The Intersection of Nationalism and Anti-Blackness in the Reception of Haitians in Canada

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Carlo CHARLES, York University, Canada
In January 2018, the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau responded to Trump’s immigration ban by stating: “To
those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you… Diversity is our strength”. Although this
message was not directed to Haitians, undocumented Haitians who were living in the U.S. under a TPS
represented 80% of the 21 695 asylum claims made in Canada from January to July 2017 (IDC Quebec,
2017). This “massive flow” of Haitians, described as a “refugee crisis” by the right-wing media and white
nationalist anti-immigrant protesters, has forced the Canadian government to shift its welcoming message to a
strictly admonishing and policy-related discourse aiming that “economic refugees” are not entitled to Asylum.
Such a shift contradicts the international image of Canada as a multicultural and inclusive “heaven” for
refugees and it places Haitians within a field of representations and policy framework level, which
operationalizes distinctions between “economic migrants” and “refugees” informed by primitivist and orientalist
racisms (Kyriakides 2017).

While primitivist racism in the Global North relies on biological determinism and ideological construction of
black people as “problem population” to categorize Haitians as “economic migrants” (Hall 1986; Eglash 2002),
orientalist racism depicts brown people like Syrians admitted as refugees in the West as “non-threatening
victims to be saved”, (Daniel and Knudsen, 1995; Behrman, 2014; Kyriakides 2017). By focusing on
racialization in reception contexts, methodological nationalism and geopolitical framework, I draw attention to
how the Canadian context operationalizes the two different types of racism when it comes to the reception of
refugees from the South and the East. More importantly, I seek to understand how primitivist and orientalist
racisms shape the way Haitians are represented in juxtaposition to the notion of model minority in the
Canadian racialized vertical mosaic (Porter 1965, Portes & Zhou 1993, Hollifield & al. 1994, Ngo 2016).