Exploring the Configurations of Whiteness I & II

Exploring the Configurations of Whiteness I

Session Code:  RE2A                                                     Session Format:  Regular Session

Critical Whiteness Studies is a growing, global and interdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry. The field aims to expose whiteness’ hidden dimensions. It seeks to challenge its everyday ideologies, practices, relationality, ways of being and knowing that sustain racial domination and privilege. The conceptual framework of whiteness raises questions of who gets to be white, when and under what conditions.

Organizer(s):  Katerina Deliovsky, Brock University; Tamari Kitossa, Brock University   

Chair: Katerina Deliovsky, Brock University


  1. Seeing “Whiteness” through the prism of interracial intimacy

Author(s): Tanvi Sirari, University of British Columbia 

In the literature on race and ethnicity, whiteness is understood as an empty and unmarked category, one that allows it to be framed as a normative position through which other races and cultures are defined. Yet the description ‘White’ is seldom invoked as a racial or cultural category. In this paper, I argue that certain conditions such as “interracial intimacy” can bring Whiteness into sharper focus. This paper draws on semi-structured interviews conducted together and separately with interracial couples, in the greater Vancouver area. Specifically, I study how White subjects’ awareness of their own ‘racialness’ is heightened when they are cohabiting with a romantic partner who belongs to a racialized community. Interracial intimacy provokes a range of intellectual and affective responses. White partners determine whiteness in the context of their relationship. Often, they are able to develop a knowledge of whiteness by comparing their own experience of race with that of their partners. The Canadian context of multicultural tolerance provides the framework in which White subjects situate their engagement with their partners’ experiences. However, interracial intimacy can also arouse a defensive reaction. White subjects may refuse to acknowledge or minimize their partners’ encounters with racism or deny their own racial privilege. The challenge for White partners in these partnerships is not “rebound racism”, but the need for cultivating “racial literacy” to recognize racism experienced by their partners, as they witness and share these experiences as a couple.

  1. “I had missionary grandparents for Christ’s sakes”: Unpacking whiteness and colonialism in the lives of white Euro-Canadian women in transracial/cultural families.

Author(s): Willow Allen, Simon Fraser University                 

As subjects who face gender oppression and racial privilege, white women have played a unique role in his tories of colonialism and nation-building, and they have a distinct responsibility to a different future (Carter, 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Knapman, 1986; Najmi & Srikanth, 2002; Ware, 1992). Drawing on data from my qualitative study of ten white Euro-Canadian women in transracial/cultural families with black African new immigrant partners in the Canadian context, I examine participants’ experiences and subjectivities in relation to histories of empire. Employing an antiracist “interventive in-depth interviewing” method (Okolie, 2005), and informed by critical race feminisms, critical whiteness studies, and antiracism scholarship, I explore how the women make connections between their own racialized and gendered subjectivities, and conditions of colonialism. I argue in order for white women to bear witness to the historical weight of their whiteness, forming linkages between their individual subject-positions and broader social, political and economic conditions is necessary. Within the current political climate, in which a significant number of white women voted for Trump in the American election, this is a critical time to address the positionality of white women, and the significant role they can play in disrupting white supremacy (Anderson, 2016; Rogers, 2016).

  1. Pierre Bourdieu meets Rudolph Valentino: Racial Ambiguity and Silent Film

Author(s): Elizabeth (Lisa) Peden, University of Toronto  

As the racially ambiguous daughter of Southern Italian immigrant parents, my research examines our need to classify individuals into racial categories. Bourdieu (1993) argues that classifying systems are “at stake of struggles between groups they characterize and counterpose, who fight over them while striving to turn them to their own advantage.” This paper will examine the notion of categories with respect to race by considering the large population of Southern Italian immigrants to America in the early 20 th century deemed racially ambiguous. What happens when something or someone is seen as uncategorizeable? Utilizing early 20th century film as a case study and relying on Bourdieu’s assertions, I argue that film is an important cultural tool for the reproduction of social structures and it was through film that Southern Italian immigrant film actor Rudolph Valentino negotiated his racial ambiguity in order to be categorized and seen as ”white” and thus win a place in the social order. As someone who has spent her life answering the question “what are you,” my research has taken me into an area where I hope to answer not what I am, but why we need to ask.   

