Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chief Spence and Our Quiet Racist Traditions. . . . .

Unfortunately racism is an incredibly powerful and shockingly nefarious thing. It seeps into people's blood and bones in ways that they don't even notice. Racism is not just a conscious and blatant force. Rather, like many aspects of human relations, racism often lies in the background of people's conscious feelings. I once saw an illustration of this kind of subconscious racism in my own father who was progressively political and very conscious of the evils of racism. He told me the story very honestly because it was a wake-up call for him and the notion of hidden feelings and ideas. My dad was trying to find a meeting room in a hotel and he accidentally walked in on some kind of large social occasion where a man was giving a speech. As he opened the door the room suddenly went quiet and all 100 or so eyes turned and looked at him for a moment. He smiled nervously and left the room to continue his search for the intended meeting. It only later occurred to my dad, who was a very shy and socially awkward guy, that he hadn't become shy and self-conscious when all those people had turned to look at him. It took him a while to realize that his lack of customary shyness on this occasion had been the result of the fact that the entire audience in question had been made up of Chinese people. Now my father would never have had conscious racist thoughts about Asian people. He would never had thought anyone was inferior to him based on his, or their ethnicity. However, on this occasion he realized that his customary shyness was held at bay because he was not as concerned about how a group of Asians looked at him as he would have been if the group had been white. My father told me this story in part because it reminded him that racism is not always something that we can see or entirely understand at first glance.

Perhaps even more problematic than these culturally generated racist feelings are the racist notions and ideas that we have inherited from popular culture that we don't even realize have racist import. This systemic or cultural racism is particularly problematic because people who do not hold racist views unintentionally express ideas that maintain racists social and economic relations. Racism and sexism are built into our social and economic system and if you doubt it ask yourself why there are so few women CEOs or why indigenous people make up between 20 and 30 percent of Canada's prison population while constituting less than 5% of the general population.

As I talked about in my last blogpost, I believe that racism has been central to colonialism. It is important for colonial powers to create racist feelings against those they intend to subjugate or destroy because it paves the way to exploitation or genocide. Without racism people would object to the treatment of a subjugated people and they might put a stop to it. English people, even progressive ones, bought the colonialist lie that the people of Africa and India needed to be "civilized" and that allowed the real intent of colonialism - the rape and pillage of the resources of the "third" world - to go along smoothly. The legal and systemic racist policies gain their legitimacy through racist assumptions about the subjugated. "They are too ignorant to guide their own future," "they need the civilizing force of our religion," "left to themselves they are shiftless and lazy and need to be taught the principles of hard-work " etc etc. . . . These are the kinds of stories that colonizers tell themselves to justify their power, their exploitation, and their genocide.

Since I started writing blogposts about Chief Spence and the Idle no More movement I have received quite a few implicitly and explicitly racist responses. I have not published them for obvious reasons. For one thing, our culture and media have spent generations peddling their racism, often unchallenged, everywhere one looks. I have no wish to provide them with one more forum, however small, for their ideas. But it is an exhausting process. Some people just repeat the commonly held beliefs that Indigenous Canadians are lazy alcoholics who have plenty of opportunity but no desire for prosperity. It amazes me that this old, worn-out idea is still so commonly rehashed. Others, who are more conscious of potentially racist statements talk about the "need" for adherence to the process and other such nonsense. I find this idea, perhaps, even more offensive than the blatantly racist notions because it is so insidious. For generations indigenous people have been treated with violence by governments, their treaties have been ignored and the racist courts have ignored their rights. And yet as soon as indigenous people stand up for themselves and their rights against these abuses every white person in sight seems to have climbed out from under the rocks to insist that the Indigenous people should "respect the law" or "abide by the process" or "be patient" or "renounce violence" etc etc .  . . .

