Saturday, August 18, 2012

As Canadian looking as possible (under the circumstances)

"The Bank of Canada said its policies are to avoid depicting any specific ethnic group in such designs." - Globe and Mail, August 17, 2012

My responses to this story came in waves that were short and choppy and just piled on to each other:
  • The notion that "whiteness is neutral" is a form of racism but it's largely not recognized as such  because there's no 'hate' involved.
  • The flip side of 'whiteness is normal' is that non-white is other.
  • To say that someone who "looks Asian" does not "look Canadian" is blatantly racist. Most Canadians know this and so they rationalize their racism in other ways. I wonder if those focus group participants who felt that having an Asian woman in a lab coat was problematic because it was stereotypical were concern trolls
  • Women are still are not a numbers that they should be in science, technology and engineering. So, for me, I think of the Asian female scientist as an aspirational image and not a stereotypical one
  • Most Asian women I know are not scientists
  • Still, I find stereotypical images more honest than anti-sterotypical images
  • I'm bewildered by people who seem to make no categorical difference between those who have recently immigrated to Canada and those who are the children and the children's children of immigrants to Canada. Yes, we look the same. But we are not the same. The erased Asian woman could have been a third generation Canadian.
  • Can a visible minority ever "represent" the majority?
  • If a visible minority can never represent the majority, they will be invisible. Forever.
  • In Toronto, the Asian woman was seen positively because those citizens feel their identity is multicultural and so they saw themselves in that Asian woman.
  • I love you Toronto.
  • I'm very glad that this story came to light because it allows us to have conversations about national identity and race. These stories are few and far between because Canadian don't tend to be open and honest about our ideas and feelings around race. The last story that I can remember that came closest was from a couple years ago was the story from Maclean's about how some universities (well, namely the University of Toronto) are seen as "too Asian."
  • The story came to light because the Canadian Press filed an Access to Information request.
  • If the Queen of England - a living, breathing, symbol unto herself, can be represented by Adrienne Clarkson, then I see no reason why a Canadian scientist can't be represented by an "Asian-looking" woman. (Also, Queen Elizabeth? Not Canadian!)
  • While I understand why the Bank of Canada held focus groups to get an understanding if their designs would be widely enjoyed by the Canadian public, I am disturbed that it chose to respond the way they did. Currency is, in essence, symbolism. Why would the Bank of Canada outsource the rationale to set a design standard to random Canadians? And when these random Canadians said racist things, why didn't they just ignore them?
  • When I read the comment from the person from Fredricton ("The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t rep(resent) Canada. It is fairly ugly.”), I immediately thought of this passage from a book I'm reading by Richard Sennett called Together:

    "For much of my sociological life I've studied what our trade calls ressentiment, the feeling of ordinary people that the elite does not know much about their own problems first-hand, even though presuming to speak on their behalf. In the families of white, working-class Americans I studied in Boston, ressentiment appeared to cross class with race. The liberal elite identified with poor blacks but not with these white workers, many of whom were indeed racially prejudiced at the time.... in Europe, ressentiment appears particularly in attitudes of native workers to Islamic immigrants The elite seems on the side of the oppressed, but not on the side of the ordinary."
  • We will never know the real reason why the design was changed. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would start ranting that the government is committed not to offend Quebec between and during Federal elections. Since I'm not, I will opt for the more boring theory that the Bank of Canada simply went with the most boring and least controversial design on hand. That's what focus groups are for: to create bland and inoffensive designs
  • To be Canadian is to be boring
  • That's why I'm glad I look like an Asian woman

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