restricted access 11 The White Race Is Shrinking: Perceptions of Race in Canada and Some Speculations on the Political Economy of Race Classification
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11 The White Race Is Shrinking: Perceptions of Race in Canada and Some Speculations on the Political Economy of Race Classification DOUG DANIELS For many years I have been teaching a sociology class on 'Minorities and Ethnic Group Relations' at the University of Regina, Canada, where the ethnic make-up of the student body is quite unremarkable. As on so many campuses in North America, our student body is almost exclusively 'white' in the sense that most come from British and East European families. We have a smattering of students from abroad (mainly Hong Kong) and a very few Canadian Indian and Metis students. In addition, our population is inundated with the usual US television programs, magazines, and university texts, so our perceptions of race are very much influenced by the culture of 'middle America.' In the early 1970s I found unexpected resistance whenever I would attempt to make a critique of pseudo-scientific race classification. I found that the students were quite a bit more stingy than I in the number of nationalities that they considered 'white.' Let me give two examples. When my lectures were dealing with the problems of perception of skin colour, like the well-known phenomenon in Brazil where 'money whitens' people's perceptions of race and class, I also got into the problem of borderline cases. Why, I asked, should we have ideal types only for black and white 'races' (negroid and caucasoid) when in-between areas like Turkey and Morocco could just as well serve as a light brown ideal type? To my surprise, some of the students countered that the Turks, whatever else they might be, were certainly not white. I was taken aback by the certitude-even the vehemence-of the assertion. The next fall, when I was discussing the 1973 CIA coup against the Allende government in Chile, I pointed out that Chile had had a long history of stability in government that surpassed many European countries. One of my students interjected that he had no idea that Chileans were 'white' people! I was flabbergasted by this whole train of thought. So I decided to find out what was going on and devised the following, rather informal , questionnaire. It is a list of countries and/or nationalities, and I introduced it something like this: 'I'm going to read you a list of names of different nationalities. I want you to tell me whether you think they are "white" people or not. Don't stop and think about it-I don't 4 ERS 352 (July 1981). Originally published in Ethnic and Racial Studies. Reprinted by permission of Routledge, a division of Routledge, Chapman & Hall Ltd. Copyrighted Material 52 Doug Daniels want your scientific opinion but just what we absorb from our popular culture. Just pretend you're on a psychologist's couch doing word associations and answer as quickly as possible.' In the past eight years the results have been consistent in a way that is scientifically pleasing but politically puzzling. Here is the list, together with the normal results: 'Who is white?' List of nationalities Swedes Congolese Canadians Icelanders Spaniards Belgians Dutch Turks Germans Algerians English Welsh Cubans Danes Israelis Chileans Ugandans Scots Americans Japanese Swiss Portuguese Poles Russians Mexicans Arabs Argentinians Finns Bulgarians Norwegians Italians Chinese Moroccans Egyptians Iranians Greeks Vietnamese Quebecois Ukrainians Yes No Yes Yes Slow yes, or some nos Yes Yes No (very rare yes) Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes (an occasional no) No (very few 'yes' replies) No Yes Yes No (a very occasional yes) Yes hesitation, half of class unsure, most of remainder say 'no' Yes Yes 90% no, 10% yes No 80% no, 20% yes Yes 30% yes, 70% don't know Yes hesitation, 50% yes, 50% no No 80% no, 20% yes 60% no, 20% yes, rest undecided No (100%) Yes (after some hesitation) No Laughter (Laughter) Yes The only variability that I could detect in the results was that classes that were politiCopyrighted Material The White Race Is Shrinking 53 cally more liberal tended to be more 'generous' with the white appellation. Other than that I was taken aback to find virtually identical results every time I gave the test. So apparently the 'white race' is shrinking from my memory of what it was supposed to be. Spain and Portugal, the protectors of Christian civilization against the Moorish infidels, and the missionaries of Latin America, are no longer really 'white.' Fallen too, or at least sullied, are the...


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