Racist discourse – from ‘we’ to ‘they’

By Gerald V. Paul

The current construct by the neo-cons (Reform- / Heritage-rooted political thought police) is being used as a wedge issue – it’s not the economy, stupid.

It’s about Muslim head gear and safety in a dictatorship, oops, democracy and the question becomes, is this something new or have we, as Canadians, been down this road before?

Right mainstream media? Time to fess up, since confession is good for the soul, methinks.

Let’s look beyond radicalization to racialization – “us” and “them”.

You see, Eyesers, images created by editors and journalists have enormous strength, power and resilience. When minorities have no power to control, resist, produce or disseminate other real and more positive images in the public domain, these images and generalizations increase their vulnerability in terms of cultural, social, economic and political participation in the mainstream of Canadian society.

Eyesers, let’s have a look at a Canadian Race Relations Foundation publication, the March 2000 report by Dr. Frances Henry and Carol Tator. They worked on the frontlines of the anti-racism and equity movement for over 35 years. Among their seminal work is The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society.

Studies demonstrate the print media, in general, produce a negative view of people of colour. The racializing crime was alive and well more than 100 years ago – be it Muslims, Asians or Blacks and “others”.

“No more chicken dinners or watermelon feeds for …” was a headline in the Hamilton Spectator on Aug. 26, 1909, while “Negro thieves given stiff sentences” ran in the Windsor Evening Record on Oct. 20, 1912.

The rhetoric of othering in the media and elsewhere dehumanizes and diminishes groups, making it easier for victimizers to exert control while minimizing complicating emotions of guilt and shame.

The authors reveal that fragmentation into “we” and “they” groups is pervasive in the media, framed in the context of an examination of the relative values and norms of the majority versus minority populations.

The ubiquitous ‘we” represents the white dominant culture of organization (newspaper, police, school, workplace); “they” refers to communities who are the “other”, possessing different” (undesirable) values, beliefs and norms.

“We” are law-abiding, hardworking, decent and homogeneous. “We” are the real Canadians – as depicted in Canje, Guyana- born writer Cyril Dabydeen’s 1994 Citizenship is More than a Birthright (Toronto Star, Sept. 20).  The “theys” are very different and therefore undeserving. Those marked as “other” are viewed as outside the boundaries of Canadian national identity (Lord, have mercy).

Indeed, Eyerses, the discourse of “otherness” is supported by stereotypical images embedded in the fabric of the dominant culture (the arts, advertising, radio and TV, school, etc.), and reinforced by print media.

It’s a face that Eurocentric constructions of Muslim as others provided a seemingly endless series of biased depictions of Muslim for centuries.

A 1998 study using critical discourse analysis examines how the primary stereotypes of particular cultures’ core images and beliefs can be generated. Although the study does not deal specifically with Canadian media, the analysis provides an important framework for those wishing to deconstruct the strategies that create and sustain a structure of power and inequality.

Another study analyzed the social construction of the concept of tolerance in the Canadian print media. Through content analysis, the study looked at 11 Canadian newspapers and identified how in each a minimalist approach to tolerance of minority groups serves as an ideological discourse and rhetorical strategy to avoid dealing with the issue of unequal relations and racism in Canada.

Their analysis suggests social relations of power are embedded in the news values, professional standards and practices of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ They also identify how the news media express white, hegemonic ideological viewpoints and establish the boundaries of public discourse to conform to the range of interests acceptable to hegemonic groups.

Yes, neo-cons, we have been down this politically driven road before. As the “other” former U.S. president Bill Clinton said: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

So, mainstream media, as you read the tea leaves on the political landscape of radicalization, racialization and dissemination of the news, consider this: through whose eyes?

Gerald V. Paul
Gerald V. Paul