A Conservative Case for Identity Politics – The New York Times

Jon A. Shields, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, makes a convincing argument:

How should professors respond to the trend of identity politics that is now roiling American college campuses? Although I am a conservative professor, I recommend making a concession to it by explicitly assigning writers of different races and social backgrounds. Let me explain.

When I was in college, I took a class in logic. There I learned that one should never reject an argument because of the characteristics of the person making it. Instead, one should assess the argument itself on its rational merits. And while I agree that the power of an argument should not depend on the person making it, nonetheless, it does.

I learned that lesson during my first year as a visiting professor at Cornell University. I taught a course on American evangelicals, which attracted a mix of secular and religious students. When we discussed “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” a 1994 book by Mark A. Noll about anti-intellectualism in the evangelical tradition, my evangelical students were critical of it. But they were willing to take the book’s thesis seriously because the author was an evangelical.

Perhaps Mr. Noll’s identity shouldn’t have mattered. His historical evidence and the power of his arguments would be worth considering even if he were Catholic, Jewish or secular. But his identity did matter. It mattered because my evangelical students could not simply assume bad faith on the author’s part. They knew Mr. Noll cared about evangelicals as a group of people. Instead of dismissing Mr. Noll as a bigot, my students thoughtfully engaged with his work.

Since then, I have taken identity into account every time I have assigned new books for one of my courses. I currently teach a course called Black Intellectuals, which is focused on debates around racial inequality in the post-civil rights era. It tends to attract progressive students who, in analyzing racial inequality, are drawn to arguments that stress structural obstacles to equality and the enduring power of white racism, especially in our criminal justice system. The course features black authors who do defend that view, but I also teach the work of others who depart from it in some measure, including heterodox thinkers like Thomas Chatterton Williams and conservatives like Jason Riley. Much like my conservative evangelical students at Cornell, my progressive students at Claremont McKenna College are less likely to assume these contrarian black thinkers are acting in bad faith or are motivated by bigotry — even when the thinkers criticize hip-hop culture or defend white police officers. So the students engage the challenging arguments and ideas instead.

As conservatives have long observed and psychologists have since confirmed, human beings are hive-minded animals whose moral judgments are shaped more by sentiments than by reason. Thus, when we are confronted by arguments we disagree with, we can easily find reasons to reject them. The search for disconfirming evidence, however, can sometimes be short-circuited, especially when we feel close to the person making an argument we disagree with. As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt concluded in his 2012 book, “The Righteous Mind,” if we have “affection, admiration, or desire to please” other people, we lean toward them and attempt to “find the truth” in their arguments. Social proximity matters.

If we want our students to consider the work of authors they’re inclined to disagree with, we professors must take the identity of those authors into account. This doesn’t mean scrubbing all white men from our syllabuses. But when we design an education for our students, we should remember that humans are partial, tribal beings — not rational automatons.

Some readers — especially those on the right — may suspect that embracing identity in this way will only embolden campus radicals. But that objection ignores an important truth: Practicing the new identity politics in the right way can subvert the dogmas that drive its excesses. When students read books by a broad intellectual range of evangelical or female or black authors, for example, they learn that there is no single evangelical or female or black perspective. Disagreements about ideas transcend these social categories.

The left has often placed too much faith in the power of human reason. Conservatives make the same error when they insist that the identities of intellectuals should never matter. The fact is, they do. And they would, even absent new movements on campus.

via A Conservative Case for Identity Politics – The New York Times


‘Racial Impostor Syndrome’: Here Are Your Stories

Have just included a few of the mixed identity anecdotes but as mixed union rates increase, more people will be grappling with these identity issues:

It’s tricky to nail down exactly what makes someone feel like a “racial impostor.” For one Code Switch follower, it’s the feeling she gets from whipping out “broken but strangely colloquial Arabic” in front of other Middle Easterners.

For another — a white-passing, Native American woman — it’s being treated like “just another tourist” when she shows up at powwows. And one woman described watching her white, black and Korean-American toddler bump along to the new Kendrick and wondering, “Is this allowed?”

In this week’s podcast, we go deep into what we’re calling Racial Impostor Syndrome — the feeling, the science and a giant festival this weekend in Los Angeles that’s, in some ways, all about this.

She asked, “Do you hear from other listeners who feel like fakes?”

Good question. So we took it to our audience, and what we heard back was a resounding “yes.”

We got 127 emails from people who are stumbling through that dark, racially ambiguous forest. (And yes, we read every single one.)

Here are excerpts drawn from a few of the many letters that made us laugh, cry and argue — and that guided this week’s episode.

