A Minority of One: Why I Oppose the Statement of Principles
The controversy over the Statement of Principles, a requirement by the Law Society that all Ontario lawyers create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles and acknowledge the obligation to promote “equality, diversity and inclusion” has not abated since the election of a slate of Benchers devoted to reversing the Statement of Principles requirement. Most of the opposition to the Statement of Principles has been because the opponents believe the statement violates the right to freedom of speech and expression. Many also oppose it because they see it as a government entity simply overreaching into an area where it is neither necessary nor desirable.
I oppose it for these reasons as well, but that is not the main reason I oppose the Statement of Principles.
I was raised by a mother that was born and grew up in Apartheid South Africa and left in 1979, which was as soon as she could get out. When my mother would encounter the daily humiliations of black South Africans, in addition to making her feel a sense of outrage, they made her feel fear about the society she was living in. She believed that the system that kept the vast majority of the population in a degraded state was evil, could not work forever and that the streets would sooner or later run red with blood (they would have, were it not for the decisions and leadership of Nelson Mandela, but that is for a different blog post). I could tell many stories she has told me, but there is one in particular I always found the most haunting.
My mother was close with the domestic worker that helped raise her who came from a black township where black South Africans were forced to live. Because of the Apartheid system that shut blacks out of most of the economy, virtually all families that were considered white had black domestic workers, even families that struggled financially like hers. One day, her domestic worker asked to bring her four-year-old son, Abraham, to their home so that he could play in their garden. My mother´s family happily agreed and welcomed Abraham and grew close with him as he often visited and played with my mother and her three siblings. The boy stopped coming to the house at the age of five when he began attending school. Two years later, he returned to my mother´s house and attempted to greet him with a warm smile and a hug as anyone greeting a child they loved and appreciated would. When the boy saw her, he stopped dead in his tracks about ten feet away, averted his gaze from my mother´s eyes and said “hello madam.” He was seven years old. For me, that story has always encapsulated the sick society that Apartheid South Africa was that destroyed the dignity and humanity of black people when they were young children, too young to understand most things, but not too young to understand that they were expected to know their place in society and that they were inferior to whites.
Though my mother´s family was considered white, she and some others in her family are darker skinned. I always found this interesting when thinking about the issue of race. My mother´s grandfather fled Lithuania because of anti-Jewish riots. In Lithuania, her family would not have been able to pass, and did not pass, as white. In South Africa, her family were considered white and accorded all the benefits that went along with it. Like many other Jews, they hated Apartheid, but in some ways I think they felt compelled to keep quiet about it, knowing that in Europe they would have been considered the lowest rung of the racial ladder rather than the highest. It was always interesting to me that just by moving countries, the racial category that her family fell into changed completely.
Partly owing to this background, I have always thought of race and skin colour as being something not exactly fixed at least in the sense that there are some hard cases to categorize. more importantly, I do not consider skin colour the proper way to identify or categorize someone. In most cases, race or skin colour tells you almost nothing about the identity of an individual or their life experience. Jews are one of the many examples of the difficulty in categorizing people by race or skin colour. Portuguese and Italian immigrants used to be thought of as racially different from whites when they first came to Canada and the United States, as many of them have a darker colour. There are white people from different parts of Europe whose culture and identity is very different from the original white Canadians who mostly descended from the British Isles. There are also non-European groups like Arabs, Iranians, Kurds, Afghans and Indians that can look more “white” or European, but they still identify with the ethnic group or country they come from, rather than with others with a more similar skin tone. To look at all the peoples of Europe and others that look “white” and imagine there is a category called “white people” whose identity and experience in the world is the same is to ignore all of this and pretend that it does not exist.
