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Why the left needs more diversity

Hana Shafi

In late September, the University of Toronto’s St. George Campus, hosted a one-day event called “Uncaring Canada?” Its purpose, as the name suggests, was to examine Canada’s foreign policy, and how perceptions of Canada as a caring, compassionate, and peace-loving nation are, in many ways, wrong—especially as Canada arguably shifts to militarization and neoliberalism. With a huge panel of speakers—12 in total—the seven hour conference looked at everything from Canada’s transformation into a militarized “warrior nation” to our neocolonialist attitudes in perceiving emerging markets as potential threats.

While I’m a sucker for any leftist symposium, I felt a wave of disappointment as the panelists began entering the room. The majority of them were white. Of the 12 speakers, only four were women, all of whom were white.

The reason for my disappointment? Well, here’s a conference about Canada’s foreign policy, particularly our interference in South America, with several discussions about neocolonialism, and there is a largely white panel. I’m hearing talk about embracing a transnational perspective, when the speakers are anything but transnational.

I speak for many leftists of colour when I say that I’m tired of leftist discourse being dominated by white academics. Because leftist ideologies often take an anti-colonial, pro-marginalized voices stance, it’s a shame, to say the least, to see few marginalized voices actually being represented in academic left discourse. This is not to say that there is a lack of people of colour in leftist circles, but simply that our voices often take the backburner in favour of white academics with high-flown university-style rhetoric that greatly alienates the poor and oppressed that we leftists claim to stand for.

On top of that, there was one point where a few of the panelists discussed the extent to which we can call Canada an imperialist state, how imperialist it is, and how long it has been this way. While the panelists did all agree that Canada is an imperialist state, I couldn’t help but secure my face to my palm. The question of how imperialist Canada is or how long it’s been an imperialist state is a redundant one for more marginalized folk. We see no need to debate on naming Canada an imperialist state, when our very realities are a testament to this. We do not have the luxury of debate; we live the consequences of Canada’s imperialism every day.

There was even a point where one panelist said that Canada has been an imperialist state since World War II. World War II? Seriously? Canada’s entire history has been an imperialist one. It’s been an imperialist state since 1867. It’s roots, it’s creation into this constitutional monarchy we call Canada is entirely imperialist and colonial in nature.

Though I enjoyed much of what panelists were talking about—especially appreciating the presentations by Nikolas Barry-Shaw, Dru Oja Jay, Alyson McCready, and Jamie Swift—the lack of diversity only reminded me of the bigger picture of a divided left overwhelmed by the voices of immensely privileged people.

The right has a stronger sense of unity that leftists have not yet achieved. Despite my unapologetic identity as a far-left individual, I stray from Marxist circles, knowing that misogynistic white males so frequently bombard them. I’m cautious among other feminists, knowing that so many subscribe to a feminism that is trans-exclusionary, sex-worker-exclusionary, and utterly Eurocentric.

The left seems more united on economic issues like higher taxation and greater social services, but struggling to be cohesive on social issues. If academic conferences can not include professors, scholars, journalists, and activists who have personally felt oppression, than the larger leftist movement will never follow suit.

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