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Social Science General

Where Race Does Not Matter

The New Spirit Of Modernity

by (author) Cecil Foster

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Jan 2005
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2005
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Originally intended to be a white man's country, Canada helped develop the prototype for the nation-state that privileged the descendants of Western Europe and marginalized all others, including those who were aboriginal to the land. This is the prototype that also characterized apartheid South Africa.

Now, thanks to the policies of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada has done an about-face on race and is the world's first official multicultural country. But race and ethnicity are still serious issues. In Where Race Does Not Matter, Cecil Foster, one of Canada's leading intellectuals, argues that Canada can leave a legacy to the world—a legacy of true multiculturalism where all citizens are generally equal and race truly does not matter. This brilliant polemic challenges the prevailing wisdom about racism and offers a model for the future.

About the author

CECIL FOSTER was born in Barbados and immigrated to Canada in 1978. He has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Financial Post and has contributed to such magazines as Chatelaine, Maclean’s, Toronto Life, NOW and Canadian Business. He has also worked for the CBC (in radio and television) and CTV and is a regular commentator in the national media. He has published five works of non-fiction and four novels, including his highly praised debut, No Man in the House. Currently, Foster is a professor of sociology at the University of Guelph and is director of graduate studies in the department of transnational studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Independence is his first novel in almost twelve years.

Cecil Foster's profile page

Excerpt: Where Race Does Not Matter: The New Spirit Of Modernity (by (author) Cecil Foster)

chapter one

The Morality of History

There has never been a time in the history of nations when race did not matter. Perhaps we are reaching the point where the same can no longer be said for skin colour. Such an achievement would be momentous enough to merit yet another declaration that a history has ended—this time a history of what we call race.

“Let us hurry to untie the knot and set the good genius of European civilisation once more free from the bonds which may strangle her in the future.”1 These were the inspirational words of one of South Africa’s—and, by extension, Europe’s—leading statesmen of the early twentieth century, Jan Christiaan Smuts. Presenting himself as an oracle in the ancient Greek tragedian tradition, the sixty-four-year-old Smuts was at the height of his international fame when he made these comments in the fall of 1934. He had identified a single purpose of human existence, the attainment of different levels of culture and “civilization” by different groups, and he was sharing it with those whom he felt most likely to bring about the ending he thought so necessary for humanity. Smuts spoke with great passion and fanfare, as he was prone to do when discussing world affairs, especially before European audiences. Europe, he believed, was the key to unlocking a world of perpetual peace.

Smuts spoke in a time of acute tensions in international affairs. Storm clouds were building everywhere. Nations, and even individual groups within nations, were erecting protective barriers around themselves. The best example of this for Smuts was Germany, which had withdrawn into itself and cloaked its affairs in mystery, something that he thought separated it from its natural heritage as a European nation. This was another treacherous moment for the era that we call Modernity: the period that stretches from the present day back to the end of the so-called Middle Ages that is generally associated in world history with the assertion of the identity and culture of the individual, or self, as a unified whole and with what is called development and progress. This era reached its idealized apex with the affirmation of the individual person as the highest form of attainment in a liberal democracy. At the global level, it reached its pinnacle with the formation of nation-states with supposedly clear identities and cultures that are separate from the rest of humanity. These are the times of the idealized individual, either as a unique personality or as a distinct collective or people.

At the start of the twentieth century, the spirit among these nation-states was foul, as increasingly they were segregating themselves into teams of “us” and “them” as part of a global fight for personal and universal dominance. The awareness that flowed out of this identity and culture, and that might very well be considered separate from the entity itself, is what I shall be calling the spirit of Modernity. Put another way, it is the purported soul, or the consciousness, of the individual or the collective unity. Spirit, as an expression—especially as captured in institutions, practices, and common agencies as part of the prevailing ideology—is that cultural or social bond that allows the many individuals in a society to think, act, and dream as a collective.

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