Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
February 09, 2005
Canada can be a place where race does not matter, prof says
University of Guelph sociology professor Cecil Foster says he’s starting to believe in the possibility of Canadian children growing up in a society where skin colour is truly irrelevant. He explores what it will take to achieve that end in his new book, “Where Race Does Not Matter: The New Spirit of Modernity.”
“This book is not about lament, it’s about hope for the next generation,” said Foster, considered to be among Canada’s leading intellectuals on issues of race, culture, citizenship and immigration. “Theirs will be a time where status and privileges flow from achievements and not from inherited identities.”
Foster said Canada laid the foundation for building towards this ideal when it became the world’s first official multicultural country in 1971. In theory, there should be no races in such a society. Yet skin colour has been used to divide humans into species and varieties, forming the basis of superiority or inferiority of one group compared with another, he said.
“The question is, how does a country whose citizens have different skin colours, are of different religions and have different birthplaces and parental ancestries, become a nation where ultimately there is only one race that matters – the human race? How do we overcome the dream deficit – the difference between the desire and the reality – and do this?”
Foster will share his insight on this issue and discuss his new book during Black History Month and at a Feb. 16 talk that is part of the Third Age Learning lecture series.
In his book, recently published by Penguin Group (Canada), Foster explores how Canada went from wanting to be a “white man’s country” – including being largely responsible for the prototype of apartheid in South Africa – to becoming a nation that is home to people from around the world.
“Canada took a leading role in saying citizenship has nothing to do with ethnicity, the colour of your skin or the language you speak,” he said. “It has to do with your intellect, your accomplishments and your values. Until that time, no country in the world had ever done that.” Canada also embraces diversity, encouraging new residents to maintain and share their culture and heritage, he said. “We are not a melting pot; that doesn’t work for us.”
Foster is quick to add that Canada is not free of racism. “There are still problems; it continues to be a serious issue. But we can always have hope that we can overcome these problems. Of course, hope does not guarantee change. But part of the Canadian experience – its culture and its very survival – was founded on hope. If we work hard enough and have good faith, maybe we will arrive at a point where all of our citizens are genuinely equal and race truly does not matter. That can be the legacy that Canada leaves to the world.”
Foster, who joined the Guelph faculty in 2002, is the author of several other non-fiction and fiction books, including the award-winning A Place Called Heaven: The Meaning of Being Black in Canada, the memoir Island Wings and the novel No Man in the House. A former journalist and radio host, he also taught media studies at Ryerson University in Toronto.
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