Don’t divide by race

It was recently announced that we may soon have two new representative positions on UMSU Council. First up is the inner city representative, who will make sure that the needs of students at our inner-city campus are met. This representative would serve a clearly defined role and this position makes perfect sense.

The second position is a bit more controversial. This position is called the racialized student representative and was proposed by U of M student Sean Gee. In explaining his support for the new position, Gee stated: “I’ve always been a believer in the idea that exclusion is one of the greatest forms of oppression. I realized that racialized people didn’t have a representative on council, so exclusion from council was a clear form of oppression there.”

I have a few issues with the above statement. To begin with, it is factually incorrect to state that people of any racial background are excluded from UMSU council. There are no racial barriers to any positions on UMSU council and anyone who attends a council meeting can attest to the racial diversity of our representatives.

I also have to disagree with Gee’s assertion that there is “oppression” on UMSU council. If there are no barriers to students being eligible to serve on UMSU council, how can there be oppression? It is important not to throw around loaded terms when the facts don’t match.

One of the first things that came to my mind when I heard this position announced was whether “racialized representative” was code for “a representative for everyone except white people.” If this is indeed the case, then this position is a form of discrimination and makes a mockery of every honest attempt to reduce racism and improve our world. If this is not the case, if the position is indeed open to everyone, then it would simply create a redundant representative on UMSU council, since we already have five UMSU execs that have a mandate to represent the entire student body. Additionally, we already have an international students rep who represents the broad diversity on campus.

There is another problem with this position. How can one person represent everyone who counts as racialized? Of course, this assumes we can actually define the term, a clear definition of which has yet to be provided by its supporters. U of M professor Jared Wesley has alluded to the problems in defining this position and his thoughts are worth noting. The simple fact is that this position has not been defined and any definition that excludes anyone, of any racial background, would be a cruel irony for a position meant to reduce racism.
My father is from Trinidad and is of Spanish and African descent. My mother was born in Canada, and her ethnic background is Italian and British. In the eyes of those who support this position, I would probably qualify to be the racialized rep. That still doesn’t mean I think this position makes any sense.

However, what if I was of fully European descent? Would I have any less right to comment on the creation of this position? Should anyone who disagrees with this position really have to justify themselves? In speaking with many of my friends from a European background, I have heard from a fair number of them that they are afraid of speaking out against this position, since they believe they will be attacked and labelled as a racist for sharing their opinions. No student, regardless of their background, should be afraid to speak out. Discrimination never justifies further discrimination.

Political correctness has its place. Respect for differences is important. But at some point we must draw the line on dividing each other up into different groups. There are times when political correctness borders on becoming a farce. This is one of those times. If you oppose the creation of a racialized rep, it is essential that you speak out and make your voice heard. You’re your opinion is important and it deserves to be heard.

If this position is created and we are forced to compete to define how “racialized” we are, all we will achieve is the racial division of our campus. We would go backwards to the attitude of “separate but equal.” Racial division has no place in our time.

Martin Luther King didn’t say he wanted a world where his children would be judged by their race. He said he wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character. Here at the U of M, in the year 2011, we are dangerously close to creating a position that will judge people by their race, not their character. We must do whatever is necessary to stop this before it is too late.

Spencer Fernando is the International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban.

4 Comments on "Don’t divide by race"

  1. I wasn’t aware that the Manitoban presented ideology without allowing other philosophies a chance to challenge assertions made.

    Spencer Fernando may not feel it fit to address that there are many students who feel that this position is necessary, that is his journalist prerogative.

    However, I’ll take this chance to give people the information that Spencer had access to, but chose not to share due to the fact it conflict with his personal ideology. It’s nice to see where our student money is going, but I guess it’s not important to practice ethical journalism after already having succeeded in the referendum.

    Here are the facts and points that Spencer did not seek to inform readers with:

    My counterarguments:

    CFS Ontario stats regarding racialized students:

  2. Obama?

  3. great article! i agree with all the points you made.
    The current UMSU council and the International Students Rep do an amazing job at representing the entire student body (as will the “Working Together” team next year!).
    There is no question that a “racialized student rep” is only going to create a racial division at the University of Manitoba. This University supports equality- those who want this position do not.
    This was a great way to finish the Manitoban for the 2010/11 school year Spencer!

  4. I’m siding with Spencer 100 percent. Gee’s arguments establish no systemic barriers for racialized students that would merit their representation at UMSU; eliminating statistical disparities by force doesn’t address any underlying issues at work. Also, the way Gee describes “racialized” would allow any idiot to claim that they’ve been “categorized into an ethnic group by society.” Who gets to decide if they’re right? Do I get to be a member of that group because somebody once called me a kike behind my back?

    Also, I consider it insulting that UMSU still thinks women need their own representative, not to mention the word “womyn.” (I mean, seriously?) I would, however, be open to creating a position that aims to eliminate politically correct pandering on campus.

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