  1. Are Portuguese-Canadians White?

Author(s): Esra Ari, Western University     

Whiteness refers to a privileged location in the economic, social, and political power relations, which is more than skin colour (Harris 1993, Levine-Rasky 2013, Howard 2015). It confers some material benefits and privileged status, usually unearned and mostly unrecognized, on white people (McIntosh 2004). Whiteness is socially constructed, and therefore its meaning differs depending on a particular time and a specific place. Accordingly, this research deals with the meaning of “whiteness” for Portuguese-Canadians and its intersection with “ethnicity” and “social class” and asks the question of “Are Portuguese-Canadians “white” in a white dominant, ethnically diverse, and competitive capitalist society?” When Portuguese started to immigrate to Canada in mid-1950s in significant numbers, they were conceived as “dark-whites” (Harney 1990). Today, Portuguese are categorized as “white” in official documents, and they have amalgamated under the white European group (Nunes 2008, 2014). This research first examines how Portuguese see themselves racially and ethnically, and second, whether their categorization as “white” automatically implies an economically, politically, and socially privileged position in Canada. As a research methodology, I conducted 21 in-depth interviews with Portuguese in Toronto. Furthermore, seeking an answer to my research question, the history of Portugal, the entrance status of Portuguese immigrants into Canada, and their current position in the institutional power structure will also inform my analysis.


Exploring the Configurations of Whiteness II

Session Code:  RE2B                                                              Session Format:  Regular Session

Critical Whiteness Studies is a growing, global and interdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry. The field aims to expose whiteness’ hidden dimensions. It seeks to challenge its everyday ideologies, practices, relationality, ways of being and knowing that sustain racial domination and privilege. The conceptual framework of whiteness raises questions of who gets to be white, when and under what conditions. Papers in this session contribute to developing a shared space for inter and transdisciplinary conversations on whiteness in Canada.

Organizer(s):  Katerina Deliovsky, Brock University; Tamari Kitossa, Brock University   

Chair: Katerina Deliovsky, Brock University


  1. The Great White North: Qualitative Interviews with Retired Professional Players on Race and Hockey in Canada

Author(s): Nathan Kalman-Lamb, Duke University     

In the last five decades, Canada has increasingly – and officially – come to perform a multicultural identity in large part because of the cultural capital this identity has engendered in an era of globalization and the legitimacy it confers to a nation founded on a colonial history and reliant upon a current political economy significantly underwritten by officially-sanctioned racialized migrant labour. Yet, at its core, Canadian identity remains hegemonically white. This is only laid bare in contexts where the stakes of identity are highest and most personal, such as the national pastime, hockey. In the world of professional and semi-professional hockey in Canada, there is little space multicultural discourse, because there is little space for non-white subjects of any kind. Canadian hockey is an arena for the unapologetically naked rehearsal of hegemonic whiteness that persists at the heart of Canadian national identity. In this presentation, I draw on interview testimony from a larger project in which I conducted semi-structured interviews with eight former professional hockey players who participated in a range of levels of professional hockey, from the U.K. to the North American minor leagues to the NHL. All identified as Canadian and currently reside in Canada. An examination of this testimony reveals that racism is both ubiquitous and unacknowledged in Canadian hockey culture, for in the Canadian national imaginary, hockey exists as an essentially white realm. Indeed, the putative racial purity of hockey metonymically comes to represent the pristine whiteness at the core of Canadian national identity itself, beneath the pragmatic veneer of multiculturalism. To acknowledge racism, then, would be to concede that heterogeneity and structural inequality exist within the Canadian nation, a concession that would compromise the legitimacy and sanctity of the nation as imagined.

