Aug 102014

By Ben Sichel. Ben  is a teacher in Dartmouth and author of the P-12 education section for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Alternative Provincial Budget. Originally published at no need to raise your hand.


Many years ago, many people had no qualms about calling themselves “white.”

historicalprotest whites have rights

An unfortunate example of apostrophe misuse as well as racism.

An unfortunate example of apostrophe misuse as well as racism.An unfortunate example of apostrophe misuse as well as racism.

1924 "Racial Integrity Act"  of Virginia, which reads in part: "For the purpose of this act, the term "white person" shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons."

1924 “Racial Integrity Act” of Virginia, which reads in part: “For the purpose of this act, the term “white person” shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons.”


Today, more people seem to be squeamish about it. Students in class have occasionally asked me if we can use another word in place of “white” to describe people – “technically we’re pinkish”, one once said. In casual conversation people sometimes take pains to avoid the word, substituting terms like “Caucasian” or “of European descent.”

What is “Whiteness” anyway? Like race generally, it’s important to remember that Whiteness is a social construct, not something biological; and one that was deliberately created to categorize people into superior and inferior castes.

The history of racial classification is often quite absurd. In the United States, the infamous One-Drop rule categorized anyone with a trace of Sub-Saharan African ancestry as “black,” no matter their skin tone. Even today, the U.S. census lists five rather arbitrary racial categories: White, Black/African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (with Hispanic/Latino falling under a separate “ethnicity” delineation). Considering how most people’s intuitive idea of “race” relates foremost to physical appearance, it’ll surprise some to learn that while two people with light skin and blue eyes could be categorized in different racial groups (say, White and American Indian), a person from Pakistan and a person from Korea could be lumped together under “Asian.” (Check out this on-line exercise to illustrate this absurdity.)

Race also changes over time and place. It’s safe to say that in the early 1900’s in North America, Jewish, Polish, Italian and Irish people among others were often not considered “white,” while for the most part they are today if they are light-skinned. In Brazil today, someone considered “white” might be considered “black” in Canada.

With such imprecise categories, why shouldn’t we avoid the term “white” (along with other racial denominations) completely? Simple: because whiteness has always denoted not a precise skin tone, but rather the location of power in a society.

The history of race is the history of racism itself, and racism necessarily involves one group of people holding power over another. In the early colonial United States, Howard Zinn writes that:

“in spite of special subordination of blacks in the Americas in the seventeenth century, there is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals.”

Laws forbidding white and black workers to fraternize and according special privileges to whites were put in place by landowning classes seeking to divide and conquer their workers.

These special privileges were enshrined in law and lasted from the days of chattel slavery all the way to the end of the Jim Crow era in the 1960’s. Once racism was no longer explicitly enshrined in law, it remained embedded in fact: some of the most egregious examples include redlining and the hyper-incarceration of African-Americans, in addition to daily microaggressions in everything from housing to employment to education.

(Canada has its own long, shameful history of racism, despite being the end of the Underground Railroad; my home province of Nova Scotia is nicknamed ‘The Mississippi of the North.’)

The flip side of racism is white privilege (as I’ve written before, and as many others have written much more capably and comprehensively than me). Systemic disadvantage for one group (or more) necessarily means systemic advantage for another.

Given the history of whiteness, it’s perhaps understandable that people would instinctively seek to avoid using the word “white” to describe themselves, even if they have trouble articulating why. But unfortunately, avoiding the term “white” means erasing the concepts of whiteness and white privilege. In other words, not saying “white” denies the fact that white privilege exists.

Is this denial deliberate? Maybe in some cases. But often I think it comes from a place many people feel is well-intentioned: the desire to be “colour-blind (PDF).” Colour-blindness is a rather simple, we’re-all-the-same philosophy which many people espouse since it’s generally seen as an improvement over old-fashioned, overt racism. It’s the belief system under which people say things like “I don’t see race” or “I treat everyone the same.”

The problem with colour-blindness is that it makes it very difficult to talk about race and racism at all. It makes racism all about individual actions, and not at all about systems and institutions cemented over centuries that keep power concentrated in the hands of white people.

(The main reason power is concentrated is because it’s passed down from generation to generation – while theoretically anyone has the capacity to get rich and/or get a high-status position in society, it’s much easier if you start off with wealth and relative power already.)

