The Racial Mosaic: Race, Cultural Pluralism, and Canadian Multiculturalism

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Meister, Daniel R.
Multiculturalism , Cultural Pluralism , Race , Racism , Scientific Racism , Whiteness , Watson Kirkconnell , Robert England , John Murray Gibbon
This dissertation examines the intellectual origins of the Canadian federal government’s official policy of multiculturalism. The first half employs the methodology of historical biography and examines the life and thought of three Canadian public intellectuals: T. Watson Kirkconnell, Robert England, and John Murray Gibbon. While each of these men developed philosophies of cultural pluralism in the context of larger projects, all three philosophies were rooted in colonialism, relied on the idea of race as a biological reality, focused on European groups, and excluded (and often denigrated) those racialized as non-white. These three men were recognized by the State and civil society as experts on racial diversity, and in the late interwar period they were called upon by governmental agencies such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The programs they designed, which were aimed at fostering national unity, were also limited by whiteness. During the Second World War, the lines between State and civil society blurred as the promotion of “racial” or cultural diversity became an increasingly official endeavour. The State utilized these public intellectuals to help shape official approaches to “racial” unity but again these efforts focused only on Canadians of European descent. The second half of the dissertation examines shifting notions of race in the postwar period and details how these ideas continued to shape discussions about diversity and citizenship. It unpacks the debates over changing immigration policy, citizenship, and finally the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. The final chapter examines the shift from ad-hoc cultural pluralism to an official policy of multiculturalism. It demonstrates that this policy was focused on Canadians of non- British, non-French, European descent, with an emphasis on their folk cultures. The dissertation therefore concludes that the original policy of multiculturalism is best understood not as a break with but rather as a manifestation of white normativity in Canada.
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