Let’s start with Angie Yingst of Pennsylvania:

“My mother is a Panamanian immigrant and my father is a white guy from Pennsylvania. I’ve always felt liminal, like I drift between race and culture. When I was young (20s) and living in the city, I would get asked multiple times a day where I was from, where my people were from, because Allentown, Pennsylvania, clearly wasn’t the answer they were looking for … It always felt like the undercurrent of that question was, ‘You aren’t white, but you aren’t black. What are you?’

“But truthfully, I don’t feel like I fit with Latinas either. My Spanish is atrocious and I grew up in rural PA. Even my cousin said a few weeks ago, ‘Well, you aren’t really Spanish, because your dad is white.’ Which gutted me, truly. I identify as Latina. I identify with my mother’s culture and country as well as American culture. In shops, I’m treated like every other Latina, followed around, then ignored at the counter. I married a white guy and had children who are blonde and blue eyed, and I’m frequently asked if I’m the nanny or babysitter. And white acquaintances often say, ‘You are white. You act white.’ And I saltily retort, ‘Why? Because I’m not doing your lawn, or taking care of your kids? You need to broaden your idea of what Latina means.’ ”

Jen Boggs of Hawaii says she often feels like a racial impostor, but isn’t quite sure which race she’s faking:

“I was born in the Philippines and moved to Hawaii when I was three. … I grew up thinking that I was half-Filipina and half-white, under the impression that my mom’s first husband was my biological father. I embraced this ‘hapa-haole’ identity (as they say in Hawaii), and loved my ethnic ambiguity. My mom wanted me to speak perfect English, so never spoke anything but to me. After she divorced her first husband and re-married my stepdad from Michigan, my whiteness became cemented.

“Except. As it turns out, my biological father was a Filipino man whom I’ve never met. I didn’t find out until I tried to apply for a passport in my late twenties and the truth came out. So, at age 28 I learned that I was not half white but all Filipina. …

“This new knowledge was a huge blow to my identity and, admittedly, to my self esteem. ‘But I’m white,’ I remember thinking. ‘I’m so so white.’ After much therapy, I’m happy and comfortable in my brown skin, though I’m still working out how others perceive me as this Other, Asian person.”

Source: ‘Racial Impostor Syndrome’: Here Are Your Stories

Are white Canadians becoming conscious of their whiteness? – Terry Glavin

Good long read by Glavin.

While the survey results are interesting, how the questions are posed changes the response. Statistics Canada has grappled over the years with how to formulate its ethnic origin question, with the current version being: “What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person’s ancestors?” with the following examples and clarification provided:

An ancestor is usually more distant than a grandparent [ordered by frequency of last Census/NHS].

For example, Canadian, English, Chinese, French, East Indian, Italian, German, Scottish, Cree, Mi’kmaq, Salish, Métis, Inuit, Filipino, Irish, Dutch, Ukrainian, Polish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Korean, Jamaican, Greek, Iranian, Lebanese, Mexican, Somali, Colombian, etc.

The “race” question is the visible minority one, where Glavin is correct that non-visible minorities are by definition white (and very useful in comparing outcomes by minority groups and the “white” majority (which of course are composed of a variety of European ancestries). So in practice, the Census allows people to identify themselves within the majority European origins (the earlier waves of immigrants) and visible minority origins (the last 40 years or so).

Both ethnic ancestry and visible minority can be used to indicate variation in economic and social outcomes (e.g., those of South European ethnic origin have poorer economic outcomes than North European origins).

But his fundamental questions regarding a strengthening “white” identity and its implications are worthy as is his point that debating over terminology (e.g., visible minority, people of colour, radicalized communities) will not address underlying inequality issues (and may, IMO, divert attention to these more substantive issues):

In a McAllister Opinion Research survey of Americans and Canadians carried out this month, Americans are twice as willing—41 per cent of them—to identify “white” as their ethnicity. If you include the response “Caucasian,” a peculiar 18th Century term that also means “white,” the proportion of Americans who identify their ethnicity by these terms rises to 54 per cent (the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that “Non Hispanic whites” made up 64 per cent of the American population in 2010).

In the McAllister survey, only 20 per cent of Canadians identified “white” as their ethnicity, and if you add in “Caucasian,” only 30 per cent of us identify in that way. Contrast that with Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, which identifies 80 per cent of us as white people (more precisely, StatsCan identified 26,587,570 of Canada’s 32,852,325 non-Indigenous people as “Not a Visible Minority”).

So where did all the white people go?

“It is weird,” Angus McAllister, the survey firm’s director, told me. “What it shows for sure is that Americans are way more obsessed with race than Canadians are.”