  1. Who’s not getting hired?: The role of employer gatekeeping in cultivating citizens, good workers and racial identities

Author(s): Sonia D’Angelo, York University 

The Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program marked its 50 th anniversary in 2016. The program developed in response to the crisis or deficiencies of the Canadian labour market. A crisis of Canadian identity also marked the historical climate of the programs institutionalization. The liberalizing of immigration and citizenship policies, together with the commitment to multiculturalism, arguably enshrined whiteness as a Canadian national ideal. Since the development of the program agricultural employers have enjoyed the privileges of assembling or ‘picking their labour’ (Preibisch, 2010). This paper will consider how the organization of migrant labour is in part shaped by and through the assemblage of potential ‘Canadian’ candidates as unbefitting workers. Thus I examine how employers make decisions about who not to hire. I survey discourses of deservingness and morality which infuse and cultivate meanings of citizenship, whiteness, and ideas about “good” workers. These discourses effectively authorize white racial domination over migrant workers in Canada. I investigate how differences between “good” and “bad” workers are socially produced and structured by race, class, nationality and gender. Specifically, I consider how this typology of good/bad workers sustains tensions between “bad” white Canadian workers and “good” temporary migrant workers. I argue that this tactic of differentiation is vital to sustaining the exceptional quality of the SAWP.

  1. Reinventing Empire: Citizenship Education in the Age of Internationalism and Racial liberalism

Author(s): Nancy Spina, University of Toronto     

In this paper I focus on the re-articulation of whiteness as a benevolent yet imperial agentic and affective self through an empirical analysis of the social studies curricula utilized in Ontario during the 1950s and 1960s. My analysis is framed by postcolonial, feminist and antiracist theories about whiteness, otherness and Canadian nationalism. Connecting curricular documents to hegemonic notions of liberal internationalism and racial liberalism that I emphasize how the innocent teaching and learning practices of progressive Education and its underlying notions of subject, community and democracy were instrumental in propelling into the present an imperial subject who through a moral concern for the Other both nationally and globally, was able to erase the other’s political agency and thus re-acquire full and unrestrained imperil autonomy. I also consider t some of the implications of my findings for future reflections on the relationship between progressive education and multicultural and global citizenship education.

  1. Mainstreaming and normativity of dominant-group culture – a phenomenon particular to the Global North?

Author(s): Caroline Schoepf, Hong Kong Baptist University; Matthew Chew, Hong Kong Baptist University   

Whiteness researchers have observed that in many ‘Western’ society of the Global North, ‘White’ culture is mainstreamed, normative and its bearers feel a sense of culturelessness. However, the literature is inconclusive about whether this is a regional or global phenomenon and what mechanisms cause it. Drawing on in-depth interviews with different ethnic groups in Hong Kong, we argue that in Hong Kong, there is no single ‘mainstreamed’ or ‘normative’ culture. Instead, there is a cultural hierarchy which all ethnic groups tend to be conscious of. ‘Western’ ‘Japanese’ and ‘Korean’ culture tends to be positioned above ‘Chinese’ culture. Acculturation to some aspects of ‘Western’ culture is perceived as mandatory for natives and migrants in upper-middle class circles, but not in working class ones. Migrants or sojourners from highly ranked cultures are not expected to acculturate to ‘Chinese’ culture, but working-class individuals bearing low-ranked cultures are. We argue that the cultural mainstreaming and normativeness of ‘Whiteness’ is a phenomenon specific to ‘White-majority’ societies of the Global North and arises through an interplay of local and global power structures.

