Frances Henry

Frances Henry:



From Racism in the Canadian University

             In  Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity (2009), we and our contributors attempt to critically examine the manifestations of racism in Canadian academic institutions. We have concluded that within the social spaces of the academy, largely controlled by the dominant White culture, there is a constant moral tension between the lived experiences of racialized and Indigenous students and faculty, juxtaposed against the perceptions and practices of those who have the power within the institution, that is, White educators and administrators. Both the structure of the university and its policies and practices reflect the White Eurocentric cultural values and norms that define it.  Most of the specific concerns and issues that are experienced by racialized and Indigenous faculty are a function of the dominant institutional culture of the university that is clearly seen through the culture of Whiteness.  Indigenous and racialized faculty feel detached, alienated, and marginalized from the dominant White male-stream that has largely defined the university.
             Many of the academics cited in this work argue that the role and function of the academy continues to underpin the structures and ideologies of colonialism and imperialism.  The university appears to be an institutional site where dominant everyday discourses continue to reinforce an ethno-racial divide between the majority of White faculty and much smaller numbers of Indigenous and racialized faculties.  While the culture of Whiteness continues to be pervasive and systemic, most universities steadfastly believe that they have demonstrated their commitment to the framework of diversity by mission statements and recruitment strategies. However, the concern in the university has less to do with what kind of diversity is required and what it can do with how it can be ‘managed.’ Racialized and Indigenous peoples who experience structural and systemic discrimination are perceived by those who support formal equality as being hostile to academic values, ideals, and practices.   Within institutions of higher learning, cultural amnesia continues to function in a way that continues to erase the processes of racialization that remain embedded in much of the institutional life within the university.  One of the primary manifestations of racism in the university is that, for the most part, Eurocentrically produced knowledge is privileged over all other forms.  Thus, the research and writing of racialized and Indigenous faculty, who often work within non-Eurocentric paradigms, is not seen as having equal value and merit.

            Other barriers, which reinforce ‘Otherness,’ include curricular decision making; pedagogical methods and approaches; hiring, promotion, and tenure practice; all of which reinforce the everyday privileges of Whiteness and continue to sustain unequal power relations within the academy.  Many universities are now committed in some fashion, even if only in mission statements, to a faculty, staff and student body that reflect the growing ethno-cultural and racial pluralism in Canadian society. Representation is certainly a desired goal for the academy; but it is not by itself sufficient to effect cultural and structural change. Real change requires looking beyond representation. One conclusion that we and our co-authors as well as other scholars on the subject of equity at the university concur with is that the strategies already instituted at most universities do not work effectively or efficiently to produce change.




We have analysed the events flowing from the Star series on race, crime, and policing in order to illuminate a far deeper crisis – one that has had a profound impact on the Black community in the Toronto region. We have also tried to show how this crisis is linked to similar ones affecting other racialized communities in Canada, including Aboriginal people, people of Middle Eastern origin, and other people of colour.

Racial profiling is not simply the sum of individual actions of ‘a few bad apples.’Nor is it exclusively the product of dominant White values, beliefs, and norms as they are reflected in police culture. Nor is it simply the result of outmoded, hierarchical, and militaristic approaches to the policing of crime. Rather, racial profiling is an aggregate of all of these elements. It is a reflection of the racism that links all institutional spaces. This web of institutions includes legislatures and bureaucracies, the criminal justice system, the media, schools and universities, and the vehicles of popular culture. All of these in concert reinforce racism in the mainstream White culture as well as in police culture.

Clearly, no single definition of racial profiling can capture all of the overlapping and conflicting meanings that are generally included under the term ‘racial profiling.’ This term refers to a number of sometimes very distinct practices; of these, the most relevant for our study has been the police practice of using race as an indicator of criminality. Racial profiling, whether it involves law enforcement specifically or the general perception of race as a dangerous ‘abnormality’ in  diverse public spaces (borders, courtrooms, schools, malls, street corners, and so on), results in particular categories of people being classified as in need of surveillance (Russell-Brown 2004; Fiske 2002. The negative and often oppressive policing of Black, Brown and Red bodies are cloaked in the discourses of democratic racism; from the White dominant cultural perspective, this sort of policing is seen as natural and ‘normal.’

