In the last few years, Canada has been under fire from the United Nations (UN), for using the term “Visible Minority” to identify Canadians of non-White-European ancestry.
I cringe at both terms “visible” and “minority,” and together they get a double cringe. But, it’s not the identification of non-whites that I have a problem with, since doing so serves political purposes (e.g. Affirmative Action policies); rather, it’s the implication of the phrase. Visible Minority equals the other; and, brings an outsider feel, almost like putting someone under the spotlight to show how different they are.
The UN’s main argument against the term is that it “abnormalizes” people of non-European descent, while “normalizing” people of European descent, by presenting them as the “raceless” standard, by which other races/ethnicities are judged.
It has long been accepted that while other people are racialized, whites are not. Only non-whites can be “ethnic.” Whites are never ethnic, which begs the question: why not?
I always argue that whites are just as ethnic as everyone else, but in western society, where whites are the majority of the population, with the power to set standards, and whether it’s intentionally calculating or not, they’ve established themselves as normal or without race.
I read an interview with Toni Morrison, in which she insists you can tell the race of a character in stories written by white authors, because when white authors are talking about non-white people, they’ll describe the person’s race. (E.g. That black man with the gun, versus, the man with the gun.) I also remember a debate a few years ago over the Harry Potter character Blaise Zabini. Fans were upset when a black actor was cast in the role because “the book didn’t say he was black” (the book didn’t give him ANY race).
But, in the absence of racial description, it must be assumed that characters are white. Stick figures and other ambiguously colored animated characters are white, until it’s otherwise stated or drawn so or This ARTICLE.
While the UN takes offense to the phrase “Visible Minority,” it hasn’t suggested a replacement for it, which means it will continue to be used in Canada.