The180

The problem with anti-racism campaigns

A recent anti-racism ad in Toronto shows a Caucasian man telling a woman in a hijab to "go back to where you came from." But Shree Paradkar says we ignore part of the picture when we only portray white people committing discrimination.
These ads were introduced on Toronto bus shelters this month (OCASI)
Listen6:52

"Muslims are part of Toronto." 

That's the message of a new poster campaign in Canada's biggest city. But the Toronto Star's Shree Paradkar says the posters are problematic.

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

What's wrong with an anti-racism ad that shows white people discriminating against non-white people? 

So it's an accurate portrayal, I want to be clear about that. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It's not only white people who are Islamophobes in this country, and a simplification like that creates divisiveness where it's really not needed. 

Let me push back a bit a little bit. Since whites of European descent have been the powerful majority in this country for centuries, and presumably responsible for the bulk of discrimination here, why shouldn't they face the most pressure? 

They should face pressure. The last thing I want to come across is as an apologist for white racism, that is not my point at all. 

I just find that people are going by very narrow definitions of right and wrong. The idea that racism or xenophobia can be inflicted only by whites, is an established narrative on one side of the debate, and the idea that racism doesn't really exist, and it's just exploited by minorities, is a strongly emerging narrative on the other side. So, if you want to adhere to these rather simplistic narratives, there is some solidarity in that. The trouble is, once you take these positions, then they get entrenched with time. And it becomes very difficult to speak to one another, you know, you're left in divided camps, talking amongst yourselves.

I guess what I wanted to point out in my piece is that whites are not uniquely racist in this world.- Shree Paradkar, Toronto Star

Yes, it's white racism that matters the most in this society, because whites are the creators of the system, so the responsibility is on whites. At the same time, portraying whites as racist, only whites as racist, does nobody any good. Because it also lumps into that category whites who are not racist. And what about young whites...who are still forming ideas about social issues and social justice and are open to giving everybody a chance, sees himself portrayed like that, and is shut out before he can even think. 

Now we're talking about this as if these campaigns actually have an impact. What effect do you think public service posters like this one, and advertising of any kind really has when it comes to things like racism? 

From my point of view, minimal, in terms of actually changing mind sets...I guess what I wanted to point out in my piece is that whites are not uniquely racist in this world. Whites are not uniquely liberal either, but from my experience, it's very typical for dominant social groups in many countries to look at a level playing field, which is really tilted in their favour, but to perceive it to be level. And I think that is the difference. Not everybody that doesn't understand racism is a racist. And it's on the two sides of the divide, I fear that the conversation is so polarized that there is no empathy left. Because one side feels righteous anger (and rightly so in many instances), the other side has incomprehension. I'm cutting out the people who are outright racists...they're not going to change. 

Click the "play" button above to hear the full interview.

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