One of the feature sections of the July 3rd, 2004 Toronto Star ran a story about the 29 homicides in Toronto during the first six months of the year. The story focused on the fact that 19 are thus far unsolved, and offered the predictable descriptions of gore and senseless violence along with equally predictable assurances by the police that, ahem, enhanced forensic science and arduous police work would shortly solve them all. The balance of the story, excepting one thing, concentrated in an unpleasantly abstract way on relative 2003 statistics for Greater Toronto and on homicide locations: down in Peel, up in York, etc… There was some confusion over the statistics, mainly because the reporter conflated statistics for Toronto and Greater Toronto, which together had 53 homicides, of which 31 were unsolved.
The except-one-thing item in the story was photographs of 28 of the victims of 2004’s unsolved murders. These pictures tell an entirely different story. By my count thirteen of the victims were black, seven were Asian (Chinese or Vietnamese) three were South Asian (two of them young women), and three more were of Middle Eastern origin. Just two of the victims were of clearly European origins, and both were southern Europeans. None, in other words, were Anglo. None had blue eyes. A whopping 93 percent of the victims of unsolved murders in the most culturally diverse city on the planet came from visible minority groups. That surprised me, and not in a nice way. I like to tell people that Toronto is the safest big city on the planet. It is, even with these murders, but it’s a hell of a lot more dangerous for visible minorities than it is for WASPs like me.
But almost as disturbing as that is this: The Star story made no mention of the ethnic origins of the victims or the arrested killers. That’s because the racializing of multicultural politics in Canada has become so deeply ingrained that it has rendered both the media, governments and citizens unable to analyze the obvious, or to admit it publicly or even privately to themselves.
This is crazy because most people know what The Star story wasn’t able to admit: that a) visible minorities are much more likely to kill people or commit acts of violence against others than are members of the general population; b) that their violence is almost entirely directed at other members of visible minorities, and c) that they are still more likely to kill or maim within their own ethnic group. The reasons for this state of affairs are varied, and the fine grain changes with different minority groups. One constant, in Toronto at least, that elevates levels of intra-cultural violence has to do with average incomes within the different visible minority groups. Put bluntly, most of Toronto’s recent immigrants make less money than Canadians of European origin. The implicit QED here is that scarcity and deprivation, even when it is relative, breed violence.
But that isn’t the whole story, and it may not be the dominant thread. There are causes just as culpably related to cultural habituation and custom. And neither The Star nor anyone else can examine these causes without being accused of racism.
I guess the next question is this one: Is the fact that 93% of the unsolved murders in Toronto are committed against visible minorities a failure of multiculturalism? Yes. It is much more the product of multicultural failure than a failure of law enforcement. Violent crime within visible minority communities goes unsolved not because the police are incompetent, but because visible minorities won’t help the police by doing what everyone in a democracy is constitutionally obliged to do: bear witness in support of the rule of law. In these instances that means ratting out the perpetrators.
The excuse usually offered when visible minorities don’t step forward is that they’re afraid of the police. The Toronto police haven’t exactly helped themselves in this regard with their periodic outbursts of racially-conditioned profiling. Not to let them off the hook, but most of this has occurred in the wee hours of the morning when there is reasonable cause to generalize about why anyone is on the street—i.e. the first element in the profile doesn’t have anything to do with race.
Still, that’s not quite the point. If some of Toronto’s visible minorities don’t help the police because they’re afraid of them, it’s fair to say that another reason they’re not talking is that they’re even more afraid of one another. It’s also likely that most are unaware of their constitutional responsibility to uphold the rule of law.
It is a widely accepted truism that violence and crime are byproducts of oppression. But in Canada, we’re not particularly oppressed. That’s why the crime rate is relatively low. I can try to convince myself that the Toronto police are an oppressive force to our visible minorities, and that the behavior of visible minorities in the face of violent crime is justified. But in the end, that explanation doesn’t quite hold up as a sole cause. Something else is going on.
A more plausible cause is that many immigrants groups come from countries where rule of law and police have no fundamental relationship, and—more important—that they haven’t been informed that things work differently here, or at least that the gap between the laws and the enforcement of those laws is much narrower than they’ve been acculturated to expect. That’s a failure of multicultural policy and practice.
Then there’s the reverse side of racial profiling. Take Terry Brookes, the man who, last summer, tried to kill his wife in a public place, took a hostage, and then was shot to death by a police marksman. Brookes happened to be black, a fact which I’m pretty sure is irrelevant to why he had a long history as a brutal wife-beater, and pretty clearly, to why the police killed him. What I want to know is why the young woman Brookes grabbed as a hostage was also black. Given that the locale where the whole senseless tragedy was played out would have had a lower-than-average percentage of black people present, Brookes had to have singled out the young black woman he grabbed over hundreds of equally vulnerable non-blacks. Was he racializing the event, or did he just pick on the kind of person he was used to picking on? And what’s the difference between those two things?