The McAllister survey was undertaken from August 13 to August 20—the immediate aftermath of the white-supremacist outrage in Charlottesville, Virginia. The ugly spectacle of marching Nazis and hooded Ku Klux Klansmen sent a great many Americans into paroxysms of alarm. Their despair was compounded by the gleeful allegiance the worst of Charlottesville’s racists pledged to President Trump, and by Trump giving every impression of being content with it. Canadians responded in unanimous revulsion.

McAllister polled a sample of 1,025 Canadians, leaving an error margin of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The American sample of 835 Americans falls within an error margin of plus of minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

A couple of other points: McAllister, 56, is a good friend. He’s also Japanese, or “mixed,” or whatever the circumstances demand of him, as he puts it. He’s no stranger to the nuances and ambiguities that tend to get papered over in fashionable uproars about race and identity.

What worries McAllister is something in the survey results’ granular details that is only hinted at in copycat Canadian iterations of far-right American pseudo-journalism, and in the mimicry at work in transgressive Canadian school-renaming and statue-toppling shouting matches. Over time, we’re becoming more like Americans. Or at least some of us are.

Older, well-educated Canadian respondents in McAllister’s survey were the least likely to claim “white” as an ethnic identity. Among Canadians older than 65 with only a university education, only eight per cent identified as white. Among Canadians in that same age bracket with only a high school education, 28 per cent identified as white.

Among Canadians under the age of 45 with a university education, 19 per cent identified as white—the national average. Among Canadians in that age group with only a high school education, 38 per cent claimed a white ethnicity —a proportion that tracks closest to the overall American average.

It’s not as though there’s a large bloc of Canadians who are becoming racists, McAllister cautions. The pull of the American cultural orbit and the mania for “identity politics” have a lot to do with it. An overweening preoccupation with race and ethnicity as identity markers can only exacerbate an unhealthy trend that over time will inevitably expand the number of Canadians who identify as “white.”

Before we were Canadians, the colonial settlers of British North America were British and French. “White” only rarely came into the conversation, and the emancipation of “multiculturalism” allowed the rest of us to find a way to identify with the Canadian mainstream.

We all became used to identifying ourselves as “hyphenated” Canadians, or just Canadians. But unlike people lumped into the Visible Minority category, European immigrants lose their hyphenated old-country identities more easily as each generation supplants its predecessor. Eventually, people who fall within Statistics Canada’s cumbersome Not a Visible Minority category are gradually left with only “white” as an ethnic identity.

In the United States, where “whiteness” makes most sense in the context of slavery, the generational pattern appears to have stalled. To be “white” in America – a political category that began mainly with Englishmen and gradually enveloped other groups, like the Irish, the Italians and the Jews – is to be “not Black.” It is to perpetually hover above the status of the slave, sometimes to the point of perpetuating black slavery by other means.

Among McAllister’s American survey respondents under the age of 45, roughly 45 per cent identified themselves as white. Among Americans 45 years old or older, 60 per cent identified as white.

North of the border, Statistics Canada’s awkward Not a Visible Minority Category works well enough as a signifier for people with comparatively pale complexions, but practically nothing else. It unhelpfully tends to associate “white” privileges and advantages with people whose only commonality is low skin pigmentation.

In small-town Canada, for instance, second and third-generation “white” boys tend to education and income levels far below the prospects for urban, first-generation immigrants in the Visible Minority category. Those rural white boys will all tend to enter the Canadian group in McAllister’s survey who are most likely to identify their ethnicity as “white.”

Even more absurdly, the Not a Visible Minority category is the just the flipside of a classification the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers to be quite possibly racist. Intended to protect and advance disadvantaged ethnic and racial minorities along with women, Indigenous people and disabled people, it isn’t working out that way.

For one thing, the term Visible Minority “seemed to somehow indicate that ‘whiteness’ was the standard, all others differing from that being visible,” as the UN Committee’s Patrick Thornbury puts it. For another, the category’s sweeping imprecision is liable to erect more systemic barriers against genuinely marginalized minority groups.

Canadians who have been getting shoehorned into Visible Minority status since the 1980s are by no means uniformly disadvantaged. They never were. East Asians tend towards income and education levels that exceed the Canadian average, for instance, while African-Canadian men face severe disadvantages and marginalization across the board.

The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination first pointed out these contradictions in an assessment of Canada’s Employment Equity Act a decade ago. In the attempt to bring Canada in line with the UN Committee’s criticisms, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government worked itself into a tizzy of professor-quizzing, workshop-convening and province-consulting, but ended up deciding to leave things as they were. It’s only now that Ottawa is revisiting the matter.

