Canadian Journal of Sociology Online November - December 2000

Leo Driedger and Shiva S. Halli, editors.
Race and Racism: Canada’s Challenge
Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press for Carleton University, 2000, 328 pp. $Cdn 24.95 paper (0-88629-365-0), $Cdn 65.00 (0-88629--362-6) cloth.

This edited volume, presented in four sections spanning fourteen chapters, addresses matters pertaining to race, ethnicity and racism in Canada at the brink of the twenty-first century. As Driedger and Halli affirm (Chapter 1), estimates suggest that by the year 2016 ‘people of color’ will comprise approximately 20% of the Canadian population. In light of the escalating presence of visible minority populations in Canada, they query: “How will majority white Canadians react, and will they be up to the demands of the situation?” (p. 17)

The first section of the volume, ‘Concepts and Theories’, attempts to shed some light on how [majority white] Canadians are reacting. Drawing attention to the renewed politicization of the race concept which was observed through the 1990s, Sylvia Wargon (Chapter 2) introduces the section by arguing that, despite a period of political correctness characterized by a tendency to resist categorizing the Canadian population using racial criteria in the post-war era, there appeared in 1996 an official re-emergence of ‘the race issue’ on the Canadian Census. The striking feature of this reversion to race-classification, Wargon asserts, was that the essentialist and deterministic assumptions inherent in perceptions of ‘race’ difference remained virtually unchanged in form and content from the time of its original appearance on the Census of 1901. The matter is further elaborated by Monica Boyd, Gustave Goldman and Pamela White in Chapter 3. They demonstrate how questions of racial origin on the Canadian Census are, as they have always been, rooted in the wider socio-political issues of colonization and nation-building. What is apparent, they imply, is that the politics of race, which historically served to exclude from full and equal social participation Chinese, Japanese, Jewish and Aboriginal populations in Canada, are the same discursive and representational concerns that threaten to exclude and oppress select populations today and in the future.

Following this ambitious and enticing beginning, the first section concludes with two papers by Leo Driedger and Shiva S. Halli and Joseph O’Shea, respectively, which assess, to varying degrees of success, theoretical concerns of racial/ethnic integration in Canada. Following this, Section Two shifts attention away from theoretical and conceptual issues to an analysis of ‘Economic and Social Factors’. Drawing on an interpretive framework, Nancy Higgitt (Chapter 6) introduces the section with an intriguing discussion of what ‘successful’ refugee resettlement truly implies, followed by Ravi B. P. Verma and Kwok Bun Chan’s analysis of the economic performance of Asian immigrants compared to Canadian-born residents (Chapter 7). Section Two concludes with a particularly interesting piece authored by T. John Samuel and Aly Karam (Chapter 8) on Employment Equity. Assessing the progress of Employment Equity legislation since 1977, the latter calls attention to differential labor force participation rates found in the public and private sector among visible minority groups, tracing the implications for Canadian Employment Equity legislation in the years to come.

The conceptual terrain of Section Three, ‘Racism and Discrimination’, seeks to address the primary foundation of ‘Canada’s Challenge’. However, and disappointingly, the three papers presented by Leo Driedger and Angus Reid (Chapter 9), John Berry and Rudolf Kalin (Chapter 10) and Donald W. Taylor, Stephen Wright and Karen Ruggiero (Chapter 11) fail to engage critical analyses of racism as a social problem in Canada, and, furthermore, do not offer sound comments on strategies directed at the elimination of racism. As a section which should serve as the backbone for this volume, the reader is presented with a limited theoretical and conceptual engagement of racism as a social-psychological phenomenon.

Section Four, ‘Minorities Coping in Cities’, is introduced with Helen Ralston’s impressive feminist analysis of the intersection of race, class and gender in settlement and multicultural policies in Canada. Ralston draws on data from interviews conducted with South Asian women living in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, and offers a compelling analysis of immigrant womens’ lived experiences in Canada. This chapter is followed by interesting papers on Chinese delinquency (Chapter 13) and the stress-levels of refugee populations living in Toronto (Chapter 14) by Siu Kwong Wong and Guang Tain, respectively.

As a whole, the many chapters in this book have much to offer on an empirical level but, for the most part, the volume fails to engage critical analyses of theoretical matters pertaining to race and racism in Canada. While, commendably, an effort is made to bring a variety of methods and approaches together in one location, the book, despite what the title portends, has little to say on many of the important challenges that all Canadians are confronted with, such as the theoretical/practical significance of anti-racist social movements, community-based organizations, and anti-racist education. Furthermore, it is disappointing that, although explicitly setting as its goal to take up the challenge(s) of race and racism in Canada as we enter the twenty-first century, the majority of the volume’s authors are silent on recent scholarly debates which have contested the magnitude and extent of racism in Canada. Empirical data have, over the past decade, suggested that racist barriers in Canada are consistently being dismantled on a structural level and at the level of everyday experience. While much of this literature is contestable — and this volume presents a prime opportunity for such an endeavor — the authors neglect to explicitly confront these prominent currents.

Therefore, if readers seek progressive sociological analyses of racism and/or anti-racism which significantly advance the literature, this book will not be satisfying. The volume does offer considerable value, particularly with its wealth of attitudinal data, but in my view the volume fails to fully realize its implied goal: Canada’s challenges in the realm of confronting racism and working towards the development of a fair and just society for all Canadians.

Sean P. Hier
McMaster University
November 2000
© CJS Online