Why Dr. David Suzuki’s UofA Honorary Degree Matter: Canadian Racism versus the Creative Imagination


Recently public comments by several University of Alberta administrators and faculty members have denounced awarding an honorary degree to Dr. David Suzuki.

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Dr. David Suzuki and his sisters, 1942 internment by Canadian government.

Our colleagues are entitled to express their opinions. However, they do not represent the views of many of us who admire the lifetime of internationally respected environmental and science education work accomplished by Dr. Suzuki.

There is a telling silence in these recent public commentaries decrying this honorary degree. Missing is Dr. Suzuki’s vitally important human rights and anti-racist work. Nor is there any acknowledgment of Dr. Suzuki’s longstanding commitment to decolonizing Canada through his support of Indigenous peoples and his condemnation of their cultural genocide in the name of Canadian nation building.

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Dr. Suzuki, a third-generation Japanese Canadian, experienced first-hand how the state can attempt to destroy racialized groups. In 1942, at six years of age, he was interned with his family for the duration of WWII along with 22,000 other Japanese Canadians – at the time, 90% of their population in Canada. Over the course of his life, Dr. Suzuki has demonstrated the remarkable resilience of our Japanese Canadian community and spoken out about the brutality of the WWII internment – what Dr. Suzuki calls “one of the shoddiest chapters in the tortuous history of democracy in North America.”

The scourge of racism continues to plague Canadian society. To honour Dr. David Suzuki is to celebrate his many achievements including his work as a public intellectual dedicated to anti-racist mentorship and education.

UofA President Turpin has supported the UofA honorary doctorate for Dr.Suzuki on the basis of academic freedom and the value of free intellectual debate: “Stifle controversy and you also stifle the pursuit of knowledge, the generation of ideas and the discovery of new truths,” Turpin said. “Take uncomfortable ideas, debate and conflict out of the university and its fundamental role in society disappears.”

Dr. Turpin also expands on the value of academic freedom and thinking beyond the limited confines of dominant discourse: “the university must give people the space and support they need to think independently without fear of external control or reprisal. Otherwise the constraint on the imagination and the intelligence will slow the speed of change and innovation, if not suppress it altogether. Our students will learn that conformity, rather than creativity and innovation, is the goal of learning and education.”

We celebrate the value of thinking beyond blinkered parochialism or the public relations protocols of Alberta’s oil elite.  Research tells us that diversity of thought and community contributes to creative innovation and change.

Likewise, imagine an Alberta where valuing our diversity of histories contributes to our intellectual life and the equitable distribution of faculty positions and resources.

Imagine aspiring to become a world that takes into account the lessons of Canadians like Dr. David Suzuki and his family in order to ensure the travesties of internment and residential schools are deeply understood and not repeated.

Imagine energy futures beyond our reliance on a single outmoded natural resource.

Imagine a Dean of Business or Engineering who champions diversity of thought and perspective beyond the bottom line.

That’s an Alberta we need to achieve.

“any step in the right direction is not a loss”

for my daughter and my mother

 I

 

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On International Women’s Day –

I read my daughter’s words

any step in the right direction is not a loss.

Witness the beauty of her precise economy

her spirit of generosity, her incisive analysis

her ethics of care, her understanding

of this flawed present, her anticipation

of a possible future.

Continue reading ““any step in the right direction is not a loss””

On Joseph Boyden and “Ethnic Fraud”


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Trojan Horse after Virgilius Vaticanus
(Note a working paper in progress – expanding & editing apr 18, 2017…pardon errors) 

At what point should Boyden’s identity quest have been identified as no more than a desiring machine?

I pose this question to myself as someone who has been teaching and writing about Canadian literature and culture over more than thirty years. Joseph Boyden perpetually posed as part Indigenous, an improvised status that afforded him access to advice, teachings, prestige and awards reserved for Indigenous persons. This is misguided and wrong.

I take little pleasure in part of this public debate. The talented and accomplished writer Joseph Boyden is suffering a serious and damaging and humiliating public critique. But I remain unflaggingly sympathetic to those who write about the losses within the Indigenous community when someone inauthentically takes up their space in the public sphere. To those writers and thinkers who already suffer the perils of a colonizing and racist nation state, the marginalization and the damage endures. And I understand the intensity of these critiques especially by those whose community identities or personal influence were particularly exploited. (The list of those active in this debate include Marilyn Dumont, Daniel Justice Heath,

Continue reading “On Joseph Boyden and “Ethnic Fraud””

subtracting terror

Belen Fernandez writes in “Orientalism with a surgical twist”:

For much of its contemporary history, Beirut has been characterised as the Paris of the Middle East, a cosmopolitan metropolis that misfortune has placed in the middle of a region otherwise hostile to the civilised pleasures of material excess, free-flowing alcohol and exposed female skin.