Statistics Canada is taking a lead role in the effort, examining ways to disaggregate data on visible-minority equality indicators like employment rates and income levels. This is long overdue, and mimicking the American custom by simply amending the nomenclature from “visible minority” to “people of colour” or “racialized communities” won’t do.

Over the past decade, in the language of common speech, the term “Indigenous” has almost thoroughly displaced “Aboriginal” to describe Canada’s constitutionally-described Indians, Metis and Inuit peoples. But these same peoples continue to suffer the most vicious extremes of poverty, outrageously high incarceration rates, the most disgraceful levels child suicide, joblessness, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Thinking and speaking more carefully about racism is vital to the purposes of basic civic hygiene in Canada. Mimicking the most dysfunctional American cultural habits will not heal any wounds, and neither will flattering ourselves with proverbs about the strengths to be found in diversity. Being “white,” out of either pride or shame, either as a boast or as a confession, will only wound us all.

Source: Are white Canadians becoming conscious of their whiteness? – Macleans.ca

I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out. – Bruni, The New York Times

Good thoughtful piece by Frank Bruni on the risks of a reductionist approach to identity to inclusion and integration:

Mark Lilla, a Columbia University professor, got a big, bitter taste of this late last year when he wrote, in The Times, about the presidential election and “identity politics,” which, he argued, had hurt the Democratic Party. He maintained that too intense a focus on each minority group’s discrete persecution comes at the expense of a larger, unifying vision.

Many people disagreed. Good. But what too many took issue with was, well, his identity. “White men: stop telling me about my experiences!” someone later scrawled on a poster that was put up to advertise a talk, “Identity Is Not Politics,” that he gave at Wellesley College.

“But I wasn’t talking about their experience or my experience,” Lilla pointed out when I spoke with him recently. “I was talking about an issue.”

In a new book coming out this week, “The Once and Future Liberal,” he asserts that “classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means that there is no impartial space for dialogue. White men have one ‘epistemology,’ black women have another. So what remains to be said?”

And where are the bridges?

Race, gender, sexual orientation, class: All of this informs — and very often warps — how we see the world. And for much too long, this country’s narrative has been scripted by white men, who have also dominated its stage and made its rules. Our advantage, as a class, is real and unearned.

The “check your privilege” exhortation asks us, rightly, to recognize that. It’s about “being aware of systemic injustice and systemic inequality,” Phoebe Maltz Bovy, the author of the recently published book “The Perils of ‘Privilege,’ ” told me. And she applauds that.

But she worries that awareness disclaimers and privilege apologies have ferried us to a silly, self-involved realm of oppression Olympics. They promote the idea that people occupying different rungs of privilege or victimization can’t possibly grasp life elsewhere on the ladder.

In her book she mocks the inevitable juncture in a certain kind of essay “where the writer (probably a cis White Lady, probably straight or bisexual, probably living in Brooklyn, definitely well educated, but not necessarily well-off) interrupts the usually scheduled programming to duly note that the issues she’s describing may not apply to a trans woman in Papua New Guinea.”

Should we really have say and sway only over matters that neatly dovetail with the category that we’ve been assigned (or assigned ourselves)? Is that the limit of our insights and empathies? During the Democratic primary, a Hillary Clinton supporter I know was told that he could not credibly defend her against charges of racism for her past use of the word “superpredators” because he’s white.

That kind of thinking fosters estrangement instead of connection. Lilla noted that what people in a given victim group sometimes seem to be saying is: “You must understand my experience, and you can’t understand my experience.”

“They argue both, so people shrug their shoulders and walk away,” he said.

Across a range of American institutions, we need more diversity. We need it to expunge and guard against the injustice that Bovy mentioned, and we need it because it’s indeed a portal to broader knowledge and greater enlightenment. That means that white people — men in particular, even Google engineers — must make room in that narrative and space on that stage.

But I question the wisdom of turning categories into credentials when it comes to politics and public debate. I reject the assumptions — otherwise known as prejudices — that certain life circumstances prohibit sensitivity and sound judgment while other conditions guarantee them. That appraises the packaging more than it does the content. It ignores the complexity of people. It’s reductive.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, the author of the memoir “Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape From the Crowd,” got at this in an essay about privilege that he published last year, writing: “My black father, born in 1937 in segregated Texas, is an exponentially more worldly man than my maternal white Protestant grandfather, whose racism always struck me more as a sad function of his provincialism or powerlessness than anything else. I don’t mean to excuse the corrosive effects of his view; I simply wish to note that when I compare these two men, I do not recognize my father as the victim.”

At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those Americans who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction. So you know some important things about me, but not the most important ones: how I responded to the random challenges on my path, who I met along the way, what I learned from them, the degree of curiosity I mustered and the values that I honed as a result.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits. My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me.

