White nationalism is on the rise in Canada. What does it have to do with women?
White nationalism is a core concept in far-right extremism. And many experts say it’s becoming more mainstream. “Hate in Canada: A short guide to far-right extremist movements” (2022) says, “Far-right extremism is a form of ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE) – but one that is difficult to describe. There is no one, single ideology motivating these groups, but there is a shared framework of beliefs, ideas, concepts, and literature that cuts across them.”
In Canada, white nationalism has been the basis of all kinds of dangerous things, including deadly attacks, misinformation campaigns, and harassment and hate toward public figures, politicians and journalists, particularly women of colour.
In the swirl of media coverage about these issues, it can be hard to sort out what it’s about and the implications from a gender and rights perspective.
Our guest Erica Ifill offers clarifying analysis on these issues. Erica is a journalist, economist, and anti-racism expert. She founded Not In My Colour, an intersectional business consultancy that creates inclusive organizations and implements solutions to dismantle systemic discrimination. She also co-founded the Bad + Bitchy podcast, which offers a critical analysis of politics and pop culture through the lens of intersectional feminism. She’s a columnist for The Hill Times and she’s written for outlets such as The Globe and Mail, Refinery29, Chatelaine, and Maclean’s.
White nationalism is on the rise in Canada. What does it have to do with women?
I’m Andrea Gunraj at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
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Navaid Aziz and Stephanie Carvin published Hate in Canada: A short guide to far-right extremist movements. It says “Far-right extremism is a form of ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE) – but one that is difficult to describe. There is no one, single ideology motivating these groups, but there is a shared framework of beliefs, ideas, concepts, and literature that cuts across them.”
White nationalism is a core concept in this extremism, and many experts say it’s becoming more mainstream. In Canada, it’s been the basis of all kinds of dangerous things, including deadly attacks, misinformation campaigns, and harassment and hate towards public figures, politicians and journalists, particularly women of color. In the swirl of media coverage about these issues, it can be hard to sort out what it’s about and the implications from a gendered and a rights perspective.
I spoke with Erica Ifill, whose analysis is so clarifying. Erica is a journalist, economist and anti-racism expert. She founded Not In My Colour, an intersectional business consultancy. She also co-founded the Bad + Bitchy Podcast, which offers a critical analysis of politics and pop culture through the lens of intersectional feminism. She’s a columnist for The Hill Times, and she’s also written for several outlets, including The Globe and Mail, Refinery 29, Chatelaine and Macleans. She starts by telling us a bit about her path working in finance and how she found her way to journalism and podcasting.
I have a rebellious streak just in general. I just decided that I wanted freedom. I wanted the freedom to say what I wanted to say and to be taken seriously and to be valued. Because they didn’t value me. They only used me for window dressing when university recruitment came around. There were a few times where they were like “you can’t write, your writing is not good”, so I became a journalist. I literally kind of did it to prove them wrong. It was out of pettiness and spite. It really was. People say that you shouldn’t be petty, yeah, you should. If you’re constructively petty, you could tell stories like this all the time. Like, I remember just being so angry about the way I was being treated. I remember my mom telling me she’s like, you know, there’s nothing wrong with anger, as long as you can channel it.
You should be frigging angry. You should be angry. If you’re not angry, then you’re either too privileged or you’re not paying attention.
Stop telling women that they shouldn’t be angry. The hell they should. I’m angry. I’m angry at patriarchy. I’m angry that I still have to be co-signed by a white male to be taken seriously in the workplace. I’m angry about that. Why aren’t you angry?
You know, and why is that something that you’re perpetuating to younger women? My anger got me a podcast. So Bad + Bitchy is a podcast that basically, it started out with 3 of us and now there’s 2, where we’re all intersectional feminists who are really trying to breakdown policy and pop culture from that lens, from that intersectional lens. And explaining how it works within the structures that are built here. From Bad + Bitchy, we all started writing together. I think 2020 was really the year I started becoming Erica Ifill, the journalist.
You’ve written about the nation building logic behind white nationalism and the way that women are framed. But what are the roots of white nationalism and far-right extremism we see today? Can you help us do some grounding?
This economic violence, quote unquote, that Oxfam International, just so brilliantly explained: “Economic violence is perpetrated when structural policy choices are made for the richest and most powerful people. This causes direct harm to us all and to the poorest people, women and girls, and racialized groups the most. Inequality contributes to the death of at least one person every four seconds.” In my sort of analytical world, I’m like, oh this is clear because the pandemic showed all these divisions.
I go back to like the 70s and 80s where you have this push towards supply side economics or supply side theory. The idea is that consumers will benefit from greater supplies of goods and services at lower prices and employment will increase. Every sort of economic policy until now has been, since I would say the mid 70s, when the oil crisis happened, to now, is some form of that. If you think about the “too big to fail”, for example, was the reason why we had to bail out banks. This idea that that these companies are “too big to fail”, well once deregulation happened in the public sector and the private sector, you were going to get massive mergers and acquisitions because it’s about power.
