In an article on the website of the Canadian Public Health Agency entitled “Inequalities in Health of Racialized Adults in Canada,” one reads that “populations who are racialized in relation to a ‘white’ or non-racialized social group experience stressors including inter-personal and systemic discrimination throughout the life course,” that “racialized adults are less likely to feel that their health is either good or excellent,” and that “racialized Canadians are disproportionately impacted by inequalities in safe and stable housing.”)
As a linguist, I was struck by the repeated use in this article of a new past participle that I was not familiar with — “racialized”. I began to wonder about the implications underlying the use of this verb form, which implies the existence of a verb “to racialize”.
So I looked on the internet to see if I could find other forms of this verb. My search turned up examples such as the following: “Coleman Hughes on how America racializes its citizens”; “Not all racializers do the same thing when they racialize”; “Discourses that are racializing and othering muslim*women [sic] can sustain hegemony, by disguising their particularities”.
The past participle of this verb therefore represents the person or group to which it is applied as having undergone the action of being racialized by some agent who is represented as a racializer. This leads to the question as to who is doing the racializing. A further search on the internet showed that the answer to that question is invariably the same — whites.
Behind that little past participle “racialized”, consequently, there lies a whole worldview which sees the relations between different races in terms of racializer/racialized or, in other terms, oppressor/oppressed. As Robin Diangelo states in White Fragility, “white people raised in Western societies are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions,” and this worldview “brings into existence whites and nonwhites, full persons and subpersons.”
The name of this worldview is Critical Race Theory, and its underpinnings are essentially Marxist. It divides the world into two opposing power groups: the oppressor (capitalists/whites) and the oppressed (workers/nonwhites). Since everything is governed by power-relations in this system, the only recourse of the oppressed is to use whatever power they have to rise up against the oppressor and throw off his yoke: as one of the foundational thinkers of Critical Race Theory, Ibram X. Kendi, has written in How to be an Antiracist: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
One doesn’t have to be a linguist in order to see that the division of the world into racializer/racialized is a recipe for conflict and violence, and not for the resolution of unjust discrimination.
As Edward Feser points out in his book All One in Christ. A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory, “if one were to replace expressions like ‘whiteness’ and ‘white supremacy’ with terms such as ‘Jewishness’ and ‘Jewry’, it would be difficult to distinguish Critical Race Theory literature from the ugly propaganda of Nazism. Its claims are comparably extreme, even if it has not (yet?) led to comparable levels of violence.” Feser advocates that the way forward entails “not Critical Race Theory’s cancel culture and hermeneutics of suspicion, but rational discourse and mutual understanding. Not the demonization of any race as inherently oppressive, but solidarity and mutual respect.”
Amen to that.
Patrick Duffley is Professor of English Linguistics at Université Laval, in Canada. More by Patrick Duffley
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