‘Equality Now!’: Race, Racism and Resistance in 1970s Toronto
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This thesis explores the recognition of institutional racism in Ontario. It examines discourses of institutional racism between the late 1960s and early 1980s and argues that the recognition of institutional racism at the provincial and national levels was facilitated by overt acts of racism in one of Canada’s most populous and diverse cities – Toronto. The targets of overt racism were new immigrants from decolonizing nations who utilized the discourse of rights in the context of an increase in racist incidents to press for state recognition of institutional racism. This rise in racially motivated violence concerned most Canadians as it went against Canadians’ self-perception as a raceless, tolerant and peaceful society. The recognition of structural racism was a gradual and contested process as municipal, provincial and federal government actors often denied its existence and deemed overt acts of racism aberrant. When racist acts did occur, state officials and media reports blamed the increased racial tensions on the personal prejudice of extremists. Activist groups composed of visible minorities and human rights activists were key in the formation of a counter-narrative that challenged this persistent denial of structural racism. These groups played a fundamental role in redefining the nature of racism in Canadian society. A central theme of this dissertation is that disintegrating race relations allowed for a redefinition of the Canadian state. It was the increase in racist incidents in 1970s Toronto that fostered a broad discussion on racism in Canada. This discussion emphasized that Canada’s people of colour experienced second-class citizenship because of structural inequalities which were rooted in Canadian institutions. Racial violence in 1970s Toronto was crucial in the recognition of institutional racism as racist incidents brought visible minorities into the public sphere and gave them an opportunity to identify the existence of systemic and institutional racism in Canadian society. However, the recognition of institutional and systemic racism did not result in a deep transformation of the Canadian racial state as policy changes have not been successful in challenging structural inequality.