Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Black" History Month

This is a small section from my dissertation that fits well with the beginning of Black History Month here in Canada.  Think twice before the next time you call someone Black or a Black-Canadian.  I personally prefer to be known as Christopher, but that's just me.


Black is not an ethnicity.  In Canada, the political and social construction, negative in its origins and ambivalently ignorant in its usage, of “Black” and “Blackness” is a legislated ethnic identifier.  According to Statistics Canada, “Black” is a “race”, an ethnicity, and a place of origin.  Cecil Foster contends that Black ethnicity is analogous to nation-state hyphenations such as Italian- and Ukrainian-Canadian. Where one hyphen celebrates difference and mends the balkanizing effects of multiculturalism, the other perpetuates further marginalization. 
“Black” signifies an imagined history; a Black man is a social construct.  He is as real as “race” is biological.  He was, and is, created through ignorance, prejudice, and a means for class and socio-economic exploitation, which is justified through the hegemonic ideology of “White” “racial” superiority.  A Black man, or woman, is not a man who happens to be black in colour, but “Black” in existence.
             The idea of the Black man, and the Black Self, was created as a means for White colonial administrators, slave traders, slaveholders, and Eurocentric ideologists to exploit, dominate, and subjugate the colonized African and African-American.  The deracination of the African, and the subsequent misappropriation of his Black identity, manipulated and destroyed the Black man’s self worth.  “Black” became a negative codifier and self-identifier; it consigned the Black man to a position of “racial” and social inferiority.  “Black” is an ideology that supports and justifies social inequality; it is the ideological means to subjugate and oppress.
A self-identified hyphenated Canadian enjoys the “freedom of self-determination”.  However, few Canadian Blacks “have the choice that allows them to be accepted and fully recognized as unchangeable unhyphenated Canadians”.  The hyphen is subjective, imposed, and a barrier for acceptance in Canadian society.  Black ethnicity and its hyphenated qualification on Canadian citizens, “deprives social mobility,” most notably when “skin colour is the main determinant of their identity and their social and ethical relations with other Canadians and the [Canadian] state”.  Canadian Blacks, codified as Black-Canadians, are denied the “existentialism of infinite multiculturalism”.
However, the hyphen is also a means to circumvent the negative connotations of hyphenated Black ethnicity.  Contrary to Foster’s argument, I contend that Blacks embrace hyphenated nation-state identities to eschew the ideological inferiority of their “Blackness”.  They embrace the cultural and historical validity of their ancestral home.  Good Barbadian-Canadian values, for example, specifically the importance of education, are dialectical oppositions to supposed Black-Canadian apathy and institutional barriers to academic success.  The hyphen creates picayune and fluid segmented identities.  Through co-ethnic transnational identity, and hyphenation, Black-Canadians manipulate their sense of Self, their I, and subsequently politicize their identities for incorporation within the dominant Canadian society.  Canadian society must redefine its attitudes towards Blacks when confronted with heterogeneous and positive classifications of people with black skin colour.  The hyphen creates positive cultural dialogue.  Affixing the cultural virtues of nation-states challenges and successfully negates the ideology of “Blackness”.  The Caribbean or Africa will no longer be classified as homogenous regions of destitute Black people.  A West Indian-Canadian is not simply Black; he may be White, or of East or South Asian descent.  An Arab-Canadian is no longer associated with terrorism, but historically rich Lebanese, Algerian, or Egyptian culture.  Barriers and stereotypes are removed and the hyphen facilitates real cultural understanding.  Positive hyphenation is moving beyond tolerance in Canadian society.  
The essentialization of “racial” origin is challenged by the ownership of hyphenation.  The hyphen divides but the divisions create avenues for positive inter-ethnic relations.  Through hyphenation, immigrants and Visible Minorities are given the chance to redefine themselves within the concept of interculturalism – disposing myths and stereotypes and sharing their reality of existence.  The hyphen wields power.  Those who own its qualifiers decide its meanings and values.  Practical outcome validates the hyphen’s negative or positive effect.

Hyphenation redefines identities.  It is a politicized identity because Canadians are cognizant of the implications of using different identities for purposes of social capital, networks, and most importantly for avenues of social mobility and inclusion.  Canada is a nation built on hyphens – a hyphen-nation.  Mobilizing Canadian cultural capital, or the latter hyphenated qualifier, is necessary for social cohesion and national identity formation.  Hyphenation for Visible Minorities, specifically functionalist Black Barbadians and West Indians, is a tool for academic and political success, and an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory avenue for agency.  Overarching transnational and hyphenated identity, acts as a unique form of collective cohesion with the dominant Canadian society.  Each segmented identity is a social tool.  Hyphenation is not inherently positive or negative; its value rests in its individual usage. 
             Second generation Barbadian-Canadians are not simply a marginalized and racialized immigrant group fighting for recognition and respect within the vertical silo of Multicultural Canada.  We are Canadians, raised as Canadians, by Canadian parents.  Similar to countless immigrant stories, Barbadian-Canadian parents came to this country to give their children the opportunities and privileges in which they themselves were denied as children or fought valiantly to procure.  Racism and xenophobia were, and are, real barriers to success in Canada; barriers first generation Barbadian-Canadians struggled to overcome in order for their children to succeed in a multicultural – but unequal – Canadian society.  However, while second-generation Barbadian-Canadians manipulate their sense of self and attempt to purge the ideologically reified, and ever increasingly picayune, derisive societal stereotype of “Black” and “Blackness”, racialized institutional structures continue to restrict their mobility and agency.  This is experienced not only as Barbadian- or Black Canadians, but simply as Canadians.  Canadian society continues to negatively codify second generation Canadians, while Barbadian-Canadians attempt to eschew ideological debasement and be treated as equal partners within the Canadian mosaic.

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