Racialization in early childhood: a critical analysis of discourses in policies.

Author:Pacini-Ketchabaw, Veronica


A large portion of the early childhood literature in the area of cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity addresses the practices of institutions for young children, immigrant/refugee parents' understandings of their situation, and provides recommendations for more inclusive practices (Bernhard, Chud, Lefebvre, & Lange, 1996; Bernhard & GonzalezMena, 2000; Bernhard, Lefebvre, Chud, & Lange, 1997; Bernhard, Lefebvre, Kilbride, Chud, & Lange, 1998; Chang, Muckelroy, Pulido-Tobiassen, & Dowell, 2000; Derman-Sparks & A. B. C. T. Force, 1989; Gonzalez-Mena, 1991, 1996; Gonzalez-Mena & Bhavnagri, 1997). This body of literature has proved very useful in bringing issues related to young children and families from racialized minorities to the forefront of discussions in early childhood. What has not been widely discussed (and problematized) are the assumptions made in policies that guide early childhood services. Most of the existing critical policy analyses that have been conducted in the field do not directly address racialized discourses (e.g., Moss, Dillon, & Statham, 2000; Moss & Petrie, 2002). There are, however, important exceptions that focus primarily on welfare reforms (e.g., Swadener, 2000).

This article attends to this gap in the literature by reporting on a study conducted in British Columbia, Canada that addressed the following questions:

How do discourses that guide early childhood policies within British Columbia represent young children and families from 'racialized' minorities (Aboriginal, Canadian, and foreign-born)? What assumptions and surrounding bodies of knowledge about young children and families from 'racialized' minorities organize existing policy discourses? What issues do these discourses claim to, or intend to, resolve? Before proceeding, two notes are necessary in order to situate the ideas we are about to discuss. First, the aim of this article is to interrogate the policies that guide early childhood services in the province. As Popketwitz and Lindblad (2000) explain, most policy research that deals with issues of inclusion/exclusion tend to accept the definitions and norms created by policies, "the research situates itself within the same framework as its objects of study and its results become nothing more than recapitulation of given systems of reference in state policy rather than a knowledge produced through critical analysis" (p. 6). In this article we intend to engage in a space of critical analysis. Second, we also want to move away from the creation of culturally essentialising categories that are primarily concerned with group-based cultural differences (Andreassen Becher, 2004). Our aim, following Lee and Lutz (2005), is to utilize "a critical literacy of 'race,' racisms, anti-racisms and racialization", involving "critical 'readings' of how power operates and how it transforms, and reforms, social relations, through racial categories and consciousness" (p. 4).

Multiculturalism and Aboriginality in British Columbia, Canada

Canada is imagined as a pluralistic, multicultural society that accepts a large number of immigrants every year. The rhetoric of multiculturalism has been analyzed by many scholars and we tackle this issue below. For now, we want to state the larger politics in which early childhood policies are constructed and acted upon. The imagined positive disposition toward multiculturalism is reflected in the Multiculturalism Act (1988) (Canadian Heritage-Patrimoine canadien, 2004) that states:

  1. (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to (a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage; (b) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada's future ... (j) advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada. (Multiculturalism Policy of Canada, Section 3. 1)

Immigrants account for approximately 18% of the total population in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2001c). A large number of immigrants arriving in Canada (approximately 1.5 million) come from non-European countries including countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America (Statistics Canada, 2001a). The majority of immigrants choose to reside in one of the three major multicultural centres (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) which combined, according to the 2001 Census, attract approximately 62% of the total immigrant population (Statistics Canada, 2001b). Vancouver, one of the larger multicultural centres in Canada, is situated in the province of British Columbia.

British Columbia's Multiculturalism Act also reflects much of this imagined positive disposition toward multiculturalism that is seen in Canada's Multiculturalism Act. The stated purpose of the BC Multiculturalism Act is:

(a) to recognize that the diversity of British Columbians as regards to race, cultural heritage, religion, ethnicity, ancestry and place of origin is a fundamental characteristic of the society of British Columbia that enriches the lives of all British Columbians;

(b) to encourage respect for the multicultural heritage of British Columbia;

(c) to promote racial harmony, cross cultural understanding and respect and the development of a community that is united and at peace with itself;

(d) to foster the creation of a society in British Columbia in which there are no impediments to the full and free participation of all British Columbians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of British Columbia. (Government of British Columbia, 2004a, Section 2)

The provincial government's framework of practicing multiculturalism in BC is guided as well by the Agreement for Canada-British Columbia Co-Operation on Immigration (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2004). This agreement ensures that provincial matters related to immigration (such as multiculturalism) are conducted in accordance with the Government of Canada's immigration laws. One of the provincial designations is to:

support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy in which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions of Canada; and enrich and strengthen the cultural and social fabric of Canadian society, while respecting the federal, bilingual and multicultural character of Canada. (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2004, Section 1.7) This task is then delegated to the provincial Settlement and Multiculturalism Division. Their mission statement is to "meet the settlement needs of immigrants and refugees, and promote multiculturalism and anti-racism through leadership and funded initiatives" (Government of British Columbia, n.d., [paragraph] 4). This division is responsible for BC's antiracism, multiculturalism and immigrant/ refugee settlement programs. They contract out settlement and adaptation services for new immigrants to third-party service providers, and work with community agencies on anti-racism and multiculturalism initiatives. Some of these programs are the B.C. Settlement and Adaptation Program (BCSAP) and the B.C. Anti-racism and Multiculturalism Program (BCAMP) (Government of British Columbia, n.d.).

In spite of an explicit commitment to immigration, there is a large body of literature that shows the many challenges that immigrant communities face in the province (see Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis' website: http://www.riim.metropolis.net). These challenges range from unemployment and underemployment to poor academic outcomes for children.

The history of Aboriginal communities in British Columbia is one filled of racisms and injustices (Adams, 1975; Armitage, 1993, 1995; Bennett, Blackstock & De La Ronde, 2005; Blackstock & Trocme, 2005; Gleason, 2002). In Canada, Aboriginal peoples have been segregated in reserves and residential schools; have had their governments, economies, traditions and ceremonies controlled and/or banned by Canadian laws; and, in some cases, have been downright exterminated by racist actions, assumptions and policies (Bennett, Blackstock & De La Ronde, 2005; Blackstock & Trocme, 2005). Bennett, Blackstock and De La Ronde state that

The racism experienced by Aboriginal peoples is placed within a unique context of colonization, expropriation of lands and assimilationist policies. Racism is enforced through legal and social instruments developed and implemented by governments and has been perpetrated against several groups in Canada's history. (p. 7) The history of the relationship between Canada and Aboriginal peoples has been "marred by social, economic, political and cultural oppression" (Bennett, Blackstock, & De La Ronde, 2005, p. 7). Aboriginal children have been taken away from their families, first by the residential school system in place from the mid-nineteenth century to 1984 in British Columbia (the last one closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan), then by the child welfare system. To this day, Aboriginal children are grossly overrepresented in the child welfare system across Canada and British Columbia (Armitage, 1993, 1995; Bennett, Blackstock, & De La Ronde, 2005; Blackstock & Trocme, 2005). In British Columbia, the legacy of colonization is still seen in the amount of control Aboriginal peoples have over their own affairs (Bennett, Blackstock, & De La Ronde, 2005).

Both multiculturalism and Aboriginality are situated in the larger society as contributing to the 'diversity' of the province. Two binaries are created, characteristic of white settler nations (Cohen, 2003): the Anglo settler/non-Anglo migrant binary that multicultural policies seek to resolve, and the Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal binary...

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