What I am trying to say is that I do not consider “whites” to be a group and in a healthy, multi-ethnic society, whites should not be thought of as a group. I needed to look no further than the history of South Africa and the two main groups of whites to conclude that whites sometimes have very little in common with each other. The history of intense hatreds and wars between different European groups should make this reality obvious. In South Africa, the Afrikaner people became something like an indigenous community of Africa (Jacob Zuma once said this to a group of Afrikaners and I agree) that thought of themselves as belonging to the land, which was nothing at all like the Anglo-whites that came later that saw themselves as British people colonizing the land. The Afrikaner language is derived from Dutch, not English. The Afrikaner people are obsessed with guns (like their American counterparts), unlike the Anglo-whites. The Afrikaner´s have a warm and very masculine culture, unlike the Anglo-whites that have a more cold, reserved and polite British Culture. The Afrikaners were much more likely than Anglo-whites to be overtly racist towards blacks, but they were also interestingly much more likely to have friendships and sexual relationships with blacks. When the British came to South Africa, the Afrikaners saw them as a colonial power invading their land. The British saw the Afrikaners as boorish (Boer-ish) and primitive and thought they had every right to take control of the land and they fought two wars against each other, known as the Boer Wars. To me, these two groups are nothing alike. They are part of the diversity of humanity. It was only in the sick society of South Africa that they were all forced, and all learned, to think with their skin colour.
ANOTHER LESSON FROM APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA
The main evil in South Africa was the treatment of blacks and non-whites, but there was another evil — the society itself forced you to think with your skin colour. This is the reason that I find the Statement of Principles and the ideology of “diversity” unsettling and oppose it. The implication of the Statement of Principles and the ideology of diversity is to divide people into two groups, whites and non-whites. I refuse to divide people in society this way. I know virtually nothing about a person´s life experience by looking at their skin colour. Many white people struggle financially, just like many people of colour do. Many white people struggle financially like some new immigrants do or are new immigrants themselves. At the same time, many “people of colour” were born in Canada into a wealthy family or have come to Canada and climbed the ladder and succeeded and are living a comfortable, upper class life in Canada.
I cannot accept the notion that I know anything about a white person or a “person of colour” because of the colour of their skin any more than they can know anything about me because of the colour of mine. I do not accept dividing people into the categories of white and non-white or the fashionable terms of today (that I never heard once growing up in Canada) of “racialized” or “people of colour.” The division of people this way forces people to categorize themselves in ways that they themselves may not want to. This was also an evil in Apartheid South Africa — the society forced you to categorize yourself by race. I believe the path we appear to be following as a nation will lead to, in some ways, the moral rot of South Africa where society was so sick that race was on everyone´s mind all the time. Even when you wanted a reprieve from it, even when you wanted to greet someone just as a fellow human being, just as a child that you loved, appreciated and welcomed, you could not because the constant thinking about race and the divide between people would be etched on the facial expression of a child as young as seven years old.
My mother left South Africa to escape all of this. I refuse to be forced to think with my skin colour. I am worried that this way of thinking will eventually become pervasive and “whites” and “people of colour” will feel a divide between each other that many may not otherwise feel created by the society itself. I am worried that white people that do not think of themselves in terms of race or skin colour will be forced to think about themselves that way and identify that way politically.
A STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES
Ayn Rand used to say, when asked about race or racism, that racism was a completely stupid impulse because the only minority that matters is a minority of one. To me, that is a beautiful statement about the diversity of humanity. The evil of racism has nothing to do with group outcomes and everything to do with the way that individuals are treated. I refuse to look at a law firm website or a court panel and assess the racial composition of it because it has absolutely nothing to do with whether I, or others, can succeed. We are all to be valued because we are all different individuals with different thoughts, different group identities, different creative energy, different interests and hobbies. A law firm that excludes non-white lawyers will suffer in the marketplace because they will be excluding more talented lawyers than the ones they are choosing. It is in this sense that diversity is a strength, that skin colour or race is irrelevant to the talent and ability of an individual lawyer.
Unlike others who grew up in Canada, I never took it for granted that it was a country where anyone of any ethnic background or skin colour can succeed and where it is up to the individual to define themselves, by race or by whatever else they want to. I never felt fear about the society I was living in like my mother did when she grew up in South Africa especially for this reason. I never felt that the society was dividing people into different groups. That is the society I always cherished and continue to want to preserve. I often imagine a situation, a kind of reverie, of what I would have told the South African boy, Abraham, had he not been born in the sick society of Apartheid South Africa, but had the fortune to be born in Canada. I would have told him that here, your skin colour is not a barrier to anything and you can be anything you want to be. That here, people do not think with their skin colour the way they did in South Africa. That here, you can just think of yourself as an individual and do not have to be defined, or define yourself, by your race. Because here in Canada, the only minority that matters is a minority of one.