Thursday, March 7, 2013

Aboriginal Peoples, Stockwell Day and Nauseating Racism. . .

If you had the misfortune of seeing Stockwell Day on Power and Politics this evening then you are probably as nauseated as I am. The so-called "Power Panel" predictably addressed the report by Howard Sapers from the Office of the Correctional Investigator concerning the relationship of Aboriginal Peoples to the Injustice system. Howard Sapers, with language not nearly strong enough in my opinion, rightly pointed out that there existed a "systemic discrimination" within the system against aboriginal peoples.

Perhaps even more predictably, my blood began to boil as the lightweight Evan Solomen questioned Stockwell Day concerning this issue and the former leader of the Canadian Alliance told Canadians that it is all a simple matter of "personal responsibility." Day told us that Aboriginal people are in prison at a greater rate because they fail to take personal responsibility for their own lives. Having learned at least a little bit from his years of gaffs in public, Day was careful to make a comparison between different native communities rather than between aboriginal communities and "white" ones. He told us that in those communities where natives have taken 'personal responsibility' they have a much lower crime rate and if only all the communities would adopt this simple solution all would be well.

Day, of course, was careful to avoid addressing the simple issue that by and large those Aboriginal communities which have particularly lower crime rates are those few which are significantly more prosperous, for one reason or another, that others. Thus Day avoided the real implications of his typically conservative opinions, to wit: there are essentially only two choices to explain the fact that Aboriginal peoples represent a much larger portion of the prison population than they do within the general population. Either, A: Aboriginal peoples are inherently more prone to criminal activity than other groups in our country or B: there is a social cause to the high Aboriginal Crime rates. Now option A is inherently racist, but option B is a revelation that no conservative ever wants to admit. Thus Day attempted, unsuccessfully I believe, to thread the needle between these two and so talked about how some Aboriginal Communities have "taken responsibility" while others have not and thus are experiencing greater crime rates.  However, the racist implications should still be glaring regardless of Day's soft-shoe effort. It doesn't matter how carefully Day might construct his comparisons, the fact is that the implications of his position are that native people are in prison because they will not take personal responsibility for themselves and if this failure is not the result of social-economic inequities and centuries of oppression then it must be simply due to the fact that aboriginal peoples are inherently criminal in their outlook. There is simply no way of escaping this racist conclusions of Day's position.

There is, of course, a grand irony with Day's evasion of the real implications of his own opinons, and that is that he doesn't even address the issues behind the Howard Sapers report. To avoid the implications of the problem of 'systemic discrimination' Stockwell Day talked around awkwardly in circles. However, the real issues that Sapers' report points to are that aboriginal peoples not only have uncharacteristically high rates of incarceration because of chronic underfunding of health and eduction for Aboriginal peoples but also because working-class and racialized people are always disadvantaged in legal systems which favor those with the economic power to avoid indictment and prosecution within the system. People with less economic power, whether that is a result of racism or simply economic inequalities, always have higher incarceration rates in part because they can't afford the expensive lawyers etc. Furthermore, this says nothing about the fact that the laws themselves are designed to criminalize certain behaviours while ignoring much so-called "white-collar" crime, such as the fraud in which our own Senators seem to be routinely engaged.

The Conservatives will obviously never publicly admit the racist implications of their opinions and policies. Furthermore, they want us to believe that there are never any social roots of crime, nor that the government policies ignore certain kinds of activity in which richer, more powerful people are engaged. And of course, no one, even more liberally minded people want to admit that if you are rich you have a much greater chance of avoiding serving time in jail for crimes which send poorer people to prison for years.

The simple fact is that if you don't realize that the Injustice system is systemically discriminatory then you just aren't paying attention. And if you can listen to Stockwell Day for more than a couple of seconds without feeling sick to your stomach, you are either not too bright or you have a very strong constitution.

1 comment:

thwap said...

Here's how a right-wing asshole would respond to you:

"You've missed the point entirely. Stockwell Day isn't being racist. He's pointing to self-defeating tendencies within First Nations cultures. You say 'by and large those Aboriginal communities which have particularly lower crime rates are those few which are significantly more prosperous' and you gloss-over that greater prosperity as 'for one reason or another.' Can't you see? It's the personal responsibility that has made them more prosperous.

You will note that 'centuries of oppression' hasn't prevented these First Nations communities from joining the fruits of Canadian civilization and blah, blah, blah."

Stockwell Day would be one of the mentally slower commentators at SDA. He is a racist, and a crude one at that.