According to the colour-blind ethos, mentioning race at all is impolite; hence, the avoidance of the word “white,” along with a hesitation to use racial or ethnic descriptors when talking about just about anyone.

The avoidance of “white” is a particular case, though. Too often, discussions on race and racism focus exclusively on disadvantages and injustices suffered by people of colour, without examining the corresponding unfair advantages held by whites. White people are socialized to see race as something external to ourselves; we see ourselves as raceless, neutral. To paraphrase what some students have said to me when asked to reflect upon their cultural and/or racial identity: “I don’t have one. I’m just normal.”

Not erasing the term “white” means accepting that whiteness exists – that although it is a social construct, it is a powerful one that bestows unearned privileges on its holders, whether they want them or not. This is not to take away from someone’s national or ethnic heritage: you can still be French, Irish, Scandinavian, etc. It’s simply to acknowledge that along with those things, whiteness has an effect on your life.

A caveat: I don’t presume to decide anyone else’s identity for them, and it’s important to remember that not everyone who “looks white” identifies that way. I know several people who to me appear European-descended but whose parents or grandparents are Black, Chinese or Indigenous American. Systems of racial oppression are complex and not based solely on physical appearance (although the related phenomenon of colourism is a reality in societies the world over).

Still, whiteness exists, and pretending otherwise by striking the word from our vocabulary does nothing to combat racism.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Aug 082014

A news release from the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council. HDDLC President Kyle Buott is a member of Solidarity Halifax.

Halifax Dartmouth and District Labour CouncilFor Immediate Release
August 8, 2014

Unemployment Up, Liberals Have No Plan

Halifax, NS – Statistics Canada released the monthly Labour Force Survey today showing that while unemployment was down across Canada, it is up considerably in Nova Scotia. Unemployment went from 8.7% to 9.1%. This means there are currently 44,700 people unemployed in Nova Scotia. This number also doesn’t include the number of folks who have given up on looking for work, or people who are working part-time jobs because they can’t find full time work. When these people are included unemployment is in the double digits.

“The situation is getting desperate,” says Kyle Buott, President of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council . “With almost 45,000 people unemployed, our province continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.”

The provincial Liberal government elected last fall has not released a plan to address this massive problem. Instead of taking action to address unemployment, the Liberals have continued to dole out corporate handouts but with accountability than ever before. Every employment lawyer should take this issue seriously and fight for this cause united to reduce the unemployment rate in the country.

“The Liberals recently gave total control of the Jobs Fund to the corporate sector. Instead of public oversight, now corporations get to decide amongst themselves which of their buddies get access to corporate handouts. This is a total abdication of responsibility for creating jobs,” says Buott.

The changes to Employment Insurance by the federal Conservatives aren’t helping either. More people end up on social assistance when they cannot get access to Employment Insurance. The federal government’s own numbers show the number of people receiving Employment Insurance is down, despite unemployment being higher.

“Workers pay into Employment Insurance all their lives, but the Harper Conservatives have made it more difficult to access that problem when you lose your job. This is forcing people onto to the provincial social assistance program and downloading costs onto the province. The regressive changes to EI need to be overturned,” continues Buott.

The Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council calls on Stephen McNeil and the Liberals to immediately introduce a stimulus package to create jobs and to challenge the Conservatives cuts to Employment Insurance.

Full details can be found at:

– 30 –

The Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council represents 25,000 affiliated unionized workers across HRM, in virtually every sector of the economy, both public and private.

For More Information:

Kyle Buott, President
Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Aug 082014

By Judy Haiven. She is a member of Independent Jewish Voices-Canada (Halifax chapter) and of Solidarity Halifax, and teaches at Saint Mary’s University. Originally published at the Halifax Media Coop.

Why Mulcair is now backing medical care for wounded Palestinian children from Gaza — he just endorsed Israel bombing them

It’s a kind of pornography.

The New Democratic Party, Canada’s official opposition, has come out in support of Israeli airstrikes and the bombing of Gaza.  Thomas Mulcair, NDP leader, has often been quoted: “Israel has the right to defend its citizens from these attacks, while doing its utmost to protect civilians,”  and also “Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately”. These comments have been printed in the National Post, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun and almost every media source in the country.