Chair: Wesley Crichlow, University of Ontario Institute of Technology


  1. Interrogating Whiteness and Enrichment: Exploring access to enrichment programming for Black students in the Greater Toronto Area

Author(s): R.C. George, York University           

African Canadian learners are visibly underrepresented in gifted programs and academic streams in GTA schools. Using Critical Race Theory as a conceptual frame, this paper will explore the ways in which historical and current educational policies in Ontario limit the ways in which Black students can access enriched learning opportunities and therefore, contributes to the stifling of their academic success, possibilities and trajectories, and thus, maintains the Whiteness of enriched educational spaces. We will also explore the history and background of educational policies that marginalize Black students, address issues around the lack of collection of race data, explore the ways in which the geography of enrichment acts as an access barrier for Black students and then discuss the real-life experiences and implications for Black students and their families. This research contributes to a body of knowledge that is critical of the differential treatment that Black students often face in the Ontario schooling system, but focuses more specifically on the ways in which institutional practices and policies act to limit the opportunities and outcomes for Black learners, especially those who are high-achieving. This research critically interrogates the intersecting, overlapping and problematic relationships between race, class, space, geography and education.

  1. Policing and Racial Profiling in Montreal: Findings from a Participatory Action Research Project with Youth

Author(s): Anne-Marie Livingstone, Johns Hopkins University           

Racial profiling by the police has long been a significant problem in Montreal, prompting the city’s police service to launch an action plan against racial and social profiling in 2014. Yet, empirical studies of the phenomenon remain surprisingly sparse. One investigation showed that between 2001 and 2007, black youth in Montreal were four times more likely than white youth to be stopped by the police and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested. The presentation will discuss the results of the first-ever qualitative study on racial profiling and its impact on young people in Montreal. It was implemented in a neighborhood of the city where racial profiling has been documented before, though only anecdotally. The study was undertaken using a participatory methodology, so as to fully engage a group of racial minority youth in the study’s design and implementation. From January 2015 to the present, a team of three academic researchers and five young people from the neighborhood has led the study and completed 46 interviews with participants aged 15 to 28 years. The team read and coded the interview transcripts line-by-line and settled on four major themes that will be covered in the presentation. These are: police methods of intercepting youth, social constructions of youth deviance, forms of police abuse, and reactions of youth. The findings illustrate that racial profiling remains common in the neighborhood and takes on many different forms, including: random stops of youth on the street, controls on young people’s use of public spaces, racial insults, and punishments for minor infractions. The study further reveals the harmful effects of these practices on young people’s sense of their rights as citizens, racial identities, feelings of safety, and trust in the police.

  1. Economic and cultural deviance: Unraveling ‘criminalization of poverty’ discourse in Canada

Author(s): Deirdre McDonald, Carleton University; Marcella Siqueira Cassiano, University of Alberta         

Social scientists in Canada invariably categorize by-laws regulating behaviours associated with poverty, including enforcement and effects, under the umbrella term ’criminalization of poverty.’ The life-sustaining activities of the poor in urban spaces (e.g. panhandling, squeeging, and sleeping in public areas) are usually seen as public menaces. Yet, despite the increasing popularization of such regulatory mechanisms across the country, the literature assigned in Canadian undergraduate teaching eludes a decisive definition of ‘poverty’ as a subject of punishment. Furthermore, this term is often equated to ‘police bias’ in arrests, seeing it as the root cause explanation for potentially strong inverse correlations between income and criminality. Driven to better understand poverty as an analytical category relevant to Canadian society, we confront the notion of ‘poverty’ as ‘economic and cultural’ deviance, arguing that the real subject of criminalization involves beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, and habits that are simply beyond the pale, especially those associated with Indigeneity, because they pose a risk to the insidious modern capitalist maxim: “if we simply work hard enough we will get ahead.” We carried out evaluative research of historical documents of the Department of Indian Affairs reporting on the government’s progress in assimilating Indigenous populations into the modern economic logic. By problematizing the notion of poverty and society’s current responses to it, our efforts are intended to assist the design of crime control solutions that have a clear agenda; solutions that effectively distinguish criminal behaviour from life-sustaining activities and, more importantly, that can be transparently and objectively assessed. We hope this instructive analysis equips readers with insights to critique discourses that blame ‘police bias’ for the social problem of the overrepresentation of low-income populations in Canada’s criminal justice system.


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