 The stereotypic constructs of the ‘criminalblackman’ (Russell 1998), ‘Black-on-Black crime,’ ‘driving while Black,’ deviant and drunk ‘Indians,’ and Muslim ‘terrorists’ begin in the White families and communities that socialize Canadians, in the schools that educate them, in the media that inform them, in the cultural media that entertain them, and in the systems of governance that shape Canadians’ sense of rights and entitlements. This does much to explain why, even though White people commit crimes every day, we never hear the discourse of White-on-White crime.

A central premise of this book is that the strategies for addressing structural and cultural racism in all sectors – including the policing and criminal justice systems – have been impeded by the invisible but deeply embedded ideology of democratic racism. Resistance to changes in the status quo is reflected in the discourses of denial, deflection, and disparagement. This resistance manifests itself in myriad other discourses of democratic racism such as colour-blindness, ‘blame the victim,’ reverse racism, moral panic, and ‘otherness’ (Henry and Tator 2005).

Clearly, then, the problem of racial profiling by the police cannot be solved simply by providing a day or week of ‘race relations’ or by offering more ‘cultural sensitivity’ programs in police colleges. Furthermore, although it is imperative for law enforcement agencies to recruit many more Blacks, Aboriginals, and other people of colour, this alone will not transform the racialized beliefs, norms, and practices that continue to define the dominant culture of policing. For racial profiling to ever stop, police forces will have to reinvent themselves – that is, discard their paramilitary, patriarchical, hierarchical, closed, and racialized systems. And this will not happen until the White racialized culture of other social systems changes as well.

We have written this book not to prove that racial profiling exists – that was done long ago by the many other scholars, whom we have cited throughout this work. Evidence of racial profiling is found in the countless stories of those who have experienced it directly, and in the stories of their families and communities, which also pay the price for it. Nor has it been our intention to recommend specific policy changes; plenty of studies and reports have already done that, and done it well. Rather, we have attempted to deconstruct the underlying processes of racialization on which so much policing is based; to expose the multitude of meanings attached to the construct of racial profiling; and to unravel the coded language and racialized discourses that associate Canada’s people of colour with deviant and dangerous ‘otherness.’ Ultimately, the stories of suppression of basic civil and human rights, and the narratives of daily large and small aggressions against Blacks, Aboriginals, and other people of colour, reveal the huge social and psychological costs to society. Racial profiling exists in Canada, yet it does not keep its citizens safer from violence, because it is an act of violence itself – an act that challenges the ideals and core values of a democratic liberal society.

Racial profiling by police is ‘the canary in the coal mine.’ It alerts us to the reality that insidious and systemic racism exists in all our supposedly democratic institutions.



The following are some of the dominant discourses that structured the press coverage of each of the discursive events analysed in this book. In earlier works (see Henry, et al, 2000) we have identified these discourses as the discourses of democratic racism and they are listed below.

The Discourse of Denial

Within this discourse the principle assumption is that racism simply does not exist in a democratic society. In each of the case studies, a persistent and pervasive rhetorical theme was the refusal to accept the reality of racism, despite the overwhelming evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination in the lives and on the life chances of people of colour. The assumption is that because Canada is a society that upholds the ideals of a liberal democracy, it cannot possibly be racist. The denial of racism is so habitual in the media that to even make the allegation of bias and discrimination and raise the possibility of its influence on social outcomes becomes a serious social infraction, incurring the wrath and ridicule of many journalists and editors.

The Discourse of Political Correctness

This discourse has become a central rhetorical strategy used by much of the mainstream media. It functions as an expression of resistance to forms of social change. Demands of marginalized minorities for inclusive language, pro-active policies and practices (e.g. employment equity or non-biased cultural representation) are discredited as an "overdose of political correctness." Those opposed to pro-active measures to ensure the inclusion of non-dominant voices, stories and perspectives dismiss these concerns as the wailing and whining of radicals whose polemics (and actions) threaten the cornerstones of democratic liberalism. Political correctness was a term frequently employed by journalists, editors, and columnists, for example, in both the case studies on employment equity and Avery Haines.