The Collapse of American Identity – The New York Times

Good summary of the increased divide in America and the ongoing political implications:

But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to changing demographics and culture. The shock waves from these transformations — harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s campaign — are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal-versus-conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism and monism.

An Associated Press-NORC poll found nearly mirror-opposite partisan reactions to the question of what kind of culture is important for American identity. Sixty-six percent of Democrats, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans, said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity. Similarly, 64 percent of Republicans, compared with 32 percent of Democrats, saw a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important.

These divergent orientations can also be seen in a recent poll by P.R.R.I. that explored partisan perceptions of which groups are facing discrimination in the country. Like Americans overall, large majorities of Democrats believe minority groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people face a lot of discrimination in the country. Only about one in five Democrats say that majority groups such as Christians or whites face a lot of discrimination.

Republicans, on the other hand, are much less likely than Democrats to believe any minority group faces a lot of discrimination, and they believe Christians and whites face roughly as much discrimination as immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people. Moreover, only 27 percent of Republicans say blacks experience a lot of discrimination, while 43 percent say whites do and 48 percent say the same of Christians.

Taken as a whole, these partisan portraits highlight contrasting responses to the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation — from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats — only 29 percent of whom are white and Christian — are embracing these changes as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian — see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them.

These responses are shifting the political magnetic field that defines the parties. Republican leaders are finding strong support among their base for the Trump administration’s executive order barring travel to the United States from particular Muslim-majority countries. But their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was dramatically derailed by factions within their own party.

Democrats, on the other hand, are enjoying energetic backing from their base for pro-immigration and pro-L.G.B.T. stances, but they are experiencing increasing opposition to their support for free trade.

There have been other times in our history when the fabric of American identity was stretched in similar ways — the Civil War, heightened levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

But during these eras, white Christians were still secure as a demographic and cultural majority in the nation. The question at stake was whether they were going to make room for new groups at a table they still owned. Typically, a group would gain its seat in exchange for assimilation to the majority culture. But as white Christians have slipped from the majority over the past decade, this familiar strategy is no longer viable.

White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat. And it’s this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today.

The temptation for the Republican Party, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, is to double down on a form of white Christian nationalism, which treats racial and religious identity as tribal markers and defends a shrinking demographic with increasingly autocratic assertions of power.

For its part, the Democratic Party is contending with the difficulties of organizing its more diverse coalition while facing its own tribal temptations to embrace an identity politics that has room to celebrate every group except whites who strongly identify as Christian. If this realignment continues, left out of this opposition will be a significant number of whites who are both wary of white Christian nationalism and weary of feeling discounted in the context of identity politics.

This end is not inevitable, but if we are to continue to make one out of many, leaders of both parties will have to step back from the reactivity of the present and take up the more arduous task of weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can see themselves.

Supreme Court judge [Justice Wagner] says Canadians shouldn’t worry about arrival of refugees, migrants 

Thoughtful and pertinent comments, particularly interesting his comments on identity:

Wagner said the notions of identity, human dignity and democratic values permeate the Charter and “lay the foundations for looking beyond our own borders.

“We can welcome refugees and migrants with the confidence that our society is able not only to manage our differences, but to thrive on them,” said Wagner.

Speaking to reporters later, Wagner acknowledged that, while his speech was delivered to a legal and academic audience, there was a message for Canadians concerned about the influx of refugees and migrants.

“We should, I think, welcome all those people and we should be willing to accommodate them and not change them,” he said.

“People should not be afraid of having migrants and refugees in their own countries. I think we’re strong enough and . . . we have strong moral values, and one of those values is the respect for human dignity. And, if we take our role seriously, we’ll look, we’ll adopt the perspective of the other, and it could only, I think, as far as I’m concerned, grow society much better in the future.”

Asked if that means there should be room for face veils and other individual expressions of religious identity, Wagner declined to answer, saying: “I don’t know if those cases will come before the court, so I don’t want to comment.”

Wagner holds one of the three high court seats reserved for Quebec. Quebec’s legislature is now studying a bill to require “religious neutrality” of those who deliver or receive public services, amid calls to ditch the bill in the wake of the slaying of six Muslims at a Quebec City mosque.

Wagner said judges have an “obligation” to try to understand the perspective of a person who says their equality rights are breached, but he added “that doesn’t mean that the claimant is right . . . that doesn’t mean that I would adopt his way, or his reasoning, or his opinion, or his end result.”

In his speech, Wagner admitted early approaches to how judges analyzed discrimination did not stand up to the task. He said Charter interpretation is still “a work in progress,” but, he added, over the past 150 years “the constitution has enabled us to navigate difficult questions of identity.

