Canadian Politics: Less Racist Is Not a High Enough Standard (Part 1/2)

“The media are the gatekeepers to our reality… they choose what to include, what to exclude,” said Professor Erin Tolley on Monday, November 28 in a special lecture hosted by UTM’s own PSLA. Twenty attended the lecture intended to briefly go over Tolley’s academic book Framed, which shares the results of her study exploring race, media, and politics in Canada. And, as it turns out, Canadian politics are not quite as multicultural as Canada itself – though not in the explicit way that we might think.

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After speaking to her methods and restrictions (elaborated on below), Tolley laid one thing out clear: even though Canadians often act superior to other countries, our politics are still very much racialized in the media. Not because the media has some horrible racist mandate, it doesn’t, but for smaller reasons.

One of those reasons is the “newsworthiness” of not-white people. Because whiteness has long been a general standard in Canadian politics due to historical reasons, non-white candidates have become exceptionally newsworthy. Not for their work of qualifications, but for the fact that they’re not white. Think Barack Obama, a famous American example of this. It wasn’t his academic background or work in government that made his election momentous, though those things should be the only focus. It was the fact that he’s a racial minority, and that was a new thing in America.

Same goes for Canada, only on a much smaller scale. In Canada, because we elect individuals for seats instead of choosing one leader for all, it’s harder to notice. But, as Tolley’s research showed, mentions of qualifications and work for candidates who are racial minorities are few and far between – instead, the media makes their appearance the most newsworthy thing about them.

Which doesn’t make life any easier for them, of course, as shown by another of Tolley’s findings. Racial minority candidates, numbers show, are often expected to “prove themselves” more so than their white counterparts, especially if they don’t already have a seat in the House of Commons.

That cannot be easy when all the news wants to focus on is race – even though many of these candidates do say that their top interests are important issues, like the economy. Failing to be able to get that message across because of selective news coverage makes it harder to communicate viability. Instead, wins might be attributed to race and not actually policy.

There’s a particular term for this too: “ethnic politics.” Defined more strictly, this is the phenomena media claims when a racial minority wins because of high voter turnout and organization. This is as opposed to what they call it when white candidates have high voter turn out and organization – “politics.”

Seem unfair? That’s just the beginning.

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