Carol Tator, Frances Henry. Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of a "Few Bad Apples". Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006. ix + 251 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8020-8666-2.
Reviewed by Barrington Walker (Department of History, Queen's University)
Published on H-Canada (March, 2007)
Democratic Racism's Bitter Fruits
Following their successful book on racial bias in the English Canadian media, Carol Tator and Frances Henry have made an extremely important intervention in the burgeoning scholarship on "race" in Canada and, more specifically, the phenomenon of racial profiling. Their central thesis is an important one and is clearly stated in the book's introductory chapter: racial profiling is a form of "democratic racism" which, in turn, is liberalism's tension--its dissonant reconciliation--with discrimination. "The consequences of this tension ensure that commitments to justice, fairness, and equality conflict with, but at the same time coexist with, negative feelings about people of color and differential treatment of them" (pp. 7-8). Less interested in an "actuarial" approach to the study of racial profiling (which mainly deals with determining numbers), the authors of this study are principally concerned with "the subtler values, beliefs and norms that underlie the social construction of Black and other people of color as the 'other'" (p. 37).
Tator and Henry develop these central claims through the use of several theoretical models and quantitative and qualitative data. The theoretical perspectives from which these authors draw are rich and varied. The authors explicitly single out four theoretical perspectives to explain the ubiquity of racial profiling in Canada: whiteness studies, blackness studies, racial profiling and danger racialization theory, and discourse analysis (pp. 21-37). Tator and Henry also critique the category of black crime in social scientific research, which, they argue, is a product of a broader societal concern with black crime and ignores the reality that the vast majority of blacks are law abiding and that most criminals and prisoners are white. Perhaps what best typifies how uncritically blackness and crime is linked in the scholarly and popular imagination is a construct such as "black-on-black crime." As Tator and Henry astutely point out, "White crime is scarcely, if ever invoked as term, nor is it the subject of sustained critical inquiry. Indeed, when the term White-on-White crime is employed it literally sounds 'unnatural,' a rhetorical trick" (p. 20). Having rigorously staked out the book's theoretical ground, chapter by chapter the authors do an admirable job of exploring themes such as racism's interlocking web (among the courts, the education system, and the media); policing cultures; the relationship between dominant and oppositional discourses in social sciences research and in the broader society; and the possibilities for social change. Two chapters, the first on racial profiling in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, and another which powerfully chronicles African Canadians' horrifying lived experiences of racial profiling in the Greater Toronto Area, are penned by contributing authors Charles C. Smith and Maureen Brown. This is a book that will certainly raise the ire of many. Racial profiling is a contentious issue. Despite a growing avalanche of data to support the claim that minority communities in Canada suffer from systemic discrimination and differential treatment in the criminal justice system (a reality that is skilfully demonstrated in this book), there will undoubtedly be resistance to its findings in both academic and non-academic circles, as recent acrimonious debates on the veracity of similar literature tells us.
Even amongst the converted--the growing number among us who, across many disciplines, are committed to doing anti-racist work that is specific to Canada--this book will raise some pointed criticisms. There is little sustained discussion of the different definitions of racial profiling until the third chapter (which was provided by an outside contributor). This book also lacks historicist rigor. The authors rightly acknowledge that racial profiling is a historically rooted phenomenon (pp. 39-40), but their discussion of "whiteness" and Canadian immigration policy for instance is rather disturbingly ahistorical. For those who are today racialized as "white" were certainly not always deemed so, a point that is missing in a book that identifies whiteness studies as one of its theoretical touchstones. Tator and Henry's claim that black Canadians were also legally barred from the franchise in Canada is unsubstantiated (in any case, the historical record does not support it). Lastly, perhaps too much of the analysis focuses on lack Canadians. This is no doubt a consequence of the considerable--perhaps exceptional--disdain in which this group is held in popular Canadian opinion. Yet by focusing so heavily on blacks, Tator and Henry tacitly legitimize a "black-white binary" approach to critical race scholarship. There is simply not enough attention provided to First Nations peoples in this book and the same is also true of Canada's besieged Arab and Muslim populations. Other authors will no doubt address these oversights in subsequent works as the field of racial profiling scholarship deepens and matures. These concerns aside, overall this is an impressive book. It is a foundational and well crafted text in an emerging field of study and a must have for any serious race scholar.
. Carol Tator and Frances Henry, Discourses of Domination: Racial Bias in the Canadian English Language Press (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002). See also David M. Tanovich, The Colour of Justice: Policing and Race in Canada (Toronto: Irwin Law Inc., 2006).
. Scott Wortley and Julian Tanner, "Inflamatory Rhetoric? Baseless Accusations? A Response to Gabor's Critique of Racial Profiling Research in Canada," Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 47, no. 3 (July 2005): 581-609.
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