Canada’s Maclean’s has a whiteness problem

By Guest Contributor Restructure!, cross-posted from Restructure!

“‘Too Asian’?” was not the first racist Maclean’s article lamenting the quantity of racialized people displacing white people and white power.

In 2006, Maclean’s published “The future belongs to Islam” by Mark Steyn, who assumed that Muslims all over the world were primarily focused on a shared goal of imposing Islamic law globally, and tried to bring to everyone’s attention that the birth rates of Muslim-majority countries were higher than the birth rates of European countries. Steyn also pointed out that although “Africa” has a high birth rate, it is “riddled with AIDS” and “as we saw in Rwanda, [Africans’] primary identity is tribal”. Steyn then invoked a white colonialist narrative by describing Muslim-majority areas as “Indian territory”, “lawless fringes of the map”, and “badlands” that needed to be “brought within the bounds of the ordered world.”

He waxed nostalgically about “the old Indian territory”, when “no one had to worry about the Sioux riding down Fifth Avenue”, “the white man settled the Indian territory”, and “the Injuns had bows and arrows and the cavalry had rifles.” His complaint was that “today’s Indian territory”—i.e., Muslim-majority countries (!)—now have nuclear weapons, and “the fellow from the badlands” can now ride planes and travel quickly. Later, Steyn recounted a story in which some youths in Belgium assaulted a bus passenger, alleging that it was not at all surprising that the youths were “of Moroccan origin.”

In other words, Maclean’s has already published an extremely racist (and Islamophobic) article in the past. Four years later in 2010, Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” article expresses the same fears about an “Asian invasion” and dismay at the increasing numbers of racialized people in relation to white people within a given population. Not only is Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” a repeat of the W5 “Campus Giveaway” program in 1979 that griped about Asians taking up space in Canadian universities, but it is also a repeat of Maclean’s 2006 article that bemoaned the changing of demographics from white to racialized.

While Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” is another manifestation of Canadian society’s stereotypes about and discomfort with Asians, it reveals a larger pattern in which most white people are simply uncomfortable with racialized people gaining power. The underlying issue is white people’s beliefs that the world is just, that the world is just because white people are running it, and that if racialized people take power, the world would fall into disarray. That is, most white people unconsciously internalize the idea of white supremacy. If black people were the largest racialized group in Canadian universities, white people would still complain.

Canadian Muslims in Toronto had filed a Human Rights Complaint against Maclean’s in 2007, because the magazine would not allow them to publish a response to Steyn’s “The future belongs to Islam”. However, because of Islamophobic confirmation bias, the Canadian media and public erroneously assumed that the Muslims were attempting to stifle freedom of speech and debate. Unlike the situation with Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” article, the general public (including most non-Muslim Asian Canadians) was supportive of Maclean’s and feared that the Muslim law students were trying to change Canadian law to follow Islamic law. Against the allegation that Steyn’s article was “flagrantly Islamophobic”, CBC’s Rex Murphy sarcastically replied, “Maclean’s magazine? Well, we all know what a hotbed of radical bigotry and vile prejudice Maclean’s magazine has been. Go away,” while using dramatic pauses and his middle-aged white male demeanour to shroud his logical fallacies in the semblance of wisdom. Sadly, when Canadian Muslims launched the Human Rights Complaint against Maclean’s, it caused an Islamophobic backlash and reaffirmed the Canadian public’s stereotypes of Muslims, despite evidence to the contrary.

Maclean’s fails to recognize the humanity of racialized people when its writers complain about our existence. The “‘Too Asian’?” article in particular fails to recognize our Canadianness and belongingness in Canada. We cannot win when those in power require us to prove our own humanity or Canadianness, because when they debate our belongingness, they question and deny our right to equally participate in the debate. However, what we can do together as racialized people is recognize that this is not a “Muslim problem” or an “Asian problem”, but rather a whiteness problem. Yesterday it was Muslims, today it is Asians, but tomorrow it can be any other racialized group.