The Politics of Race in Oakville

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The Politics of Race in Oakville
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About the Author

Che Marville

Che Marville

Che is the Principal at Che Marville Consulting and the Strategic Advisor for a national senior’s wellness program for Retirement Communities. She was Senior Advisor for Human Resources and Wellbeing for the University Health Network in Toronto. She was the Program Leader and Chair for the first Employee Health and Wellness Center for St Joseph Hamilton Healthcare. She has worked with thousands of health professionals and created multiple programs focused on reducing sick time and absenteeism for Health Professionals in Ontario. She was Co-Founder of the Children’s Own Media Museum Inspired by Marshall McLuhan and Co-Developer of the Clarity Centre for Mindfulness. She started her career as Researcher and Project Manager for the Ontario Science Centre and lead the development of a series of ground breaking exhibitions and programs for sixteen years. She has thirty years of experience in the volunteer sector starting at Toronto Western Hospital in 1983 and has lived in Oakville for thirteen years and is active community member. Recently she ran for provincial office in the spring for Oakville of 2014 and recently she was elected to the Ontario NDP’s executive as Co- Vice president.

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Recently a writer called to ask me to comment on the launch of Ontario’s long promised Anti-Racism Directorate to address discrimination and evidence based disparities in the province.
She asked me a very un-Canadian question.

“What was it like to run as a Black Woman in a privileged white community?”

In Canada we don’t’ talk much about race, not really. Sometimes an event will ignite public outrage, and then only some of us talk about it with in our own groups. It then disappears into the ether.

“What was it like to run as a Black Woman in a privileged white community?”

We take great pride and solace knowing that we live in a relatively integrated and diverse society. Our racial gaze is often fixed on our neighbours in the United States, on their spectacle, their violence, their long unresolved racial history as though we don’t have our own. We have more conversations about the “Oscar So White” debate than Islamaphobia or Carding. We seem unable to have our own unique Canadian conversation on race and are unwilling to deliberately delve into the murky water of the politics of race.

Maybe we are too polite, too uncomfortable, in too much denial, too afraid or perhaps we just don’t know how to really begin. Even in the midst of our own potent examples: the backdrop of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Findings, Carding, the over representation of First Nations and Afro Canadians in our prisons, and the Niqab firestorm. Incredibly, we can still act as though race is not a legitimate topic for public dialogue; and yet it is there. Always, it seems to be someone else’s problem.

I answered the question with a question of my own. “Would you ask a white male politician what it was like to run as a white man in a privileged white community?”

“No I wouldn’t because that is not the anomaly,” she replied.

Therein lies the rub. I appreciated her directness. She is an American. The question was coming from her frame of reference. Maybe more frank than we are used to in Canada. But if we only ask people of colour about the impact of race, how do we evolve into something more diverse and compassionate?

“Would you ask a white male politician what it was like to run as a white man in a privileged white community?”

Often, Canadian politicians remain silent on the matter of race. Some attribute this to fear and the culture of political correctness. Sadly, it has far more to do with a profound lack of awareness, imagination combined with a desire not to rock the boat. Political strategic calculation does not allow for fierce and courageous conversations with diverse people at the same table.

The curious thing is that in spite of our historical knowledge and shared desire for a more equal society, one where race has no bearing, we seem to always come back to the paradigms and definitions that we are familiar with. Questions of race only seem to be directed to people of colour and “whiteness” seems to mean the right to be an individual. Some call this white privilege and some reject this assertion because they don’t’ see the silent advantages. The advantage means the absence or prejudice based on race or the lack of institutional scrutiny or the absence of the assumption of wrong doing. It is only an advantage in a culture that passively classifies all sentient beings into a socially constructed hierarchy, which keeps us separate from one another on the basis of appearance, and then attributes value to that appearance.

I did not run as… I ran because I believe in the community that I live in and wanted to represent that community. I ran because there is a great deal of economic suffering that is silent in Oakville such as the many forgotten homeless men, impoverished senior women, low waged factory workers and caregivers, lost and excluded immigrants, mothers and children living in poverty, individuals struggling with unaffordable housing and countless jobless men and women. I know this well because many of those people came into my campaign office on a daily basis looking for respite or called for help.

During both of my campaigns I often heard this question, “why don’t you run where you can really represent the population? – you know, somewhere you could win.”

“Where might that be?” I would ask. The answer was always: “Scarborough, Brampton, or Mississauga!”



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Readers Comments (2)

  1. John McLaughlin says:

    I have always believed that people are in fact equal – what is unequal is how they are treated – but that should not diminish their equality.

    I have suffered discrimination on a number of basis during my career, age, ethnicity, religious belief and even gender.

    Inequality is unacceptable.

    • Che says:

      Good Morning John-I agree with you brother!


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