• Zoe Druick: The book posits that there is a fundamental denial of white privilege in the Canadian legal system, that the system is colour-blind. How did this situation come to be?
  • Sherene Razack: To begin with, law has always worked in service of the colonisers. The first example that comes to mind is the British law of terra nullius which declared land to be "empty" for the taking if the inhabitants were not civilized enough to develop it. Here is an example of a law that leaves the door wide open for the British to declare that the lands that would comprise Canada were theirs simply because Aboriginal peoples were uncivilized nomads. In fact, this very idea is invoked today as it was in the land claim case of the Gitskan Wetsuwetin. At the BC supreme court, Judge McEachern declared that the Gitskin did not have horses and did not develop the land in a way that would confirm their claim to it.
  • The law is in fact full of apparently neutral rules that have the impact of limiting the claims of people of colour. In the case of racial violence, for instance, we see the law's reliance on the idea that context and history are irrelevant. This makes it difficult to show when violence originated in systemic and individual racism that pre-dated the actual encounter.
  • Finally, we really see colour blindness in the law's insistence that we cannot take race into account because to do so is to treat people differently. In fact, what we must take into account is racism. Thus the racial context of individuals is an important fact bearing on the case. To ignore it is thus to ignore vital information, a neutrality that clearly works in favour of the dominant group. From the book, we have the example of the white, male murderers of Pamela George, whose intent and actions cannot be appreciated unless we consider what two white boys thought they were doing when they picked up an Aboriginal woman.
  • ZD: Do you think the Canadian government policy of official multiculturalism obscures institutionalized and spatialized forms of racism in Canada?
  • SR: Multiculturalism implies an endless variety where, as they say in the national anthem of my birth place, "every creed and race find an equal place." In fact, it is of enormous consequence who fits under the multicultural category and who doesn't. It's not a category you want to be in because usually 5% of the budget (as in the case of Canada Council) will go to multicultural groups and the rest will go to the unnamed "normal" citizens. Multiculturalism complies with the national story that the original citizens are Europeans and everyone else is an after thought to be welcomed as additions to an already existing structure. Having said that, I will say that those slotted into the multicultural category have taken the small space afforded them to do wonderful things. We use this space to resist, to make claims, to convince ourselves that we have not disappeared.
  • ZD: Canadian mythology is bound up with the image of an empty landscape: clean, pure, snowy. What are the implications of such a myth for an analysis of race relations in Canada?
  • SR: When we think of mythology, or stories that are told about a nation's origins and history, we first need to consider the cast of characters in the story. A snowy, Northern land that is empty has few Aboriginal peoples. We can easily see the characters that make the story come to life: the first fur traders, explorers, and so on. In fact, the first Europeans. Europeans who are at home in snow and wilderness are nearly always men. If we see anybody at all in this snowy landscape it would have to be an intrepid man paddling a canoe, surrounded by decaying totem poles (Emily Carr), big trees and magnificent lakes (the entire group of Seven), or wide expanses of snow (Lauren Harris.) Since Aboriginal peoples are all dead, and were not very numerous to begin with on this mythical landscape, those first Europeans literally make the place into what it is. People of colour who are associated with the South are woven into the story with great difficulty. They just don't fit. They don't have skills for snow and cold. Remember Montesque thought that Southern peoples did not have the proper biological qualities to become thinkers. Their climate made them lazy. Southern peoples make the tale messy or "stained," as Himani Bannerji put it, and in any event, they came much later. The original inhabitants, a Nordic race able to vanquish the cold, have the first claim on the land. When the Others come, they pollute the pristine landscape; they flood it and make it "foreign." This story is the one we see repeated over and over again in racist immigration laws, in the courts when the claims for justice of Aboriginal peoples and people of colour are considered. It effectively shuts them out of the national story, and thus out of any claims for equal citizenship.
  • Sherene Razack interview, Sherene Razack, editor of Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society