It is pure hypocrisy to treat people with violence for generations, to take them from their homes and families and put them in schools where they are abused and robbed of their identities, to rig the courts so that their treaty rights are ignored, to create an economic system that is rigged against them, to ignore all their most basic rights, but then to insist that they work within that system, that they patiently respect courts and governments that have committed conscious genocide against them, and to call them terrorists if they adopt strategies that our government praises elsewhere. This is, perhaps, the worst kind of racism, because it is the racism of slow destruction with a legitimate face.

Racism is indeed a difficult and sometimes insidious force and we should all be careful about what we think, what we say, and what we do. Perhaps nowhere is fact more true than in our treatment of Indigenous people who have, perhaps more than anyone else, been subjected to racist abuse.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Racism, a colonialist strategy. . . . .

Stephen Harper is deeply afraid of Chief Spence - and he should be. He is not, of course, afraid of her as a woman and a mother. Rather, he is afraid of what she represents in the struggle of the Indigenous people for treaty justice. You see, the treaties that the crown signed with native people in this country demonstrate an implicit (and sometimes explicit) recognition that the Indigenous people were caretakers of the land and water in large parts of the country. And besides the fact that the constitution of this country recognized the natives as fundamental stakeholders in the founding of the nation, there is a moral recognition that they are genuine protectors of the fragile ecosystems around the country. Failure to listen to the Indigenous voices on environmental issues spells inevitable disaster for our future.

Of course, successive governments have done a remarkable job at marginalizing native people. Federal governments have continually failed to live up to their treaty obligations, they have made it nearly impossible for native peoples to live in traditional ways but they have also held them back from benefiting from the exploitation of their treaty lands. Couple this with the government's effort to take away the native people's language, family structure, and culture, our governments have kept native people living in horrible poverty, and robbed them of the kinds of educational and healthcare tools that would allow them to genuinely improve their situation. Perhaps the worst part of this process of marginalization has been the way that it has fed into shocking racism on the part of many Canadians against First Nations peoples. This mechanism has long been a primary function of imperialism. If you marginalize a group effectively, keeping them poor and uneducated, the average, white, ill-informed colonizer will see them has somehow responsible for their own degradation. This was a fundamental organizational operaton of Apartheid and was also central to how the slaves were treated in the US. And it is a strategy that has been remarkably effective in Canada where most people are shockingly ill-informed not only about the historically despicable treatment of Indigenous people but are amazingly misinformed about the state of Native people today. If you don't believe it find your way to a story about Idle no More or Chief Spence on the Huffington Post and read the comments. This is, generally speaking, a center-left news site and yet the comments on Native issues reflect blatant racism and a remarkable degree of ignorance. It seems that most Canadians really think that Native people are inherently shiftless and lazy, living high off the hog on government handouts while their chiefs drive around in chauffer-driven limos.

All of this brings us to the reasons that Harper is afraid of Chief Spence. He is afraid because he knows that not only are her actions threatening to demonstrate his lack of humanity, but her efforts (and the efforts of Idle no More in general) could begin the process of public education not only about how natives are being treated in general but how his environmental policies are raping the land and threatening the waters.

Overcoming the long-term effects of colonialism and imperialism is a very slow process. There are still many people in the States, for example, who think that African-Americans are lazy and their relative poverty demonstrates a lack of ambition and commitment. And it seems that in Canada bigotry against Native People has become one of the last socially acceptable kinds of racism. And men like Harper rely on that racism to continue his environmentally destructive policies. The Indigenous people are just standing in the way of his agenda of destruction and the last thing he wants is for people to begin to listen to them and really look at what is going on.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chief Spence and the Way forward. . . .

I have not blogged much lately because it seems to me that there is a story that is so big that it has taken the wind out of my sails and muted me with its raw implications. That story is the Idle No More movement and the hunger strike of Chief Spence. In light of the injustice perpetrated against the Indigenous people in Canada and the slow death of Chief Spence in the face of Conservative indifference, all the other stories going on seem to pale in comparison. And though it is an inspiring story, it is also a frustrating one because it reminds us of just how much racism there is in the country against Indigenous people. It is so deep-seated and widespread that it one might argue that it remains socially acceptable. And it is a racism that has commonly been voiced by MPs in this country as it was a few years ago by the MP for my region, the sad and pathetic Pierre Poillievre.