Of course, Beirut’s Parisian charm has tended to become less apparent during periods of mass sectarian slaughter. In the introduction to his seminal text Orientalism, the late Edward Said notes repercussions of civil conflict in Lebanon on the European consciousness:

“On a visit to Beirut during the terrible civil war of 1975-1976 a French journalist wrote regretfully of the gutted downtown area that ‘it had once seemed to belong to … the Orient of [18th- and 19th-century French Romantic writers] Chateaubriand and Nerval’. He was right about the place, of course, especially so far as a European was concerned. The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.”

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The terror attacks in Beirut, “Paris of the Middle East” and Paris, France – tragedies filled with laments for the dead and injured – inspire a predicatable response.

Edward’s Said wrote in his introduction

Beirut’s story is one of two suicide bombers. An explosion. A father and his young daughter are out for a walk.Adel Termos notices a second man approaching those who gathered after the first attack at the mosque a. And he acts. This man on the street throws himself on the second suicide bomber. He and his daughter die of course but dozens of other potential victims survive. The story barely surfaces and disappears with the name and number of the victims: 43 anonymous bodies in Beirut dead in the street and over two hundred wounded. But Beirut is so far away on the margins of the orient in “Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country with a history of civil war, [which] has seen deadly spillovers from the Syrian conflict.”

In Paris, three times as many people die and many are wounded in a meticulously executed multiple-site series of attacks. And there is unending international attention to this story. We are appalled over and over and over again as the maps fill up with explosive stars of red identifying the Cambodian cafe, the stadium, the concert stage, the street….

But the wreckage of these two narratives turn on who we recognize as deserving of elegies and our attention. Paris fills us with the romance of where we may have been, European romance and the short-cropped hair of Jean Seberg for those of us who remember, the streets of beloved museums and cafes. Simone de Beauvoir’s cigarette and the eye of Jean Paul Sartre. A bridge of love locks. A photograph of my mother in 1956, bleached blond hair, a beauty, standing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Over the years, Paris remains the cobblestone destination honeymoon destination.

We don’t think about the suburbs of alienated youth, the police actions, the racist legacy of Le Pen and the father/daughter’s inheritance, the prohibition of Muslim dress for women. The will to bomb the Middle East. None of this justifies the attacks. But one of the everyday pivots of life in the city is inequality and non-fraternity along racial grounds.

Last week, I saw the opera Air India [Redacted] with a libretto based on Renee Saklikar’s brilliant poetry collection The Children of Air India (Nightwood, 2013). You can listen to her interview about the collaboration here.

Our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the public in the aftermath of this catastrophe in measured tones. None of the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament patriarch who would have us ramping up military action. . Thank you for your measured commentary.image

The NDP from here to (t)here: the politics of Palestine by Janice Williamson

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Mayor Jerry Natanine

“I often side with the Palestinians because of all the hardship they are facing and because nothing is being re-built over there,” said Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine. And he mused about the NDP drumming him out of his candidacy: “[it] turns out whatever was in my social media was questionable, and didn’t fall well with the headquarters.”

The conversation about the marginalization of those candidates who criticize Israel and identify with Palestine sounds with the passions of diverse voices but only some of them count. Some are silenced and deemed irrelevant in the urgent sluice called “getting elected.”

To some Canadians the Palestinian issues register as “ours” versus “theirs”. To say this is here and that is (t)here is difficult if you are interconnected with familial, historical, religious, or regional ties both here and (t)here – the threads trace the rich histories of our lives. This conversation about whether the issue resonates with a Canadian voter invites us to think through ethnicity, identity, and racialization – and empathy. And we must  think through “all my relations” – an Indigenous concept that informs Mayor Natanine’s philosophy about Palestine. To decide to prioritize issues relevant to “here” in an election year is to cut off and exile those with strong ties to “here” as well as a particular elsewhere brought close through actual relations, blood or adopted, or through the imagined relations of knowledge, analysis and empathy.

Where there is no “diversity with equity” the shadow of racism falls. And we must speak out.

You don’t slice and dice justice in the interests of expediency. Why the silence on this ongoing purge of NDPs who have a conscience about Palestine. Not an important election issue? Tell that to the Muslim and Arab Canadians who have been exiled and demonized for the past decade and beyond. Or to anyone who works in solidarity with Indigenous issues and identifies with the Palestinians. Tell that to those concerned about Canada’s extremist foreign policy and uncritical support of Netanyahu’s Israel. Harper just bought Israeli Iron Dome missiles for Canada that were test driven in Gaza massacres last summer. Would a different government order more? 

Visiting my beautiful 86-year-old ailing mother a few days ago, she reminded me why we must speak out: “I gave birth to my voice in giving birth to you,” she said. And it is true. My birthdate in 1951 meant I grew up in an era informed by the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements where change informed actions. The ongoing efforts of the Women’s Liberation Movement made it possible for some women to struggle to speak out about injustice. And over the decades, it is clear that only some women benefitted from this noisy conversation. Many Indigenous peoples have been left behind as the 2012 report on NunavutHuman Development Index indicates.