And if you look at economics through the lens of power, which I think sociologists do much better than economists, you can see the economic background for this. The fact that we close manufacturing and sent it overseas and we had nothing for people in the middle or people in the working class. What replaced it was service jobs with no benefits and no future. Who gets employed in service jobs? Heavily women. So, you have women in precarious work situations that are now competing for these jobs with immigrants or migrants, because the immigration system has become so distorted that it’s literally there to prop up big business. This tension has been caused by the state and by government and public policies over the years.
And, so, what this tension does is it pits one group against another. What you’re talking about is mostly racialized group against a mostly white group. Remember, that is set up by state policies. It’s not set up by the right-wing. Those are decisions the state made, over time, and you’re just seeing it come to a hill. While the state has pulled back on social programs that could then make up the shortfall, what the far-right has done is emphasize family-based benefits. What the far-right wants to do is they want to build a nation. A nation is not a country. A nation is basically a group of people with laws that govern themselves. It doesn’t really have to do anything with geography.
That’s what the sort of hijacking of the Supreme Court of the United States is about. They’re building to fundamentally change the trajectory of this society so that white men stay on top and the rest of us are subordinate. That’s basically the definition of white supremacy. Now, to build this nation, you need women. Because who’s going to have babies? The repeal of Roe V Wade is really about white women having babies for this nation. White women aren’t having babies. Not enough of them. And so that presents the problem.
So, how do you get white women to buy into this? It’s not that hard because if you think about it, life is hard and it’s going to be more economically challenging. What you’re going to see, sort of like this return to traditional values. Basically, what they’re selling white women is “hey, you’ll be taken care of by the state because we’re going to push through these family-based, which is based on white Christian ideology by the way, programs and policies. We’re going to make sure that you have a husband to take care of you and we’re going to protect you from these immigrant masses- what you need to give us, is your freedom.” So, when the economics becomes to the point where we have an affordability crisis, that question is going to be more stark for a lot of women.
I literally have a picture of a truck at the convoy saying that it’s not about vaccine mandates, yet that’s something the media kept pushing. No, not when you have people deep in the far-right movement organizing this thing. Not when you see swastikas so freely displayed. Not when you see far-right iconography easily displayed. You’re the company you keep. This is just a tenant of living. Birds of a feather flock together. “Show me your friends, I’ll tell you who you are” kind of thing.
But they have their hot tubs and they have their bouncy castles and they have their family fun. And that family fun is used to draw women in. Always remember the term family. If you’re a single mother and you’re struggling and you’re trying to put food on the table, and all the government does is cut back on like ODSP, for example in Ontario, or cut back on benefits, I could see how you would be susceptible.
And what has feminism done to bridge that divide? Once neoliberal economic policies came in, feminism got corporate, and it stopped caring about the working class. Definitely didn’t care about racialized women. It left a lot of women behind. Feminism became a quest for powerful white women to gain more power vis-a-vis powerful white men. It left its working-class roots when it came out of the streets and went into the boardroom.
What can we do to counter the growth of white nationalism?
They have a really good head start. They are organized, they have money.
Where are all these left-wing foundations, I keep hearing about? Yeah, I’m going to bring you into this.
I have yet to hear the Canadian Women’s Foundation reach out to Bad + Bitchy and say, hey, how can we help you? How can we help you fight this?
One of the biggest issues is money. You want to counter this? Well, you’re going to have to build stuff digitally. I mean, we’ve been doing our part as much as we can, but we need all hands-on deck. And we need the money to grow our sort of influence and our presence. We actually need, ironically, more money to give out more free content because we need to get paid too, because that’s a lot of work. Because people are doing it off the side of their desk, they don’t have time to reach out to others who are doing the same thing. And form those, those networks and those connections that need to be formed across borders.
This needs to be global. You go to America and people are already doing this work. And they’re talking about it BIPOC women, especially. Women are the ones who have been fighting back. It is the feminists, the real feminists that have been fighting back.
- A) it’s game time B) we all have skin in this game. This is not a people of color problem to solve.
Alright, now what?
We need to support feminist voices in traditional and new media to do what they do best- speak truth to power and spotlight the uncomfortable, scary, and sometimes ignored trends that you don’t always want to talk about.
Erica’s critique of philanthropic bodies is powerful and tough to take to heart. Those of us who aspire to boost human rights and democracy and civic participation in gender justice, like the Canadian Women’s Foundation, need to aspire to do more to boost feminist creators and media makers. I’m thankful for the challenge and excited to explore rising to it.
Stay tuned for our next episode, Part 2 of this discussion on women and white nationalism.
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