“Personal and group characteristics are the starting point of Charter equality jurisprudence, but identity is not about labels; it is a shorthand for how people see themselves, how others see them, and how those two things interact in people’s lives.”

Wagner said the Supreme Court looks to the context and experiences of a person claiming discrimination, and seeks to understand the person’s perspective, which is an especially important consideration in cases of aboriginal law or where there are overlapping characteristics of a person’s identity that influence how they experience discrimination.

Wagner said the experience of a woman who is part of a visible minority can be totally different from that of a young man who has the same characteristics. “If one of the two is not a citizen, or has a different sexual orientation, their experience could be even more different.”

“When the court eventually faces a question touching on trans-gender identity, these two propositions will provide essential frames of reference: that identity is not fixed, but changing, and that identity is not innate, but contextual,” he said.

Wagner predicted that, although the principle of “dignity” fell out of favour in judicial analyses of equality claims, it would find new traction in future Charter litigation. It is a crucial consideration when judges weigh whether a rights violation is reasonable and justified. “Equality infringements ought to be increasingly difficult to justify to the extent that it strikes at the heart of someone’s individual or group identity and, with it, their recognition as full participants in Canada’s ongoing democratic dialogue,” he said.

University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes said Wagner’s speech would please equality-seeking groups on the one hand, but he said Wagner also emphasized “democratic values” and “substantive” equality over any superficial concept of equality.

To Mendes, it was a signal from a judge who some suggest could one day become the chief justice of Canada, that the balance won’t always tip in favour of those who feel their rights are breached.

The Canada experiment: is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country? | Charles Foran | The Guardian

Nice long-read by Foran, commenting on what ‘post-national’ means in practice:

Can any nation truly behave “postnationally” – ie without falling back on the established mechanisms of state governance and control? The simple answer is no.

Canada has borders, where guards check passports, and an army. It asserts the occasional modest territorial claim. Trudeau is more aware than most of these mechanisms: he oversees them.

It can also be argued that Canada enjoys the luxury of thinking outside the nation-state box courtesy of its behemoth neighbour to the south. The state needn’t defend its borders too forcefully or make that army too large, and Canada’s economic prosperity may be as straightforward as continuing to do 75% of its trade with the US. Being liberated, the thinking goes, from the economic and military stresses that most other countries face gives Canada the breathing room, and the confidence, to experiment with more radical approaches to society. Lucky us.

Nor is there uniform agreement within Canada about being post-anything. When the novelist Yann Martel casually described his homeland as “the greatest hotel on earth,” he meant it as a compliment – but some read it as an endorsement of newcomers deciding to view Canada as a convenient waystation: a security, business or real-estate opportunity, with no lasting responsibilities attached.

Likewise, plenty of Canadians believe we possess a set of normative values, and want newcomers to prove they abide by them. Kellie Leitch, who is running for the leadership of the Conservative party, suggested last autumn that we screen potential immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” A minister in the previous Conservative government, Chris Alexander, pledged in 2015 to set up a tip-line for citizens to report “barbaric cultural practises”. And in the last election, the outgoing prime minister, Stephen Harper, tried in vain to hamstring Trudeau’s popularity by confecting a debate about the hijab.

To add to the mix, the French-speaking province of Quebec already constitutes one distinctive nation, as do the 50-plus First Nations spread across the country. All have their own perspectives and priorities, and may or may not be interested in a postnational frame. (That said, Trudeau is a bilingual Montrealer, and Quebeca vibrantly diverse society.)

Though sovereign since 1867, Canada lingered in the shadow of the British empire for nearly a century. Not until the 1960s did we fly our own flag and sing our own anthem, and not until 1982 did Trudeau’s father, Pierre, patriate the constitution from the UK, adding a charter of rights. He also introduced multiculturalism as official national policy. The challenge, then, might have seemed to define a national identity to match.

This was never going to be easy, given our colonial hangover and American cultural influence. Marshall McLuhan, one of the last century’s most seismic thinkers, felt we shouldn’t bother. “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity,” he said in 1963.

According to poet and scholar BW Powe, McLuhan saw in Canada the raw materials for a dynamic new conception of nationhood, one unshackled from the state’s “demarcated borderlines and walls, its connection to blood and soul,” its obsession with “cohesion based on a melting pot, on nativist fervor, the idea of the promised land”. Instead, the weakness of the established Canadian identity encouraged a plurality of them – not to mention a healthy flexibility and receptivity to change. Once Canada moved away from privileging denizens of the former empire to practising multiculturalism, it could become a place where “many faiths and histories and visions” would co-exist.