Yet another other side of racial profiling showed up in the west end of the city several weeks later when a disturbed man started launching violent attacks on pedestrians without provocation or apparent pattern. A description of the attacker went out over the radio and on television providing the assailant’s height, weight, and dress, but it failed to mention that he was black. I don’t think there’s much doubt that this detail was excluded by the mass media for fear of appearing to commit a multiculturally unacceptable act of racial profiling – notwithstanding the fact that the colour of his skin would have been the crucial piece of information for anyone living in the area where the attacks were taking place.
One of the conclusions we have to make from all this is that racial profiling isn’t a black-and-white issue. Even though virtually everyone agrees that racial profiling is a nasty, unacceptable practice, every airport on the planet, ours included, is now practicing it against anyone with dark straight hair and dark eyes, and with the tacit consent of governments and the travelers themselves. My wife, who is of Polish and Russian descent, gets pulled out of security lines and bullyragged every time she crosses the U.S. border because of this. She’s irritated, but she understands what they’re doing, and why.
What is talked about even less is that large corporations commonly use profiling technologies in hiring procedures and employee evaluation, and that race is among the parameters profiling uses, whether the corporations admit it or not. Similarly with marketing, for which consumer profiling is among the primary tools, the pretense that racial and cultural profiling isn’t employed simply isn’t credible.
I don’t have the answers to any of the questions I’m raising here. What I do know is that that we have reached a common social condition—one that is upheld by public language—that renders both the perpetrators of racism and its victims equally powerless to change what is occurring, or even to articulate and understand it. And that’s a failure of multiculturalism, too. The biggest problem I have with it is that visible minorities are paying the shot for the failure. I also know that there are at least five leading questions in the constellation of events I just described that aren’t being addressed because no one has the social license to the language that can frame the questions. So let me risk getting my ass in a sling by asking the questions anyway. None of the questions that follow, by the way, are rhetorical.
At what point does racial and cultural profiling, which is commercially ubiquitous, become socially destructive and/or racist, and why are corporations and visible minorities free to use this sort of profiling while the rest of us aren’t?
Should cultures that have been traumatized by either a recent or chronic history of social and political violence be excluded from full multicultural privileges, and immigrants from those cultures quarantined until they’ve ingested an alternate set of rules? Before everyone starts shrieking, what are the long term costs of not addressing this?
Personally, I suspect the un-thought-of alternative prevention strategy—one that could have saved some of those 28 dead people—is to provide incoming immigrants with some basic cultural notifications upon entering the country—maybe a one or two day course that isn’t optional. It should at least include an explanation of the rule of law, democratic process, the constitution, and some fairly pointed suggestions that they’ve come to a country where hitting people isn’t going to get them enrolled in the Order of Canada, along with the recitation of all the rights they’ve suddenly acquired.
I’m also prepared to argue that some of the more militant anti-racists need a reintroduction to the idea that multiculturalism isn’t there to establish racial privileges, but to achieve ethnic and social equality, and that cultural protections and racial privileges are completely different things. It seems to me that there’s a fairly blurry line these days between anti-racism – which should begin with a core-principle rejection of the notion of race itself as an unscientific form of social stupidity –and racialization, which is the cognitive habit of reducing everything to issues of racial prejudice and chauvinism.
I don’t see racial distinctions very well. I never have, and it isn’t because I’m colour blind. I don’t want to see the world in terms of race, and I’m increasingly determined not to. I was brought up to believe that racial origins shouldn’t matter, and that anyone who does think they matter is evil or crazy, or at very least, ill-educated and a little thick between the ears.
That’s pretty much how I see it today, and I tend to get annoyed when, as recently happened, an anti-racism activist from a visible minority to whom I happened to mention the 28 visible minority murders flipped it off as the product of white indifference and then went on to blame that—and, I suppose, me—for everything else that wasn’t going well in his life that day. I got annoyed because assigning racial blame is too easy: the only product is moral comfort, which was Pierre Trudeau’s insightful term for what makes people feel good but doesn’t make the world better.
The specific episode it evoked in our evolving culture wasn’t a very significant one, and it certainly wasn’t productive. His response merely turned the wheel on the ostensible cultural status quo for a brief moment: The black guy felt good, the white guy felt lousy. But as the white guy, I didn’t feel lousy because this non-denominational shithead was oppressing me. I felt lousy because the exchange was going to allow things to return to where they were, with 28 human beings dead for no good reason, and not a single workable idea of how to change it in sight.