Strange Fruit: The Reification of 'Race' and the Myth of Official Multiculturalism in Selected Canadian Media

Rawle Gavin Agard
Communication Studies, University of Windsor
May, 2005
 

Abstract

This thesis investigates the concept of ‘race’ and its place within the discourse of ‘official multiculturalism’ in the Canadian context. More specifically, I explore the ways that ‘race’ has been coded in the popular media in my examination of selected articles from the Toronto Star’s coverage of: Philippe Rushton, human genome research, and racial profiling practiced by the Toronto Police Service. Through a textual analysis that combines the insights of Barthes’(1972) notion of myth as well as tools derived from critical discourse analysis, this research reveals that a conservative racialized discourse lies beneath The Star’s seemingly critical stance on issues of racism. Indeed, although The Star appears, ostensibly, to be critical of racism it, nonetheless, maintains and perpetuates dominant perceptions of ‘race’ as both an objective genetic entity and a permanent category that exists in culture.
Despite my findings and the fact that most progressive social scientists refrain from employing the construct of ‘race’ as a determinant of specific social phenomena, discussions of ‘race’ – as a fixed analytical and descriptive category – continue to dominate popular and media discourses. Such rigid characterizations are also prevalent in the official narratives of Canadian multiculturalism that attempt to define and categorize citizens into clearly delineable groupings under the rubric of ‘difference’. This notion of ‘difference’, couched in the broader ‘liberal’ discourse of tolerance and diversity, however, continues to reinscribe ‘race’ as a fixed cultural category. Moreover, such formulations tend to contain the vestiges of colonialist legacies.
In order to dismantle the ‘strange fruits’ that ‘racisms’ bear within today’s multicultural society, one must first understand, and then demystify the common myth about ‘race’ as a social and historical construct imbedded in the colonialist ideologies of imperial domination as they are imbricated in the policies and practices of ‘official multiculturalism’ in Canada. This undertaking must be premised on the notion that the modern concept of ‘race’ comes out of the existence of racism and not vice versa. Indeed, the popular concept of ‘race’ must be reconsidered if any meaningful anti-racist discourse is to be articulated and put into the broader aims of social justice.
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