Mexico-Canada Dialogues For a world in transformation – Chapter 3
The Institute for Canadian Citizenship and Embassy of Canada in Mexico partnered on the third of a three-part Mexico-Canada Dialogue series, discussing how both Mexico and Canada share a rich and challenging history shaped by colonization. We discussed how the legacy of colonialism is both broad-ranging and deeply entrenched: from classism and economic inequality to racism and tokenism.
It’s long been clear that these systems must be uprooted. The project is a large one, but can start with each of us as individuals, and how we relate to the people around us.
Introductions: Ambassador Graeme C. Clark
Remarks by: The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson
Moderator: Juana Inés Dehesa
Speakers: Kamal Al-Solaylee (Canada), El Jones (Canada), Judith Bautista Pérez (Mexico)
Colonialism, and more specifically the exploitation of land and people, has created inequalities on both a global and national scale. Many accept that this is clearly apparent in the “colonial era” of North America, in the overt subjugation of Indigenous peoples of North America, the extraction of resources, and the slave trade, but this exploitation did not end in the 19th, or 20th centuries. It continues to be prevalent in our daily lives today.
Over the last 100 years, building upon inequalities of the past, exploitation of land and people continues to be apparent in differential political status, resource extraction, and labour dynamics. Indigenous Peoples, Black folks, and immigrants have all faced barriers to political participation. This includes the explicit denial of the right to vote, among a variety of means to prevent control over land and resources. Time and again, in Canada and Mexico, we see Indigenous peoples fighting to prevent resource extraction occuring on their lands, or impacting their lands, without their consent. They also all continue to be disproportionately represented in, and unfairly compensated, for menial, front-line work (as explored in Kamal Al-Solaylee’s book Brown), and have borne the risk, the pain, and the death that comes from this work in the era of COVID-19.
Racial hierarchies are a construction, and this construction is an essential component of exploitation. The fluidity of racial hierarchies demonstrates their constructed nature. This fluidity is apparent both in how a single individual’s race and associated hierarchical position is interpreted differently in different locales, and in how entire classes of people, such as the Irish in 19th century America, have seen their racial and hierarchical position shift over time. The construction of this hierarchy, the dehumanization, and de-valuation of certain groups of people, which continues to be drilled into us from a young age, has always been an essential component to exploitation, implicitly justifying unfair and unequal outcomes including slavery, indentured labour, political exclusion, land appropriation, and the exportation of the most severe environmental consequences of rampant capitalism: pollution and global warming.
In both Canada and Mexico, too many subscribe to myths that racism and racially based exploitation are things of the past, thus causing ignorance of, and inaction on these issues. In Canada, many look at our official multiculturalism policy, compare us to the United States, and conclude that racism is not a big issue here. In Mexico, there is the notion that because of the prevalence of the Mestizo population (people of mixed ancestry; usually a mix of European and Indigenous), that racism is non-existent. In both countries, a supposed capitalist meritocracy (ignoring historical oppression), and tokenistic political appointments of Black, brown, and Indigenous peoples also serve to assuage, while failing to realize racial justice in a genuine sense.
What we seek is justice. To realize this, we have to confront how colonialism and racism continue to infect our modern societies, and then take action to abolish them. We must recognize the inherent dignity and value of all people, and the ways in which internalized colonialism has allowed us to accept, and/or benefit from, inequality and exploitation for too long. We must obliterate racial hierarchies from our own minds, before we can create lasting justice in our politics, our policing, and our economies.