But despite the racism and the indifference, this is a monumental event. I see Chief Spence as an important visionary in the struggle for righteousness. Though their struggles are different, I think Chief Spence is not unlike Gandhi, and her hunger strike has the potential to be the Salt March of the Indigenous people. Gandhi's great Salt March was an historical moment that changed the mood of Indians, their imperial overseers, and the world in general. And if Chief Spence perishes while Harper eats bacon, this event will also be monumental. Such an event will change the karma of Harper, his conservative government, and our entire nation. What the Salt March taught people was that it was not the English who were in charge, it was the Indians. From that moment onward, independence was inevitable because it was already a conceptual fact just waiting to be confirmed in the material world. The death of Chief Spence in the face of Conservative indifference would be the conceptual revelation that the Harpercons have no moral authority to govern. And more importantly, it would be the confirmation that the indigenous people are fundamental protectors of the land and the environment in this place we call Canada. This would be the first real step to people finally waking up to the fact that First Nations must be equal partners in the path forward. Their treaty rights must finally be respected and they must finally play an essential part in the future of out country as a whole.

When Chief Spence stands up for her people, she is standing up for all of us because she is standing up for our water-ways, our wild-life, our air, and our future health and survival. Chief Spence has, of course, the basic living concerns of her people in her heart as well - decent housing, education, food, healthcare etc. But while she speaks for her people she speaks for all of us in the face of government that is destroying our democracy, our prosperity, our environment, and our future. If she dies it will be extremely sad. But her strength is not only setting her free, it is setting us all free. We can be free to stand up and say NO MORE! We must respect our indigenous people, our environment, our democracy and our earth. Our power is our freedom.

Let that freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Alberta.

Let that freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of BC.

But not only that: Let freedom ring from the tundra stoneS of the Northwest Territories.

Let freedom ring from the Hamilton escarpment.

Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Quebec. From every mountainside let freedom ring.

Chief Spence is setting us free. She is showing us the way. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring from every city and every province, every house and every Tipi, we can all join together and sing "free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

Thank you Chief Spence for your strength and vision!

Rise up against the corporate scum that would rape our land and imprison us. We are many, they are few.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Harper Revelation. . . .

Events in Canada are looking more and more like a Biblical Revelation with Harper representing a silver-haired beast who aligns himself with the great red dragon of the East. The Silver-hair beast has his minons wrench the fire liquid from the great northern landscape until it is made into a wasteland of black death and the fire liquid is then spewed forth into the east where it feeds the dragon which imprisons a billion people beneath its claws. This stuff writes itself.

Because, let's face it, Harper's political descent narrative is surely of biblical proportions. This silver-haired beast came from the West vowing to bring honesty to the halls of power but once ensconced in power became a bizarrely secretive dictator who not only seeks to manage information but to put an end to it altogether. He once portrayed himself as a champion of human rights and spoke out vociforously against the terrible Eastern Dragon and its terrible unGodly behaviour. Gradually he has warmed up to the Dragon and finally offers up a significant portion of his own nation to appease the Dragon's thirst for fire. Apparently it is easy to overlook the tearing talons of the dragon-beast as it kills its victims or imprisons them in factories. The silver-haired beast has indeed become everything he claimed to despise - a kind of anti-Christ Conservative whose follows seem more than comfortable supporting policies they once would have claimed represented the very essence of evil.

Of course, if we continue to follow a Biblical narrative, none of this can end well - you know, fire in the sky, giant locusts with human heads and lion's teeth, etc etc. . .

Who will rid us of this turbulent priest?

Friday, December 7, 2012

AbitibiBadwater. . . . .