The Discourse of Colour Evasion or Colour Blindness

Colour blindness or colour evasion is a powerful and appealing liberal discourse in which White journalists contend that skin colour is irrelevant to their journalist practices. In the case studies, journalists and editors repeatedly refer the fact that it is racial minorities who are obsessed with their racial identity and thereby implicitly asserting their own lack of racial identity. For Diane Francis and the journalists and editors writing about "Just Desserts', the Vo case study, the Tamil community, the Chinese migrants, the Mi'kmaq, and First Nations people living on reserves, there is a coding of "race" that is hidden within the narratives on immigration, crime, fishing rights and land claims. Some of the news media employed justificatory arguments, explanations and rationalizations for the language of demonization and denigration, that was pervasive in these case studies, while at the same time, many editors and columnists remained fixed in their own White mediacentric gaze. These journalists and editors appeared to share a common sense of White entitlement, reinforced by their experiential frameworks. This enabled them to engage in colour evasion. The discourse of colour evasion by the media leads inevitably to power evasion. We found little evidence of recognition on the part of the media of their awesome power to create a discourse that was so profoundly shaped by the construct of people of colour as belonging to deviant populations.

The Discourse of Equal Opportunity

Although the discourse of equal opportunity is most clearly expressed in the debate around employment equity in the second case study, it clearly reflects a collective mindset underpinning many of discourses identified throughout this textual analysis. The discourse on employment equity employed by the Globe and Mail editors repeatedly argued that all we need to do is treat everyone the same and as individuals, and fairness will be ensured. This notion is based on an ahistorical premise, that is, we all begin from the same starting point; and every group competes on a level playing field. According to this cherished myth, society merely provides the conditions within which individuals differentially endowed can make their mark. All have an equal opportunity to succeed and the same rights. Thus, individual merit determines who will have access to jobs and promotions, to the media, to educational advancement and so on.

The Globe and Mail's unconditional support for equal opportunity and opposition to employment equity is reflective of an ideology that rejects the need to dismantle White institutional spaces and power. The argument against employment equity is based on the premise that there is no need for the redistribution of White social capital.

The Discourse of Blame the Victim, or White Victimization

If equal opportunity and racial equality are assumed to exist, then the lack of success on the part of a minority population must be attributed to some other set of conditions. One explanation used by some of the media, and most dramatically reflected in the case study on the racialization of crime, is the notion that certain minority communities themselves are culturally deficient. In this form of dominant discourse it is assumed that certain groups (e.g., African Canadians, immigrants of colour) are more prone to deviant behaviour; they lack the motivation, education or skills to participate fully in the workplace, educational system, and other arenas of Canadian society.

Alternatively, it is argued that the failure of certain groups to be integrated into the mainstream dominant culture, is largely due to recalcitrant members of these groups refusing to adapt their "traditional," "different" cultural values and norms to fit into Canadian society and making unreasonable demands on the "host" society. The media lash out against minorities who raised concerns about Avery Haines "light hearted" joke about Blacks, lesbians and those in wheelchairs with "gimpy legs." The demands of people of colour for media representations which do not demean their experiences, histories, and sense of identity, is viewed as "irresponsible," "undemocratic," "a threat to our core values. Minorities are repeatedly described as special interests group" by the media. According to many of the media accounts, the real victim was Avery Haines and not those who may have been hurt by her words.

In the case study of the Aboriginal woman sexually assaulted by Jack Ramsay, the Globe and Mail's discourse focuses the narrative largely on Ramsay who is portrayed as a man of strong principles, a history of service, a champion of Native rights, a family man. On the other hand, Native culture and community life is racialized; all the familiar stereotypes are highlighted. The hardship of the social and physical environment in which the assault took place is suggested as a contributing cause for Ramsay's behaviour.

All through the media discourse analyzed in the case studies, especially the debate over employment equity, we see examples of the language of White victimization expressed in the coded discourse of "reverse racism" or "reverse discrimination," the abandonment of the merit principle," "quotas," and "preferential treatment." In a semantic reversal, those associated with the dominant culture contend that they are now the victims of a new form of oppression and exclusion. Anti racism and equity policies are seen as undemocratic and thus discredited by strong, emotive language. Positive and pro-active policies and programs are thus aligned with creeping totalitarianism incorporating the anti democratic, authoritarian methods of the extreme right.

