Diversity, the New Canada, and Jian Ghomeshi

(Photo: Canadian Design Resource)

“My honest feeling is that the audience is always right. The audience will always know, sense a situation, and decide whether they agree with what’s happening or not.” – Jian Ghomeshi, in interview with George Stromboulopoulos, 2012

They certainly do, Jian, they certainly do.

Full disclosure: I love the CBC.

For years, I have spent any given period of a 24-hour day listening in to its various programming, and getting to spend time with their on-air personalities. Some of the theme songs bring me back to being a little boy and sitting down for dinner. I have my immigrant mother to thank for sharing it with me, and making me feel that much more connected to this country. It is arguably the one institution in the country that holds it together.

“I would love to be in the media somehow, but it’ll never happen because my name is too funny. And I look a little weird, and my parents are from a strange place that everyone calls evil. So that’s not an option to me.” – Ghomeshi, same interview with Strombo.

As I write this, the current media focus is on Jian Ghomeshi, recently-fired host of the CBC show Q. It goes without saying that violence against anyone is deplorable.

There is no one personality that can be bigger than the CBC, and indeed, this scandal is not about that. I would think of Barbara Bud, Peter Gzowki, Paul Kennedy, or Anna-Maria Tremonti, before thinking of Jian. There is a calm lack of awkwardness, and ease of the role that they all share. That, and they’re all white.

So, the question begs to be asked, why was Jian sent on a rocket-like ascent through the echelons of CBC radio-hostdom? Was it simply hard work that got him there? Was it because he was the token minority at the party? Here’s where political correctness escapes me – or maybe it did already.

The conversation is not about him being bigger than the CBC, or about domestic violence – I’ll qualify that by saying that the latter is a conversation that should always be at the forefront of society, not just to say hi by way of celebrity. The sensational nature of those conversations will end with the media cycle as quickly as they began. If we wanted to address violence against women properly, we would. We have the means.

This is a conversation about the New Canada.

In a world where our recent municipal election garnered less than 25% of the seats for women representatives, while more than half of the population is female, it should come as no surprise that this is the case. In most elections, this holds similarly. In hiring practices, the statement ‘we are an equal opportunity employer’ indicates the very existence of an equality problem itself.

As Canada continues down the unpaved road of multiculturalism, Jian Ghomeshi is CBC’s experiment gone wrong. Is this the face of New Canada? The self-described “First Persian-Canadian New Wave Author?” We have some thinking, and talking to do. And of course, more construction (it is Canada after all).

If nothing else, he represents CBC’s necessary attempt to capture the youth audience and reframe themselves as intercultural and inclusive. With him come various notions, values, and ideas representing his worldview. We all have them. Maybe it’s what role a man has, and what child-rearing looks like. Maybe it’s about self-expression. Given the public reaction, the problem is clear: true cultural integration takes more than one generation to occur. You can’t force it.

If true equality of opportunity existed, then hundreds would have qualified for the job of host of Q. Was the pool of applicants or potential hosts so small that Jian needed to be baptized by fire? Obviously, there are countless barriers to newcomers to this country, so let’s stop pretending we are where we want to be 50 years from now. We need to focus on the pulse on what it means to be Canadian. These are the issues and values that matter. Jian is just a drop in a bucket filled with millions of other Canadians, who have their own places of origin, issues, outlets, and problems.

Let’s take a stroll through the halls of the CBC, or government houses or councils, or even the halls of the Royal York Hotel. Tell me who you see. This is the true marker of the dominant discourse and power structure, and while the CBC is progressive in its programming, it may take some time for it’s public personalities (on radio) to feel totally comfortable in the role, and the audience comfortable with them. Until the faces of Bill Reid, Adrienne Clarkson, George Elliott Clarke, or Laura Secord are on our money, this is where we will be.

Canada is said to be multicultural and it is, in Toronto. And even then, pockets of culture exist. In no place will you get a truly multicultural experience, except maybe shopping at IKEA.

(On a side note, is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong in suing a publicly-funded institution like the CBC for $55 million? That’s like trying to milk $1000 from each of your listeners directly.)

What do you think? Is Canada truly multicultural? What does the word even mean? Is there a difference between tolerance and acceptance?