School of Social Work seminar delves into issues of race, atrocities and outrage

Why is there such a lack of outrage at the images on the television of atrocities such as the Rwanda genocide? That is the question University of Toronto Professor Sherene Razack will discuss in her talk, titled "Stealing the Pain of Others: Race and the Humanitarian Response", at the 4th Annual School of Social Work Seminar at York.

The seminar, which commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination, takes place on Tuesday, March 18, at 7pm, in the Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson Building, Keele campus.

A professor of sociology and equity studies in education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at U of T, Razack is interested in teaching and researching race and gender issues in the law.

"In this presentation, I argue that outrage has not followed from our consumption of the horrific images and stories that fill our screens about the Rwandan genocide and other atrocities," says Razack. "Rather, we have engaged in a peculiar process of consumption, one that is the antithesis to genuine outrage and which amounts to what I call ‘stealing the pain of others’."

Razack sees this as a national process. The citizens of a compassionate middle power, not involved in the terror, come to rely on these images to confirm their humanitarian character.

"However, I suggest that our witnessing of Rwandans’ pain has mostly served to dehumanize them further, and in the process, to reinstall us as morally superior in relation to them," says Razack.

Some of the questions Razack will address in her talk are: how does it happen; can it be otherwise; how can people feel the pain and see the humanity of those who have lived through an atrocity; and how can people recognize their own complicity and move through outrage to responsibility?

"I discuss race and the slipperiness of empathy, the ways in which the pain and suffering of black people can become sources of moral authority and pleasure, obscuring in the process our own participation in the violence that is done to them," says Razack. "I end with a consideration of what the implications are for scholars and activists who work on issues affecting marginalized communities or who work with marginalized communities both in Canada and abroad."

Along with her most recent book, Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law &Politics (University of Toronto Press, 2008), Razack has also published Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping and the New Imperialism (University of Toronto Press, 2004), Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms (University of Toronto Press, 2000, third edition), and Canadian Feminism and the Law: The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and the Pursuit of Equality (Second Story Press, 1991). She also edited the collection, titled Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping A White Settler Society (Between the Lines, 2002).

The seminar is co-sponsored by the Atkinson School of Social Sciences and Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. Light refreshments will be provided.