Second up in our month of guest posts is long-time reader and astute commenter, Dandelion. I asked Dandelion to write for the blog not only to inspire him to start writing full time and share his enthusiasm for feminism but also because the dandelion is part of the natural diet of a wood turtle:
I am a white male who is atheist. I am also a feminist, university student and an avid traveler. I am a university student based out of Vancouver, and I love love love to cook. Particularly if things get stressful, a nicely prepared homecooked meal calms me down nicely. I also love eating, the inevitable result of cooking.
Please join me in welcoming Dandelion as he shares an analysis on positive prejudice, privilege and religiously-coded bodies in the Canadian citizenship landscape.
A couple of months ago I was giving a guest lecture to a local high school on architecture, describing the different styles that can be found in Seville’s Cathedral. The cathedral is an excellent example of gothic and renaissance architecture, and in the 15th century, was built on top of a grand mosque that existed there earlier (which in turn replaced an even older cathedral). Examples of Islamic architecture remains throughout the cathedral, as portions of the outer courtyard and foundations haven’t changed.
As I was explaining this to the students, one put up his hand and asked, “What’s Islam?” I was a little taken aback, but I responded with “The religion of Muslims.” I continued my lecture, but another hand went up, and this student asked, “What’s a Muslim?” I didn’t have an immediate response for the question, because it was so unexpected.
Then another student in the class answered with, “They’re the terrorists.”
I had no idea how to respond. The student supplying the information equating Muslims as terrorists was not attempting to be funny — he offered it as a genuine explanation, and one that the other students seemed to accept at face value without a hint of laughter.
So this is not an example of kids being mean. There were teachers standing at the edge of the audience that made no move to interrupt or intervene, and I was standing at the front feeling totally helpless. The two questions that arose in my mind following this interaction were, why am I lecturing about architecture to these kids, and what narratives are these children being taught, that they associate Islam with terrorism, and not acknowledge it as a religion? The latter question is more pressing, and the more troubling.
A little over a month ago I arrived very early at a conference hall to hear one of my favourite academics lecture on Imperialism and Democracy. I was standing outside the conference room, by myself, wishing the door was unlocked, when some of the building catering staff arrived and began to set outside the room.
I asked one of the caterers what time the room would be unlocked, and she responded, “You look like you belong. I’ll open it for you.” I looked like I belonged, and therefore posed absolutely no threat to the tens of thousands of dollars of expensive computer and projection equipment that lay within the conference room.
Later that same evening, I was out for a post-conference dinner at The Refinery, a newer, trendier restaurant in downtown Vancouver. Partway through the meal, a manager came over to our table and started chatting. During the chat he announced, “You are the kind of people we want coming here” and promptly took care of a bottle of wine, appies and offered dessert and dessert drinks on the house. The manager did these things because he obviously wanted to encourage my patronage at his restaurant, because he desired people like me as regulars.
Now, the manager did not know me, nothing had been wrong with our meal, and he had no way of knowing what type of person I was, beyond what I appeared to be — which is a white, non-religiously coded body.
When people tell me that they like the look of me, or that my countenance makes me seem trustworthy, what they’re really saying is that they are prejudiced towards other people who may not look like me.
Whether it may be class, race, gender or religiously coded bodies, I have the unique privilege of escaping the negative stereotype from each category. As a consequence, persons in other positions of privilege often automatically presume that they can express “positive” prejudice towards me. Since the prejudice is not directed towards me, and thus “positive,” then I should not be offended by it. Which is wrong. By valuing certain bodies over others, even in a positive way, all you’re doing is showing yourself as a prejudiced and ignorant person, who will do nothing but enrage me.
There are a myriad of books, blogs and academic articles about where society learns its values from, but I am going to focus on some places uniquely entrenched in Canada.
The citizenship court in Vancouver is presided over by three different judges, and their responsibility, among others, is to give a speech welcoming every single new citizen of Canada. The speech must cover policy mandated parts, such as different rights and responsibilities, unceded aboriginal land, and Canadian values — however, the speech is mostly made up of topics of the judges choice.
One judge in particular, Judge Anne-Marie Kains, takes it upon herself to single out a specific identity as acutely “unCanadian.” Judge Kains repeats the following every single time:
Women in Canada do not walk behind men. Women in Canada DO NOT walk behind men. They walk beside men, or sometimes in front of them.
As soon as she says that line, it conjures up an image of an oppressed veiled woman. The veiled woman is, by her own words, not Canadian. (As a personal observation, women are particularly difficult to surveil when they walk behind men, it doesn’t work at all — the smart misogynistic man will make the woman walk in front, so she can always be visible.)
Judge Kains can be viewed as an exception to an otherwise neutral public service, or she can be viewed as a larger pattern of discrimination within Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The citizenship process provides migrants their first officially endorsed version of what it means to be Canadian.
The trail of hubris started by Judge Kains continues to Mufti Jason Kenney, who decided to tell Muslim women how to interpret their religion and what to wear, specifically, what not to wear. The Canadian Citizenship Guide’s has a special focus on honour killings, describing them as “barbaric.”
While each item may be said with the best of intentions, each item is also spoken with a specific target in mind: Muslims.
They are targeted, because they are not seen as Canadian within the national consciousness. As the official stance on Canadian identity, it is no wonder how the value of Islamophobia is so easily passed to other members of the population.
So if we ask the important questions like, where do high school students learn the narrative that equates Islam with terrorism, we need to look very deeply at the institutions that uphold and direct our society. Prejudice exists in these institutions, and targets Islam as a threat to Canadian identity. These institutions then help shape the way wider society values certain identities, creating a very large divide between how different people are treated. It is in this divide that very real harm can occur, not just in the silly narratives espoused by the Canadian state.