This is hardly the ‘balanced view’ on the situation in Gaza that many Canadians seek. The first thing about ‘balance’ is that it can only occur when two sides are just about equal.  We know that Israel has now killed nearly 1800 civilians, including more than 400 children.  Ten thousand people are seriously injured, with limbs sheared off, head injuries, internal bleeding, not to speak about psychological trauma.  Latest estimates are 500,000 homeless in a population of 1.8 million.

This humanitarian disaster can be laid at the doorstep of Israel.  Israel: ranked 13th out of 68 military powers in the world. Israel: whose military continues to illegally occupy Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Israel: which has blockaded Gaza for more than six brutal years, denying Gazans access to food, medicine, books, hospital supplies and most importantly construction materials. Gazans need the materials to rebuild thousands of homes destroyed by Israel in the two previous assaults on Gaza in 2008-9 and in 2012. Even before Israel’s recent attack, Operation Protective Edge, the Palestinians of Gaza were a people in crisis.

On the other side, Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians. Yes, three civilians.

Back to the issue at hand:  While the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives all condemned Hamas and supported Israel, the NDP has heard justifiable criticism from progressive members and friends of the NDP.  In fact the mounting  criticism got to the point at which the NDP felt vulnerable and decided to ‘change the channel’.

Rather than admitting their position was wrong, they opted for a distraction.  The distraction came in the form of Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish.  Dr Abuelaish is a doctor from Gaza whose three daughters and a niece died when Israel bombed his Gaza City home during Israel’s 2008-9’s Operation Cast Lead.  An Israeli missile hit the doctor’s home, killing the four girls.  In his bestselling book, I Shall Not Hate: a Gaza Doctor’s Journey (2011), Abuelaish explains how he was a well-respected and well known medical doctor who traveled daily from his Gaza home to work at a hospital in Israel.  He was non-political, a humanitarian who also reported about the destruction of Gaza for Israeli television news during Operation Cast Lead.  When Israeli forces bombed the doctor’s home, Israel certainly knew it was Dr Abuelaish’s home. Still, in his book, Abuelaish he urges forgiveness and the need to build bridges with Israel.

A short time after Operation Cast Lead, Abuelaish  emigrated to Canada with his remaining family members. He is now a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

A week ago, on Aug. 1, Dr Abuelaish was interviewed on the CBC-TV news program,  ‘Power and Politics’.   He wants to invite 100 injured Gazan children to come to Canada for medical care and to learn ‘Canadian values’ –in his words.  He suggests Canada do this on a charitable basis.  Already Ontario’s Minister of Health Eric Hoskins has agreed in principle, saying that Israeli children would also be welcomed– which of course shows how little he understands about who, in fact, suffered the servere injuries.

Tom Mulcair, the leader of the Official Opposition, and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau have jumped on this and are campaigning to bring 100 wounded Gazan children to Canada for treatment.

This is where the pornography comes in.  Both Mulcair and Trudeau blamed Hamas for Israel’s murder of nearly 1,800 civilians.  Both the NDP and the Liberals  refused to stand with leaders of many European and other countries who told Israel to stop the bombing and the carnage.  Both Mulcair and Trudeau have never even suggested that Israel’s bombing of civilians was in any way a disproportionate reaction to Hamas’ homemade rockets fired into southern Israel.

Why are Mulcair and Trudeau doing this?  One possible reason is that they have been hugging the Tories so fiercely they need to put some air between themselves and Harper.  How better to do this, than to ‘change the channel’ from war crimes to charity.  And by the way, aren’t Canadians wonderful?

According to Middle East scholar Dr Norman Finkelstein, the world sees Israel destroy Gaza and its people – for the third time in six years*.  Israel calls it ‘mowing the lawn’ – every couple of years Israel goes in and causes death and mayhem in Gaza.  Governments of countries around the world plus non-governmental organisations (such as the Red Cross, World Vision and Oxfam) step up and try to rebuild Gaza.  Israel pays no reparations, rebuilds nothing, and in the last six years have not allowed essential construction equipment and materials into Gaza to rebuild, claiming the equipment could help terrorists.  Furthermore, despite Israel’s highly touted health care system, it helps very few victims from Gaza.  Finkelstein calls Israel a “schnorrer” state – that is Yiddish for a sponger or freeloader: Israel destroys 1800 lives, leaves 10,000 severely injured, leaves hundreds of thousands homeless and someone else cleans up.  Two Canadian politicians and their parties want to join the cleanup – when the optics look just right.


