Thursday, August 04, 2005

Governor-General, the New.

Canada is getting a new GG - Governor General. Two things immediately stand out to me: she is a journalist and a minority.

1) I am beginning to think that journalists should stay out of politics. California knew as much by giving journalist Arianna Huffington no support in her governor race. My dad always said you can go from politics to journalism but never the other way around. I think he is right. Consider this: Martin and Chretien have appointed CBC, National Post, and Globe and Mail journalists to high paying bureaucratic posts during their tenor. Because of this, suspicion has been drawn to the "free" aspect of the "free press." When I read the Globe or watch CBC, I can not help but think whether or not the journalist is gunning for a plush government post. These last two GG's have been CBC journalists: a supposedly objective and public media outlet now appears more government-leaning than ever. This hurts the credibility of not only CBC, but other media outlets as well.

Thus, the independent aspect of journalism has been quashed; objectivity has been lost. It happens via the relationship of the state and journalists. If the government has picked journalists in the past to plush positions, it is all the more incentive to become less free, less critical, and more inclined to appease the governing party - which is and has been the Liberal party.

Thus, I do not think it is great that a journalist was chosen by the government to be the GG.

2) She is a minority - black and a woman. This is a slightly more controversial point. But one that I cannot help think that she has been chosen based on her skin. The last two GG's have been minorities who have been born outside of Canada. Was this done to show what a multicultural and tolerant country Canada is? I hope not. She certainly has good qualifications - she is fluent in 5 different languages, she seems smart, intelligent, accomplished, etc.

I may not have thought deeper on the subject had it not been for comments by the insiders at the PMO, who said that "Canadians will fall in love with this woman. Her story, her nature and her character are nothing short of inspirational." In a very backwards looking way, this can be construed as looking down on different minority groups. A very multicultural interpretation might be that minorities need to be inspired in order to achieve what she has achieved. I mean, she even says as much:

"Being a black journalist on TV – for many black children and Asian children and, I say, even native children – it's a symbol because when they see me they say, 'OK, something is possible.'"

So, basically what is being conveyed is that minorities are full of despair and need high achievers in public positions to look up to in order to achieve in life. Appointing such a figure as her perhaps adds to this stereotype of minority desparation, that minorities are oppressed and their possibilities are actually limited unless they see a minority in a high position.

In the end, history does play a factor. Visible minorities and women have not had their share in political and economic positions - the view is that there needs to be a remedy, a correction for past sins of oppression and exclusion.

However, I think this may be the reverse racism and sexism that we so ought to condemn. US Supreme Court Justice Thomas (who is black) had this to say about affirmative action and "correction":

The Constitution abhors classifications based on race, not only because those classifications can harm favored races or are based on illegitimate motives, but also because every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all. (Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003).

In sum, if the motives of the PM were in the pursuit of a "racially aesthetic" GG, then shame on him. As Justice Thomas noted,

"This problem of stigma does not depend on determinacy as to whether those stigmatized are actually the “beneficiaries” of racial discrimination. When blacks take positions in the highest places of government, industry, or academia, it is an open question today whether their skin color played a part in their advancement. The question itself is the stigma–because either racial discrimination did play a role, in which case the person may be deemed “otherwise unqualified,” or it did not, in which case asking the question itself unfairly marks those blacks who would succeed without discrimination."

Likewise with the pick for GG. The issue is not so much whether she is qualified per se, but the fact that such a pick raises questions and suspicions over whether her skin colour and sex played a role in her advancement. This is unfair to Michaelle Jean and unfair to women and minorities in general.


Blair said...

I think I agree with your thoughts on 'reverse racism'. It is unfair to the achieving individual if their credentials and viability come under question just because they are a part of a minority group. 'Affirmative action', in the case of equal opportunity (for race, ethnicity, and sex) is harldy affirmative. If I was a visible minority I would feel patronized by 'pitty appointments'.

Having said that, I'm not sure whether Ms. Jean was appointed because of her extremely 'colorful' (pardon the punn) background. A more probable explanation for her appointment, I think, is her similarity to the former GG Ms. Clarkson. Both are minorities, both are former broadcasters, both are married to 'weird' philosophers, and both are insistent on reaching out to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Based on the popularity of the former GG Ms. Clarkson, I think that PM Martin is simply trying to give Canada a repeat of what it has had for the past 6 years. The only difference is that Ms. Jean is younger, and better looking... two qualities which will probably not hurt her popularity.

The thing that bothers me are 1)that our apparent head of state in Canada is appointed by the PM.

Jonathan said...

=) Yes the wierd philosopher thing is indeeed a neat coincidence.

You make thoughtful points throughout your comment. The best has to do with the recognition of "pitty appointments." You should read the case in which the black justice of the Supreme Court (Thomas) slams affirmative action. It is the same one I quote from on this post. It is ironic how much more forceful such an argument becomes when it comes from a minority itself.

On the same subject, famed columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is both a medical doctor and confined to a wheelchair, makes a similar argument here in "celebrating diversity" when he writes on a President FD Roosevelt statue of him in a wheelchair:

The modern politician thinks nothing of playing on pity or exploiting weakness. Think of Al Gore's 1996 convention speech detailing his sister's tobacco-related death or Rudy Giuliani's gratuitous revelation of his post-prostate cancer impotence.

FDR would have been mortified at the mere suggestion of making a public show of misfortune. He was so careful about disguising his disability that he would receive his White House dinner guests in one room, fixing drinks while sitting at a table, then have Eleanor take the guests on a long and winding trip downstairs to give him enough time for his unseen conjuring trick -- his Filipino stewards rushing in, wheeling and carrying him downstairs, then quickly transferring him into a regular chair. His guests would enter the dining room to find the smiling president awaiting them at the head of the table.

The "Pearl Harbor" scene [in which he gets out of his wheelchair to demonstrate a point of his courage] would hardly matter except for the fact that it perfectly captures the contemporary penchant for sentimentalizing and, perversely, celebrating disability. Celebrating the paralytic's "courage" is the psychological equivalent of calling an accomplished black person "a credit to his race" -- it is a patronizing act of distancing wrapped in the appearance of adulation. It would have appalled FDR. Most appalling, it now finds its most enduring expression -- literally engraved in bronze -- at FDR's own memorial in Washington.


From 1882 until 1933 -- assistant Navy secretary, vice presidential candidate, governor of New York, father, lawyer, author -- the wheelchair defines who and what FDR was?

I wouldn't exactly parallel race and disability here, but I think this quote does capture a shared vein: showing that magnaminity is still possible despite disabilities, race, etc. Calling the GG a "credit to Black people" or French or immigrants or whatever, can indeed be patronizing to such groups.

As for whether the pick itself was motivated to "raise her up as an example" I think there is some evidence to suggest it, namely the "inspirational" aspect of it. What is so inspirational? That she is a minority. As far as I can tell, that seems to be it, besides the rags to "riches" aspect of it.

I am probably a bit too cynical. Although to balance that out, I should add that she probably will do a good job. And that she is "qualified" for whatever it is that she will be doing.

And yes, the GG appointed by the PM aspect bothers me too. It reminds me of the CHURCH/STATE split throughout western history, where the pope would crown the emperor and the emperor would invest the pope. Its wierd that way.

Do I think it needs to change? Yes. But we still need to preserve some British ties I think. Somehow.