Racism & the Americanization of Canadian history: Why we shouldn’t look at ourselves through a U.S. lens
On April 20, a jury in Minnesota found Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. Following the verdict, Canadian media was filled with extensive coverage and endless analyses of the story.
Many Canadians watched the racism unfold in the United States with a sense of moral superiority and relief that “this kind of thing does not happen in Canada.” The Canadian response to racism south of the border can be described as an Americanization of Canadian history. The media’s lack of coverage of racism in Canada, in its historically accurate context, is a cause for concern.
Different histories of racism
Canada’s history of racism is different than the United States.
In 1619, the first slave ship docked on North American shores, bringing 20 enslaved Africans. This was the start of the transatlantic slave trade that saw at least 300,000 Africans brought to and sold at U.S. ports. Historians estimate that in Canada, between 1671 and 1834, there were 4,200 slaves – about two-thirds were Indigenous and one-third were Black.
Outlawing the slave trade and restrictions on non-European immigration later slowed down the growth of the Black population both in the U.S. and in Canada.
Immigration regulations introduced in 1962 in Canada eliminated preferences for immigrants of European origin for a points-based system, prioritizing skilled labour. As a result, the immigrant population became more diverse in Canada. Similarly, in the U.S., the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Refugee Act of 1980 and the Immigration Act of 1990 have helped to increase the number of immigrants in the country.
The history of slavery and immigration provides an important context to contemporary conversations on racism. But an increase in immigration does not automatically lead to more or less racism.
In a country like Canada, it’s important for us to acknowledge our differences in history from the U.S., account for racism within a particular historical context and reflect on what racism actually looks like here.
Difference can provide a space for understanding the implication of race in defining the various experiences of racialized groups, instead of a universalized representation of race and racism.