That’s exactly what happened. If McLuhan didn’t see how Chinese, Japanese, Ukrainian and later Italian, Greek and Eastern European arrivals underpinned the growth of Canada in that sleepy first century, he surely registered before his death in 1980 the positive impact of successive waves of South Asians, Vietnamese and Caribbean immigrants. The last several decades have been marked by an increasingly deep diversity, particularly featuring mainland Chinese, Indians and Filipinos.

Others have expanded on McLuhan’s insight. The writer and essayist John Ralston Saul (co-founder of the charity for which I work) calls Canada a “revolutionary reversal of the standard nation-state myth”, and ascribes much of our radical capacity – not a term you often hear applied to Canadians – to our application of the Indigenous concept of welcome. “Space for multiple identities and multiple loyalties,” he says of these philosophies, the roots of which go deep in North American soil, “for an idea of belonging which is comfortable with contradictions.”

How unique is any of this? Ralston Saul argues that Canada’s experiment is “perpetually incomplete”. In other countries, a sovereignty movement like Quebec’s might have led to bloodshed. Instead, aside from a brief period of violent separatist agitation culminating in kidnappings and a murder in 1970, Canada and Quebec have been in constant compromise mode, arguing at the ballot box and finding ways to accommodate. Canada’s incomplete identity is, in this sense, a positive, a spur to move forward without spilling blood, to keep thinking and evolving – perhaps, in the end, simply to respond to newness without fear.

None of this raw populism is going away in 2017, especially as it gets further irritated by the admittedly formidable global challenge of how to deal with unprecedented numbers of people crossing national borders, with or without visas. But denial, standing your nativist ground, doing little or nothing to evolve your society in response to both a crisis and, less obviously, an opportunity: these are reactions, not actions, and certain to make matters worse.

If the pundits are right that the world needs more Canada, it is only because Canada has had the history, philosophy and possibly the physical space to do some of that necessary thinking about how to build societies differently. Call it postnationalism, or just a new model of belonging: Canada may yet be of help in what is guaranteed to be the difficult year to come.

Source: The Canada experiment: is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country? | Charles Foran | World news | The Guardian

Pico Iyer on the meaning of home, in a post-Trump world

Interviews with Pico Iyer always are interesting:

Q: Perhaps that’s why you’ve been such an admirer of Canada for so long, since before your paean in The Global Soul?

A: One thing that has long hit me about Canada, ever since I started making annual visits there in 1994, is that people in the cities there are constantly—some would say obsessively—talking and thinking, every day, about diversity and refugees and the future and how to turn a culture made of many disparate parts into something greater than their sum.

The other countries I know—from Britain to the U.S.—have all backed into multiculturalism; it’s taken them by surprise and they’ve tried to adapt or stretch their current society into something that will accommodate new visitors. Only in Canada has there been a strong sense of vision about creating an entirely new kind of society to match the age of movement. And Canada has been addressing that issue for half a century—ever since Pierre Trudeau hung a sign that said “World Citizen” outside his door at Harvard and began travelling the world.

Of course, those who live in Canada are keenly aware of everything that’s going wrong and moments when optimism has been unfounded. But my impression is that the more people travel—whether it’s Salman Rushdie or the spokesperson for the UN High Commission on Refugees—the more they admire Canada, and see something coming to light there that we don’t find so often in Australia or South Africa, in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Whenever my friends there say that their country is no utopia, I agree—but ask them if they really want to move to Dubai or L.A.

Q: You love the inclusive, cosmopolitan vibrancy of Toronto, and you wrote that in Toronto, “the average resident today is what used to be called a foreigner, somebody born in a very different country.” In late 2016, it’s top of mind for many: what does finding home mean in a less immigrant-friendly world?

A: From the beginning, I’ve stressed that home is something internal, invisible, portable, especially for those of us with roots in many physical places; we have to root ourselves in our passions, our values and our deepest friends. My home, I’ve always felt, lies in the songs and novels that I love, in the wife and mother that I’m never far away from, in the monastery to which I’ve been returning for 25 years. Precisely because I don’t belong entirely to Britain or the U.S. or India or Japan, I build my foundations in some way deeper than mere passports, and more in the light of where I’m going than of “where I come from.”

Of course, the Brexit vote, the victory of Mr. Trump, what’s happening around the world represents a backlash against precisely people such as myself, blessed with many homes. But I don’t think that changes the fact—the inarguable reality—that for many in Toronto, say, “home” means a question they’ll always be refining and adding to (and may never answer), while home also means a place like Toronto, where they’re surrounded by people entertaining just the same questions.

We may be joined these days more by the questions we have in common than by the answers we share.

