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How conversational would a ‘conversation on race’ be?

Prince Arthur Herald, 06 December 2013


CBC The National’s “Three to Watch” segment on December 1st included a discussion on the disproportionate imprisonment of minorities, and particularly the overrepresentation of black and Aboriginal people, in Canadian jails. In his speaking time, regular panelist David Simmonds reacted to the issue by stating that we need to have a “big conversation on race” in this country. Encouragingly, Simmonds blamed political correctness for preventing such a conversation, and said that prominent newspapers should be able to address the issue unfettered in their commentary pages, without the fear of PC-backlash that presently exists.

In principle, Mr. Simmonds is more than right, and it is refreshing to see someone from the political left finally acknowledge the stifling effect of political correctness on public discourse. I’m sceptical, however, at how open someone of his persuasion would be to a real conversation, especially if it includes people who don’t share his starting assumptions about race.

On the same program, Simmonds identified himself as a proponent of “diversity and inclusiveness”. These words are invariably code for not just a concrete political program – multiculturalism, essentially – but also an ethos surrounding all social issues with a relationship to race and minorities. This ethos stipulates, in absolute terms, that social disparities along perceived racial lines must be the result of animus held by white people who control the system, even when direct evidence of stereotyping or racial profiling does not exist. When challenged to provide concrete examples in such cases, proponents of “diversity and inclusiveness” say that there is systematic or underlying discrimination at work, making their argument unfalsifiable but still powerful, given our culture’s just sensitivity to racial prejudice.

Even the narrower topic of prison demographics seems to be prematurely slanted in favour of the above interpretation. Simmonds and fellow panelist Adam Goldenberg agreed, for instance, that a major reason for the present disparity is “over policing” in areas populated by minorities – a state of affairs presumed to be animated by nothing short of blanket racism. Recounting his time lived in Nunavut, Mr Goldenberg described the North as having an “intense” police presence, which burdens convicted criminals with the prospect of apprehension when committing more crimes. In such cases, Goldenberg suggested, the offenders are made to violate the terms of their probation and go back to jail.

The logic of this, I suppose, is that if the place were less policed the crimes would not be observed, and the perpetrators would not therefore be caught. Then there would be fewer Aboriginals in jail and society could therefore be deemed more “equal” by liberal bean counters.

Goldenberg then made an even stronger claim: “If Rob Ford were Aboriginal, people wouldn’t be telling him to get help, we’d be throwing him in jail. That’s just a fact that, though it’s shocking, isn’t actually surprising.”

A “fact” supported by what evidence, exactly? Just how many Aboriginal mayors of Toronto, or other major cities, have been jailed for smoking crack cocaine? Or was Goldenberg misusing Ford, an exceptional figure by any standard, as a representative for all members of the majority? Talk of stereotyping!

According to the narrative, “white people” – a term that, when you consider the immense breadth of its scope, is nearly meaningless – think that everyone with dark skin is a criminal, and they “overpolice” where dark-skinned people live to reify what they already think about them. “Overpolicing” has the strange effect of apprehending more criminals, but since these criminals are not “white”, it must be the fault of the police and the bigoted people who employ them, not the criminals. Right?

Setting aside how demeaning this is to minority people who do not commit crimes (who, by the way, benefit from policing because it is usually they who are the victims), what this interpretation misses is the reason for which a greater police presence is sought in these areas in first place: namely, because more illegal activities take place there. To believe the contrary amounts to putting the cart before the horse. A horse-lead cart would show that minorities constitute a disproportionate percentage of the prison population because they commit a disproportionate amount of the crime. If it were the reverse, as the multiculties want us to believe, we’d be dealing with one of the biggest conspiracies in history, involving every conscious participant in the criminal justice system, all to the end of continuing the misery of persons of colour. And for what?

We can, and should, debate the reasons for which more crime is committed by minorities, including the possibility that failing public institutions such as education have affected minorities more than the majority, thus deterring fewer minority people from a life of crime. This would no doubt be a great starting point for the big conversation on race that we’re supposed to be having. But how can this conversation occur when the dominant political viewpoint in Canada takes the multicultural account as a matter of faith? For them, accepting that there is a relationship between the demographics of prisons and the demographics of criminal action is impossible because it doesn’t lead to the desired conclusion.

The reality is that the dominant narrative about minorities and crime, which sacrifices all notions of free choice and responsibility to the doctrine of nebulous racial determinism, could not survive a real conversation. That view is so imbued with raw emotion and antirational moral posturing that a real conversation would expose it as fraudulent. For people who share this opinion, what sense is there in promoting a real debate?

Furthermore, my scepticism is supported by a recent empirical case. In the United States, calls for a “real conversation about race” surfaced during the affair of Trayvon Martin. Attorney General Eric Holder made such an appeal in the political brouhaha that was the trial of George Zimmerman. Liberal publications applauded Holder’s stance, agreeing that such a conversation was necessary, yet went straight back to insinuating that their political opponents on the issue were motivated by racism. Apparently, “real conversation” is yet another misleading phrase, which actually means more airtime for people who take the politically-correct view, and more abuse for those who disagree.

I apologize in advance if I’m wrong about David Simmonds. But if he is serious about promoting a real conversation on race, he and his co-thinkers need to actually consider the arguments of their opponents, including ones who share none of their beliefs on the subject. I’ll believe it when I see it.





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Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com