Tag Archives: racism

Boris Johnson and Watermelon Smiles

Former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman once worried aloud that he’d be cooked in a pot of boiling water if he were to travel to Mombasa while in Kenya supporting the city’s losing 2008 Olympics bid. Politically, Megacity Mel didn’t rise up out of Toronto.

Boris Johnson is now the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary.

Was (Egerton) Ryerson Racist? Redux

WAS EGERTON RYERSON, recognized as the founder of public education in Ontario if not Canada, racist? What a quaint little question. Certainly he was by today’s standards. As a concept, “race” was even murkier in the mid-nineteenth century than it is now. Now race has mostly been distilled down to refer to those biological traits of a breeding population. Can the German Sheppard breeder get more for her pups than the Pomeranian breeder? But back then, race tripled its responsibility by sometimes also referring to culture and sometimes nationality. There was an English race and it was different than the French race.

The question of whether he was racist is strikingly similar to the dialogue National Post columnist Tristan Hopper recently proposed in commemoration of what would have been Prime Minister John A. MacDonald 200th birthday this past January 11th. Was Macdonald a genocidal racist? Sure he was, but so were his colonist partners in the Canadian adventure. “Although they were laying the groundwork for one of the world’s most tolerant nations, the Canadians of 1867 largely took white supremacy for granted,” says Hopper. His proposal, that neither achievement nor fault of either leader or led be minimized, is progressive.

When Ryerson University’s student newspaper The Eyeopener last considered Ryerson and race for its university in April 2007, there was a notable gap in available source material. News Editor John Mather went looking for Ryerson’s 1847 report to British North America’s Department of Indian Affairs, foundational to Canada’s system of cultural genocide more commonly called residential schools. But Mather came up empty, at the university library and after consulting with aboriginal student services. That was unfortunate. Two years later in February 2009, The Eyeopener published a brief note by Erin Valois which appeared to characterize the nature of the report. “In his study,” wrote Valois, “Egerton suggested that Aboriginal Peoples be educated in separate schools that taught European beliefs and practices—the residential school system.” Then she describes what she calls his “big ideas” for free primary and secondary schools and for what would become the Royal Ontario Museum. Rah rah!

(source: Ryerson University Library)

The “Report of Dr. Ryerson on Industrial Schools” is available as an interlibrary loan from Library and Archives Canada. I unequivocally recommend its five pages of text for any Ryerson University attendee or alumni, and find it surprising the historical document is not more widely distributed across campus given the symbolism Ryerson the university takes from Ryerson the man. The report illuminates Ryerson’s thinking at the time. By 1847 Ryerson had already founded schools, notably Upper Canada Academy that became the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. He thought the brightest of indigenous and European children could attend his Cobourg school as an alternative to Anglican Upper Canada College.

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Canadian and American racism compared in Circulars

Political censorship in Ontario, 1979

The Ministry of Education censored hundreds of books about sexuality, drugs including alcohol, that were critical of government, business or law enforcement.

The Ministry of Education censored hundreds of books about sexuality, drugs including alcohol, that were critical of government, business or law enforcement while approving dull, dry and poorly written textbooks for its students. First Nations, minority and female perspectives were hushed. Ontario published Circular 14 until 2000.


Racist boycotting in Louisiana, c.1960s

Citizen's council of Greater New Orleans, Inc.

In the 1950s and 1960s private White Citizen’s Councils , like that of Greater New Orleans, posted warnings across the southern United States encouraging the boycotting of music by non-white artists.