The Discourse of 'Otherness'

The fragmentation into "we" and "they" groups is a discourse that is pervasive in each of the case studies. The ubiquitous "we" represents the White dominant culture or the culture of the organization (newspaper, the radio station and in other contexts, the courts, police, school, and museum); "they" refers to the communities who are the "Other," possessing "different" (undesirable) values, beliefs, and norms. The First Nations community and the family members of the victim are described in extremely negative stereotypes, represented as drunk and drug using, violent and mean.

In the racialization of crime case study, the National Post's discourse on the dangers posed by the presence of Tamils, and the media coverage on the arrival of the Chinese migrants, and the conflict over Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal fishing rights, the stories and analyses are charged with racial stereotypes and images. The discourse is often framed in the context of an examination of the relative values and norms of the majority versus minority populations within the discourse of superior/inferior cultures. "We" are those that are part of the "imagined community" of (White) Canadians, "We are the real Canadians" - "birthright Canadians" (Dabydeen, 1994). The "theys", marked as "Other" (including First Nations people, Tamils, Asians, Blacks, immigrants and refugees of colour) are viewed as outside the boundaries of the symbolic Canadian community. As Hall (1996) points out: a nation is a symbolic community...a national culture is a discourse - a way of constructing meanings, which influence and organize both our actions and our conceptions of ourselves...(612-613). Thus, the discourse of "otherness" becomes bound to the discourse of national identity.

The Discourse of National Identity

The debate over national identity is fundamental to Canadian print media discourse and appears in the narratives, core ideas and codes of meaning constructed by journalists and editors in each of our case studies. However, the discourse of Canada's national identity as shaped by some of the press is marked by erasures, omissions, and silences. The review of the literature and the case studies demonstrate how often the print media places ethno-racial minorities outside the national vision of Canada; they are excluded from the mainstream of dominant culture and of Canadian society.

The studies of the Canadian national press by other scholars as described in our review of the literature, and our case studies, show how often the voices, views, beliefs, and experiences of African Canadians, Muslim Canadians, East Asian Canadians, South Asian Canadians, as well as other ethno-racial communities and First Nations communities, are ignored, deflected or dismissed. The complex issues, the historical framework and social, economic and political contexts that would help to illuminate on how and why these events occur, are frequently omitted. The analysis of the Ramsay case reveals in a powerful way that the voice, feelings, and experiences of First Nations women and in particular this Native woman victim are of little interest to the media. Her experience of sexual assault is viewed and reported on as a single, isolated event, only worthy of attention because it involved a highly respected individual with a public profile. In the same way, coverage of the Burnt Church conflict by the National Post highlighted the lawlessness of the First Nations fishers and made little mention of the over fishing and illegal poaching by non-Aboriginal fishers. It is only when a situation or event creates the opportunity for the media to construct a discursive crisis that minorities become a focus of attention.

The Discourse of Moral Panic

The concept of 'moral panic' (Cohen, 1972) or discursive crisis (van Dijk, 1998; Fiske, 1994)) suggests that a particular event is often not seen as contentious until it has been constructed in public discourse.

As is demonstrated most dramatically in two of the case studies, Just Desserts and the Chinese Migrants, the media employed a discourse of moral panic. In "Just Desserts," an isolated case of violence is represented as an indication of a profound societal crisis that imperils the nation. "We" are not who we used to be. The city and country are under siege by "Blacks," "Jamaicans," "illegal immigrants," who are an imminent threat to White "civilized," law-abiding citizens. The racialization of crime by the press becomes a signal, a wake-up call to all Canadians, and especially politicians, to re-evaluate their ideas about authority, control, policy, and of course, race.

A similar sense of national crisis fuelled by some of the Canadian news media was created by the arrival of 600 Chinese migrants from July-September 1999. Drawing upon discourses that have historically been part of Canadian national mythology and nation building, that is, an anti-immigrant bias, particularly targeting those of Chinese origins, some of the media constructed a discursive crisis that centred on the "flawed" Canadian immigration and refugee systems. Many newspapers drew upon a rich reservoir of core ideas and images that included often fabricated notions of racialized illegality, objectified identities, amplified migration pattern, health risk and criminality; thereby mobilizing politicians, government representations and various sectors of the lay population into a frenzy of protest.

