Weekend conference takes critical look at multiculturalism in three countries

This weekend at York, participants in the Rethinking Multiculturalism: Brazil, Canada and the United States conference will consider the issue of multiculturalism within the context of slavery, indentureship and migration, and how it is articulated in the three countries. The multilingual (English, French, Portuguese and Spanish), multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary conference includes many areas of discussion: sociology, history, anthropology, literature, music and dance.

Participants will consider multiculturalism as a discourse of hegemony and resistance and talks will focus upon questions of social justice, economic equity and access to power.

Above: Images from the Rethinking Multiculturalism: Brazil, Canada and the United States conference poster

Conference organizer Vermonja Alston, professor in the Departments of Equity Studies and English in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, puts the issues of the conference into some context. One of the goals of the conference, she says, is to compare and contrast, critically, the different approaches to multiculturalism among Brazil, Canada and the US, and to raise aboriginal issues outside of Canada’s official state policy.

Alston says the return of democracy to Brazil in the mid-1980s saw a critique of official discourse of racial democracy and a transition to multiculturalism, characterized by redistributive justice and affirmative action policies. New laws were passed to recognize the rights – including land rights – of Brazil’s indigenous populations and African-Brazilians, descendants of Maroons (runaway slaves) who have lived continuously in quilombos (Brazilian hinterland settlements).

In the US, Alston says, multiculturalism has also taken the form of counter-hegemony, resulting from the social movements – involving civil and human rights – of the 1960s and 1970s.

Canada is the only country among the three that embraces official multiculturalism, says Alston, and yet its policy leaves out aboriginal populations. She poses the question: “How do you make claims of prejudice in a situation where you have an official state policy of multiculturalism?”

Another important aspect of the conference, says Alston, is considering how different racialized groups interact with one another. “We wanted to move away from an idea of multiculturalism that is somehow read as a racialized difference articulated against a white norm,” says Alston.

Among the speakers are: Tania Das Gupta, founding chair of the Department of Equity Studies at York; Gislene dos Santos (University of São Paulo); Jan Hoffman French (University of Richmond); Cecil Foster (University of Guelph); Mariza Soares (Fluminense Federal University in Brazil); Winfried Siemerling (University of Waterloo); and Darién Davis (Middlebury College).

The conference is a project of the Department of Equity Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, organized in partnership with the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples, the Michael Baptista Lecture, and the Brazilian Studies Seminar.

For more information, visit the Rethinking Multiculturalism: Brazil, Canada and the United States Web site.