Jerry Natanine’s words should be our own: “I often side with the Palestinians because of all the hardship they are facing and because nothing is being re-built over there.” Translate his sentence and you find yourself writing about “(t)here.”

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— for a look at the telling 2012 Human Development Index report on Nunavut, look here: http://www.csls.ca/reports/csls2012-02.pdf

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/nunavut-ranks-below-estonia-on-human-development-index-1.1157776

May 5, 2015 Orange Crush in Alberta. Rachel Notley Wins! (speculation at noon of election day but riding the wave of hypotheses based on polls and conversations and hope !)

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People say ‘Alberta is not an NDP province.’
And I say they are right.
Alberta doesn’t belong to a political party.
Alberta belongs to Albertans.

Rachel Notley 3 May, 2015

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Why do I think NDP ALBERTA will win?
31% more people voted in the advance polls. 12% more voters registered this election.
Why?
A friend quipped: “Because they have a choice and can imagine change!”

Why is Rachel winning? Insert here all of the polls, the articles east west north south about Rachel’s skill, gifts, history, talents.

Here’s the poll that was published the day before the election with huge NDP numbers and a majority government predicted. Will this come true? Who knows.

Hypothetical begins with the same letter as Hope! It is now 1:29pm election day and I can manage hope for a few more hours until we all gather to watch the election returns and come to know what has transpired.

Why will Rachel win? Imagine the wonderful community, the excellent numerous campaign workers and the well-funded campaign and you have a story about the transformation of Alberta.

11148572_10153344422291385_2025959887160694327_oWill NDP win? The opposition underwhelms —

  • The PC’s leader Prentice has the charm of a board-room bureaucrat.
  • The Wild Rose limps on with a leader who might win votes. Fenceposts have been  elected in Alberta.
  • The Alberta Party barely breathes.
  • The Green Party makes excellent arguments but doesn’t have the voter base.

But NDP Alberta is soaring. (please don’t disappoint, Alberta)

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  • Everyone was looking for the Notley Crue t-shirt invented by NDP campaigners. You can order them here. 
  • Or you can buy the “Keep Calm and Notley On” shirt off my back but I’m not selling!

11174608_10153346992716385_8778017773931011246_oJanice Williamson

Nobody told us…

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“Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”“Nobody told us…”Language links us through time illustrating the then of that time and the now of…well you know that old phrase of hope in the powers of presentism to obliterate the distracting melancholy of regret.Then and now. What a poem means in 1977 or 1981 and what now in 2014?

“…we have to study our lives…”

But this recent interview reminds me of this Adrienne Rich quote from her 1978 poem “Transcendental Etude” from her collection The Dream of a Common Language: “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.” I might have read this two years after I left a very sad and bad marriage and three years after my father died by suicide. My own sense of myself had collapsed. It was a hard time. Of course.

“…make of our lives a study…”

I worked at various jobs and returned to university part-time to study. Reading and writing and my friends and the Women’s Liberation Movement saved my life. I might have read this Rich poem in 1978 but I think it was later when I saw Adrienne Rich and Nicole Brossard give a talk in Toronto on my birthday in 1981. Then I was reading Adrienne Rich and Nicole Brossard in earnest. And writing a dissertation about feminist poetics was my translation of the phrase by Adrienne Rich. There was nothing academic about it.

It’s worth repeating: “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”

Recently this line emerges in an interview discussion of anti-racist pedagogy and it reminds me of a way to upend the kinds of tensions that can emerge in classrooms where diversity informs the writing and lives of students. Peggy MacIntosh wrote about white privilege and male privilege in a famous 1988 essay. And I’m reminded how white privilege, the women’s movement and hard work helped me get a university job. Peggy MacIntosh is still at work at 79 years developing the anti-racist work she wrote about decades ago. In this interview, she reminds us how compassion and probing the limits of our understanding can be key to our work in the classroom. It is difficult to live up to the ideal but try try again is a teacher’s thematic.

Q: “You seem to relate to the idea of privilege in a very compassionate way. But isn’t that hard, since the effects of privilege are so unjust? Isn’t it natural for privilege to make people angry, rather than openhearted? I imagine Tal Fortgang in a college seminar, and the rancor that must accompany conversations about privilege in the classroom. How do you defeat that?

Peggy MacIntosh: The key thing is to let people testify to their own experience. Then they’ll stop fighting with each other. One of my colleagues at SEED says, “Unless you let the students testify to what they know, which schools usually don’t let them do, they will continue to do just what the dominant society wants them to do, which is to tear each other apart.” The students who are sitting there fighting with one another aren’t allowed to have their lives become the source for their own growth and development. Adrienne Rich wrote, at the beginning of women’s studies, “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”

The full interview is here

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/05/the-woman-who-coined-the-term-white-privilege.html

  – Janice Williamson