In a similar way the case study of Diane Francis' coverage of the subject of immigration and the National Post's over two dozen articles on the threat posed by the Tamil community become part of the moral panic discourse.
In a less dramatic form, the case studies of employment equity and Avery Haines, reveal how the media can create this same sense of moral and social crisis. A policy designed to ensure fairness in the workplace is viewed as a threat of monumental proportions, leading to White able-bodied males being locked out of the workforce. In each of these examples, it can be argued that the particular event may not in itself have been viewed as contentious or threatening, without first being constructed as such within public discourse (Fiske, 1994)


Underpinning much of the writing of much of the Canadian media is an attachment to the concepts of Canadian society as a model of tolerance and accommodation. The emphasis on these values suggests that, while one must accept the idiosyncrasies of the "others," the underlying premise is that the dominant way is superior. Within this minimal form of recognition of difference, the guardians of the dominant culture and social order, which includes the media, create a ceiling of tolerance that stipulates what differences are tolerable (Mirchandani and Tastsoglou, 2000). This ceiling on forbearance and acceptance is woven into media discourse and reflected in the perception that "we" cannot tolerate too much difference as it generates dissent, disruption and conflict. Many of the editorials and columns included in this analysis of the media, articulate the view that paying unnecessary attention to "differences" leads to division, disharmony and disorder in society. For example, minorities are frequently represented in the case studies dealing with immigration as flagrantly abusing Canada's outstanding record of tolerance.


Based on the above discussion of the dominant discourses identified and analysed in this book, it is argued that one of the central problems facing the profession of journalism is the lack of critical self- awareness or reflexivity on the part of many journalists, editors and publishers. The professional values and norms of the newsroom combined with the social, economic and political forces operating within and outside the newsroom influence how news is produced. The evidence of our research findings, a review of the Canadian, American, British, and Dutch literature, and our own experiences in working with the media, suggest the socialization of media professionals within schools of journalism, and the corporate culture of media organization further contributes to a process of news making that works without reflection and introspection. The voices and text of the journalists and editors throughout this book resonate with arrogance, ethnocentrism and often-unrestrained resentment towards minorities, while at the same time asserting the claim that they are guided by the values of objectivity, professional detachment, and neutrality.

As is demonstrated through textual analysis in each of our case studies, journalists and editors are often not "objective," "detached," or "neutral." They are highly selective in the subjects identified as important to cover, their lexicon of categories and concepts, their rhetorical style and, in their forms of argumentation. Often the journalist's own sense of social location, experiences, values and worldviews, as well as the interests and positionality of editors, publishers and newspaper owners, act as an invisible filter screening out alternative viewpoints and perspectives. In addition, the subjectivities and interests of other power elites such as politicians, advertisers, corporate power brokers, and the police, influence the construction and production of the news. In the case studies, we see over and over again, the inextricable link between the media and the political, economic and cultural elite groups and its influence over the way in which issues and events are examined in the press. The analysis here provides further support for van Dijk's (1993) contention that the argumentation used in editorials is not only addressed to the unidentified reader, but is also more specifically targeted at elites, particularly politicians.

These ideologies and discourses, in turn, impact on the development of public policies. The relationship of the media to the elite is well established in the literature (see van Dijk, 1991, 1998; Fleras and Elliot, 1996; James Winter, 1997; Domke, 2000). There is a significant body of evidence that demonstrates that the news media, are generally owned by corporate interests and are structured to sustain the economic interests of business and government elites. It is argued that the dominant White media's values are inextricably linked to the social, political and economic elite and it is also in their interest to play a role in producing and generating consensus. Our study leads us to concur with Fleras and Elliot (1996) and van Dijk (1991) that the media are able to establish the boundaries of public discourse, from which priorities are set and public agendas are established and perpetuated.

Extracts From Writings
The Equity Myth: Racialization
and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities
The Colour Of Democracy:
Racism In Canadian Society

© Dr. Frances Henry