* Three recent Israeli invasions of Gaza:

•   2008-09: also known as Operation Cast Lead

•   2012: also known as Operation Pillar of Defense

•   2014: also known as Operation Protective Edge


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Aug 062014

Follow the link below for a detailed analysis of why Solidarity Halifax supports the people of Gaza and why we are demanding the NDP condemn Israeli aggression.

Support the People of Gaza: An Analysis By Solidarity Halifax


Support Gaza 3

Solidarity Halifax members outside MP Megan Leslie’s office to demand that the NDP condemn Israeli aggression.


See below media coverage of our picket outside NDP MP Megan Leslie’s office along with Independent Jewish Voices and Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace.

Protest at Halifax MP Megan Leslie’s office urges NDP to get tougher with Israel – The Chronicle Herald

Halifax protesters call on federal NDP to speak out on Israel-Gaza conflict – Metro Halifax

Read what our members are saying about the Israeli assault on Gaza:

Mulcair wants to change the channel on Gaza – Judy Haiven

30 minutes every day at noon – activists in Halifax demand an end to Israel’s bombing of Gaza – Judy Haiven

Attack on GazaJackie Barkley

Pride, Palestine, and Global Gay Rights – John Hutton

Stop the slaughter – Judy Haiven

Discussing Israel’s airstrikes and killings in Gaza: breaking the fast with Muslims, Jews and their friends – Judy Haiven

Candlelight vigil in support of Gaza – Judy Haiven


Support Gaza 1

Judy Haiven, member of Solidarity Halifax and of Independent Jewish voices calls on the NDP to condemn Israeli aggression in Gaza.


Aug 052014

By Judy Haiven. She is a member of Independent Jewish Voices-Canada (Halifax chapter) and Solidarity Halifax, and she teaches  at Saint Mary’s University. Originally published at the Halifax Media Coop.

With nearly 1800 civilians including 400 children killed by Israel, Haligonians picket every day for an end to the violence

Ismail with his sign.

Ismail with his sign.

Every day at 12 noon, at the blast of the ceremonial cannon fired from Citadel Hill in Halifax, a more important event takes place just below the Hill.  Every day, a growing number of Halifax residents stand for 30 minutes outside the gates to the Public Gardens armed with signs against Israel’s bombing of Gaza.  Anyone can join us.Members of Canadians, Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace, Independent Jewish Voices-Canada (Halifax chapter), Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Dalhousie and other volunteers hold up signs to passersby and drivers at the busiest intersection downtown.  One sign spells out the daily death toll – with earlier numbers crossed out — over the last month of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. The sign features the up-to-date numbers of children and adults killed.Another sign reads:  “You don’t have to be Muslim to stand up for Gaza: you just need to be human.”  And one homemade sign reads “Israel: Stop killing children.”Some people stop by and ask what we are doing,  others ask what they can do. Of course every day there are two or three self-righteous men (and they are always men, usually accompanied by silent women) who tell us we don’t know anything and that Gazans ‘deserve’ what happens to them.

But does anyone ‘deserve’ to have their limbs cut off by Israel’s DIME (dense inert metal explosives) weapons? According to Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert who has volunteered at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City in the last month, DIME weapons cause “horrendous injuries where arms and legs were cut off as though a huge axe had chopped off their limbs…” The use of these weapons are illegal under international humanitarian law.  What about the nearly 398 children who have been killed, and the thousand that are horribly maimed – do they ‘deserve’ what Israel is doing? Or the elderly, the disabled, and other civilians – do 1766 ‘deserve’ this torture?

What you can do:

Email PM Stephen Harper who stated on 30 July: “we hold the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for this. They have initiated and continue this conflict and continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel.”

Email Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, the official opposition, here is what he said:  “Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend its citizens from these attacks, while doing its utmost to protect civilians.”

So now every woman, older person, teenager, child is the victim of Israeli terrorism.  It’s astounding how similar the Tory and NDP position are.

Finally, email your MP, from whichever party.

Demand that Canada tell Israel to stop the bombing.

We’ll be in front of the Public Gardens every day till the bombing stops. Join us.

Larry and Linda protest the bombings of Gaza

Larry and Linda protest the bombings of Gaza

Sharon and Linda with their signs.

Sharon and Linda with their signs.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.