culture that threatens to destroy their pristine traditions?

And these days it seems like most whites, at least the influential ones, have taken that to heart. Believing they must now openly shun their civilization in atonement. Simply put, apologize for being ‘white’.

From Donald Sutherland to Michael Moore and a teacher-group workshop on re-thinking white privilege, the fair skinned race is being encouraged to revisit their advantaged status and its negative impact on all non-white people. Especially those that have willingly ventured into Western domains. Knowing what was in store…

I recall the jokes of “second-class citizens” being thrown around every time someone in India said they were emigrating. In fact, most of us have sworn never to leave the motherland at some point in our lives… but here we are. Now fighting to prove we are equal in the white man’s land.

While there is no denying racism resulted in the marginalization of coloured people over the centuries, is shaming white history and culture today, the best way forward?

Is it not perpetuating racism of a different form? With whites now on the receiving end!

To make the white race feel ashamed and apologetic of their heritage is hardly the ideal way to empower those that were or are ostracized and sidelined. For some, it creates an sense of entitlement. Or worse still, becomes a crutch for laziness, ineptitude and closed-mindedness.

I am reminded of one of my son’s elementary teachers who did not commend students on scoring high marks because it would hurt those without similar aptitude. An insinuation that top performers had an ‘unfair’ advantage which they should keep under wraps.

While society strives to right the wrongs and rid itself of the evils of racism and misogyny, there is a strong belief that all men and white people must atone for the sins of previous generations.
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Unfortunately, many young people are being indoctrinated with this ideology which has gained momentum with Trump’s rhetoric against immigration, refugees and certain communities. Not to forget his sexual escapades laid bare during the presidential campaign.

Engulfed in a culture of apology, the white Western world believes it must ‘formally’ express regret for events that occurred even a century ago. So, white men should apologize to women for they inequalities they have suffered in their personal, social and professional lives. Similarly, straight people must show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer rights with a formal apology for the atrocities caused by ignorance and fear. And Pope Francis too must apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system which was designed to “kill the Indian in the child”.

In the meanwhile, former PM Harper already expressed the nation’s regrets to former students of the Indian residential schools as well as for the racist Chinese head tax. PM Trudeau also rose to the occasion with his formal apology for the Komagata Maru incident in 1914, in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers were denied entry to Canada and forced to return to a violent fate in India.

But the real question here is where these apologies offer any positive reinforcements for the victimized groups to improve their economic and social status. Or whether it now makes them the “privileged” ones ready to use to racial card to extort their position. So no white clubs please! But brown, black and any other colour is most welcome.

It is ironic that many South Asians decry colonists for attempting to destroy their country’s fabric, even have difficulty swearing allegiance to the queen as newly-minted Canadian citizens. Yet, have no qualms about trying to carve Canada into little colonies of the countries we left behind. Quite forgetting that we happily imitated Western ways to show we were a cut above the rest while in the home country.

Perhaps it is we, the non-whites, that have identity issues! How can apologies fix that?

Comments: 1

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  1. Very well written thought-provoking article Sabrina. I absolutely endorse a lot of the sentiments expressed. The conversation needs to relentlessly focus on bridging divides (accompanied by concrete and timely actions) not creating new divides with constant apologies. Canada has done better than most other countries but we can see from some of the events happening in other countries how being too “lenient” and, dare I say it, mis-guided, with accommodating extreme beliefs can actually work in some cases with tragic outcomes against the progressive needs that drive immigration to western society.