You can bet that this story will not get anywhere near as much coverage as it should. For the Supreme Court to agree that Abitibibowater can absolve itself of the social responsibility of environmental clean-up is, in fact, monumental. This further solidifies the corporate society in which we now live. Though the Court claims to have upheld the principle of "polluter-pay," it de facto dispensed with that principle  because any large corporation will now be able to avoid paying for major environmental damage through the Companies' Creditor Arrangement Act. This could lead to serious disasters in the future, disasters caused by corporations for which we will have to pay.

The responsible way forward is now clear. Any major industrial undertaking should involve a significant pre-disaster payment to be held in escrow so that payment for the clean-up (and there are always clean-ups of one sort or another) is guaranteed. By I won't hold my breath.

Honest Disagreements and the problem of Harper. . .

Though disagreements can be difficult at times, I think the majority of us understand that honest disagreements are not only healthy but essential to growth and understanding. We have to weigh the options in life, think about the possibilities, consider not only the facts but the feelings and concerns of others. My father, may he rest in peace, taught me a great deal about the importance of honest discourse, especially in the face of radical disagreements. And to his credit, over the period of my adult life I watched my father change a great many of his ideas and opinions as a result of experience as well as through discourse. In fact I would say that my father really bucked the trend of aging people becoming more intractable and less open as they get older. It was, perhaps, his greatest gift - he taught me the importance of flexibility and compromise.

However, despite all that my father taught me concerning honest disagreements and the importance of discourse, this teaching falls flat in the face of much rightwing discourse. I have had many disagreements with rightwingers over my life that have been very basic differences of opinion on things like Gay Marriage, the death penalty etc. I have even had meaningful discussions about things as sensitive as sexism and racism. I think most of us at one time or another fall victim to some opinion without realizing the sexist or racist implication that our opinions might carry. In fact, in my last post I pointed to how Ian Capstick's support for certain kinds of immigration and refugee policies have implications that are, in fact, deeply racist. I am certain that Mr. Capstick doesn't believe that he is racist and that he even finds the prospect abhorrent.

Anyway, the point of this discussion is simply to say that we can have disagreements that are rooted in honest mistakes, errors in fact, moral or ethical differences, and the discussion of such disagreements can be, if we are honest and flexible, instructive and helpful.

The problem is, however, that not all disagreements are rooted in honest differences of opinion. This is where the rightwing ideology of a man like Harper comes in. If Harper honestly believed that his political approach would bring about a better and more prosperous society, then our differences of opinion would be just that - differences of opinion. The problem is that all the evidence (both contemporary and historical) suggest that this is just not the case. In other words that are other, unstated, goals behind contemporary rightwing rhetoric that make honest discourse impossible, to say nothing of unfruitful. As I have said here on this blog, and as a growing number of people are saying everywhere (in most cases much more effectively than I), the real goal of contemporary rightwing ideology is a massive shift in society away from generalized prosperity to an increase in poverty and weakness for the majority. The real "hidden agenda" of Harper and his cronies is not simply the return of the death penalty or greater restrictions on abortions (though I think those issue are real). The real "hidden agenda" is something much more abstract and sinister. Haper and his ilk actually seek to impoverish society, weaken people's democratic voices, and undermine many things that we have begun to see as basic human rights. And the reason for this goal is to substantially increase the power and wealth of the few (among whom he obvious considers himself). One needn't be an historian or development expert to understand that when the people are impoverished and weakened, the rich are necessarily more powerful and even richer. Though this is a huge goal, it is also one that can only be pursued subtly and in an rather underhanded manner. After all, people don't go around saying they want to make the majority  poorer and powerless, because let's face it you just would have no chance of getting elected. (By the way, this ideology of impoverishment of the many is actually at the heart of Harper's eventual goal of making guns more available. A society of rampant crime and violence makes the rightwing agenda easier to pursue because it makes people afraid and allows the government to increase the power of police.) In other words, what I am saying is that Harper does indeed have a "hidden agenda" and it is a large, if subtle one. The goal is to undermine democracy, impoverish the majority, and put an end to the very concept of equality.

