A provocative article here from columnist, Doug Saunders, in the Globe and Mail. He suggests and I am inclined to agree that the climate of the global economic woes foster intolerance – even racism. He suggests that expressions of anger over failed policies and inadequate safety net programs are to be expected as thousands of people face job loss and protracted unemployment.
The ugliness, however, manifested itself when the anger suddenly turned against outsiders. Phrases like "Buy American" and "British jobs for British workers," which gained popularity because they seem to reflect a deeper sentiment, are chillingly redolent of earlier moments, in 1873 and 1930, when economic depressions morphed into fierce moments of nationalist self-defence and attacks on outsiders, leading to isolationism, racism and war.
Protectionist strategies seem to be gathering incredible momentum these days and it is not hard to see how these ideological perspectives inform essentially racist sentiment. And protectionism itself, I would argue, is a not so distant cousin to the mercantilism of the late colonial period.
In times of relative prosperity the race to the top of the socio-economic status heap seems an endless tunnel of hope. Consumerism flourishes. Everybody is richer than they were and they all feel pretty good about it. In these conditions, those people who have conventionally held the power in racial distinctions (most typically whites), can easily be distracted into acknowledging that minorities and otherwise oppressed groups can achieve even similar economic success as they are achieving. After all the white man says to himself look that the awesome conditions I have created that allow other 'underprivileged' people to flourish. This benevolence is strangely lacking when the risk of economic collapse is looming on the horizon. When the effort being expended is directed at NOT becoming poor the attitudes change.
I recently spoke to a friend of mine working in HR in a local assembly plant. His company has recruited many workers from Central America and the Philippines. One of the stipulations of the agreements that employers enter with the government organizations is the requirement to terminate employment of these workers before any other layoffs occur. Without work these individuals are then required to return to their country of origin. On the surface it seems to make sense that this type of policy should be in place. After all people who are citizens of this country ought to be able to benefit from that status in some way.
What is morally questionable is how these companies can bring over these workers who perform jobs that the general population does not want to do. Let's remember that the pay scale for these employees is typically significantly lower than other comparable jobs. Then these companies can turn around and dismiss these people to fend for themselves.
It will be interesting to see how these sentiments play out in Canada compared to places like the U.S. where racial tensions over employment opportunities has been contentious for some time.