Commentary | Editors’ note: Why an issue on cultural identity

Since Barack Obama was elected president, many have speculated that America has triumphed over its troubled relationship with race. With the excitement of the inauguration still fresh, we think it is an opportune time to talk about race and other issues that underlie our most basic interactions – issues that we’re all aware of, but are often afraid to talk about.

Using the phrase “cultural identity,” we’ve loosely affiliated the notions of race, religion, ethnicity, and class. We’ve dedicated this special issue to discussing them and the ways in which they interact.

The time to look at the issue of cultural identity, we feel, is particularly ripe, but so is the place. Quebec, a province that has undergone so many changes in the past century, is still working every day to define itself both within Canada and internationally. The province is a nucleus of cultural clashes.

Tensions in Montreal North this summer suggest that racial profiling isn’t behind us, and that structural inadequacies built on perceptions about race are rampant. Notions of cultural identity also exacerbate global interactions; the conflict in the Middle East demonstrates that culture – race and religion, mainly – can dictate entire lifestyles and modes of thought, and is capable of inciting worldwide debate and sometimes violent reaction.

We’ve accumulated articles addressing identity’s role in shaping Internet search engines, explaining the politics of being Jewish, and relating life as a francophone in an anglophone world. We’re also taking lighter approaches to the topic – exploring, for example, the moral ramifications of cultural appropriation in music, and discussing how two student photographers from Concordia have dealt with the power relations of snapping photos in a Ugandan refugee camp.

Our sister publication, Le Délit, will be taking a look at the issue of cultural identity tomorrow, from their own perspective. Their Tuesday issue will include stories focusing on First Peoples in Quebec and on campus, and multicultural approaches to environmentalism. The stories in today’s paper and the ones you’ll find tomorrow in Le Délit by no means constitute a comprehensive examination of how race, religion, ethnicity, and class affect the workings of our society. But we hope they speak to experiences relevant to our lives as students and young adults, and reveal the pervasive nature of these issues.


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