The problem is, of course, obvious. We cannot have honest disagreements with people who are not being honest. Even under the best of conditions, disagreements can be problematic. Some people have better access to information, a larger platform for making their opinions known, or are simply better equipped to debate a particular issue. This is one of the many reasons that people on the left seek greater equality of opportunity, to remove as much as possible the relations of power that continually haunt our differences. But when those opposing you are not only richer and more powerful, but are simply not being honest about their actual goals, then the very notion of discourse becomes meaningless. We cannot face the Harper cabal on a level playing field of debate and disagreement because they not, in fact, debating anything. Rather all their political machinations are just a sideshow to divert attention away from what they are really trying to do.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it is because we careful observers have been watching the very same thing in Palestine for over 50 years. If Israel really wanted peace with the Palestinians, one could have a meaningful debate about how that might be achieved. However, for those in power in Israel, peace has never, per se, been the goal. Rather the goal is the eventual destruction of the Palestinian identity and the absorption of all Palestinian land into the state of Israel. They therefore are engaged in a continual process of diversion - a political sleight of hand - in order to take people's attention away from what they really want. So the discourses are dragged out indefinitely and even overwhelming compromises by men like Arafat are quickly turned aside, lest peace really happen and take away Israeli's excuse for their expansionism.

Unfortunately, all of this means that we cannot rely on meaningful discourse to defeat men like Harper, or bring peace to the Middle-East. Rather, we have to rely on the gradual exposure of our opponent's real goals and their continual failures in the normal political realm. We fight, in other words, in the margins, on countless fronts, until Harper's style exposes his real goals, until environmental failures become dangerously obvious, until his political mistakes and malfeasance expose his dishonesty to more people, until the very force of history undermines his decadent cause.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ian Capstick's Heart of Darkness. . . .

Ian Capstick, supporting his new macho, Mulcair-like beard, boasted tonight on the CBC Newsworld Power Panel, about how hawkish he is on immigration and refuge policy, talking up his friend Jason Kenney's new-wave of immigration controls.

Mr. Capstick, quickly and conveniently attempted to guide the conversation of todays "human trafficking" arrests away from any issues of race. The issues that he was so carefully trying to avoid are the obvious racist implication of mass arrests of Romani people, held more or less indefinitely and without bail or legal recourse by a government with a history of racism. Meanwhile, not a single person who organized the "smuggling" effort, has been arrested. (And you can bet that those people aren't Romani) And what Mr. Capstick doesn't want to talk about is the very simple fact that such talk will expose Kenney's policies - and Capstick's support of those policies - as what they are, to wit: strait-up racist.

Mr. Capstick told us that he doesn't want lots of people (he might as well have used the phrase 'hordes') coming into "his" country in nefarious ways. Typical talk of racists everywhere at all times is to hide behind patriotic rhetoric in their efforts of exclusion  The problem is, Mr. Capstick, that, let's face it, that's how we all got here. You might call it "my" country but we Europeans are only here because we stole all the land and indiscriminately killed all those who opposed us. And our governments continue to engage in a ruthless process of genocide of the first inhabitants, while you talk about defending the borders of "Your" country.

At the heart of Jason Kenney's legislative efforts has been massive increases in the Government's and the Minister's power to pick and choose who gets in and who doesn't, to increase their power to expel and exclude, to make the all-mighty dollar the only real criteria for immigration, and to cut off the rights of immigrants and refugees at every corner. And Mr. Capstick's new found hawkishness and machismo should be put in the historical context of a nation that exists on a policy of theft and racism. And until the Canadian government puts an end to the systematic genocide of first nations people, gives them a major role in deciding immigration policies, treats immigrants and refugees in a humane manner, and takes away the government's power to incarcerate and expel people at their own whim, I will continue to raise an skeptical eyebrow at talk of "my" country and hawkish immigration policies.

The problem is that systemic racism has often tried to hide behind a waving flag or  supposedly sober talk of protecting "our" borders or "our" culture. But as long as such talk is used to justify the abandonment of human rights, you've lost me. And you certainly lost me today Mr. Capstick.

I will side with Eugene Debbs - "While there is a lower-class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."