Some people will always ground themselves very strongly in a piece of soil, a grandmother’s property, a tiny plot of land, and that’s great. But in the Age of Movement, there’s no question that the number of people who don’t—or can’t—is growing exponentially.

And on Leonard Cohen:

Q: How did Cohen embody Canada’s best qualities, the homely qualities that make it one of your favourite countries?

A: Somehow Leonard could only have come from Canada, I feel, and it’s no surprise that he held it so firmly in his heart till his dying day.

One of his sovereign graces was always to mix a sense of irony with a sense of passionate quest, to sound as if he never took himself too seriously, yet took many other things (and other people) very seriously indeed. That mix of an Old World sense of drollness and respect for tradition with a New World hunger for something better and fascination with the horizon is, to me, the illuminating beauty of Canada: it never pursues the future as if it can deny every kind of past.

Leonard was really Montreal incarnate, in so many ways, as one who mixed the worldliness and elegance of France with the hopefulness and sincerity of North America.

Source: Pico Iyer on the meaning of home, in a post-Trump world – Macleans.ca

Theresa May criticized the term ‘citizen of the world.’ But half the world identifies that way. – The Washington Post

global-citizenInteresting poll showing the relative identity balance between local and global citizenship:

In defense of the Brexit decision she now must implement, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday that no “divisive nationalists” would hold up the process of exiting the European Union, and she firmly asserted that all four of Britain’s constituent “nations” — England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — would Brexit together.

But the Brexit decision was fueled in many ways by nationalist sentiments, centering on perceived threats to Britain’s sovereignty and many of its citizens’ desires to prevent the supposed dilution of their national identity by immigrants crossing the European Union’s open borders.

Just three days after her comment about “divisive nationalists,” at her Conservative Party’s annual conference, May espoused her own brand of nationalism — one that seems to encompass all of Britain, but excludes those who may feel as though they have multiple nationalities, or identities.

“Today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the street,” she said. “But if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”

As it turns out, about half of the people “down the road” or whom one might “pass on the street” identify with the very phrase May disparaged — being a “citizen of the world” or global citizen.

In an 18-nation survey conducted by GlobeScan in conjunction with the BBC World Service that was released just over a month ago, 47 percent of Britons said they somewhat or strongly agreed that they considered themselves more as global citizens than citizens of the United Kingdom.

That number is just slightly below the 51 percent of all respondents who felt the same way. Below is a look at how respondents from each of the 18 surveyed countries responded. It is worth noting that “urban-only” samples were used in Brazil, China, Indonesia and Kenya.

Source: Theresa May criticized the term ‘citizen of the world.’ But half the world identifies that way. – The Washington Post

Ontario considering further changes to how gender is displayed on government documents

These consultations should not only be with Ontario stakeholders but the federal government also needs to be involved given the implications across a series of programs (see earlier New gender-neutral Ontario health cards make it harder to get a passport illustrating the need):

Ontario is considering more changes to the collection and display of gender information on government documents, not long after announcing gender-neutral driver’s licences and health cards.

Public consultations launched earlier this month look at how gender information is treated on government forms and identification documents, including birth and marriage certificates.

A preamble to an online survey says “people with transgender and non-binary gender identity may face barriers and other negative outcomes when trying to access services” so the government wants to ensure its policies are inclusive.

Ontario has already announced that starting in early 2017, drivers will be able to select an X instead of an M for male or F for female on their licences.

People can also now obtain health cards without sex information displayed on the front of the card.

“There’s more work to be done on this, so we’re reaching out to Ontarians to make sure we develop good policy that the government can use to make appropriate decisions about when and how to collect, retain, use and display information about persons sex and gender,” Christine Burke, a spokeswoman for the government and consumer services minister, said in a statement.

Trans advocate Susan Gapka would like to see sex and gender not displayed on birth certificates. The type of changes the government is contemplating are relatively easy and low-cost to achieve, but mean so much to the community, she said.

“I was born again, so to speak, 20 years ago,” Gapka said. “Now I have to renew my health card and having the correct or the accurate way that I feel best describes me, as female, is really, really important to me. In fact, I had to change laws. We had to change laws and change society’s opinions so I could have that.”

The consultation survey says the government is proposing to collect gender information as the default and sex information only if needed. For example, sex is necessary for the Ontario Health Insurance Program, it says.

Greater use of X as a gender identifier is also possible on other identification, such as photo ID cards for people who do not have driver’s licences. And, the consultation document says, the government wants to see a consistent process for people who identify as trans or non-binary — defined as people who don’t identify exclusively as male or female.

Source: Ontario considering further changes to how gender is displayed on government documents | National Post