As I have written here before, and as many others realize, racism against Aboriginal people is one of the only areas where it seems that open bigotry is still accepted in out society. Racism is regularly directed at the First Nations people, and far from being ashamed of their opinions, the racists seem to spout these ideas with pride - the same way old people do when they rehash that seemingly immortal opinion that "kids just don't want to work nowadays!"
The ugly head of racism reared its head again this week when the daily paper in Nanaimo BC published a letter condemning the First Nations people as essentially primitive, shiftless and lazy. The letter is distributing in itself but the responses are perhaps even more troubling. Typical of racists, the letter-writer and the commentators would not identify themselves as racist (bigots almost never do). Instead, they aggressively defend their opinions as "difficult - but hard-hitting - truth." However, far from being a "hard-hitting truth," many of the opinions expressed here are based upon a deep misunderstanding of what racism is and how history has worked.
First of all, one of the primary issues the letter-writer and his supporters fail to understand is that it is 'by definition' racism to judge a whole people based exclusively upon your notions of what is valuable. The letter-writer devalues the Aboriginal people of Canada because of their supposed lack of scientific "discovery." This is a common opinion among racists. At the height of the US war with Iraq I once had a conversation with an American who, in the classic colonial fashion, justified the invasion of the Middle East with the opinion that they hadn't made a significant contribution to science. I was stupefied by both this person's ignorance of the facts as well as his antiquated notion that one country's perceived "primitiveness" was a justification of colonial destruction.
The whole notion makes me wonder if the writer of the letter in the Nanaimo paper has children and if so whether he values them on a scale according to their interest and achievement in science class. The fact is that we should apply Kant's categorical imperative to nations as well as individuals. We can avoid racism if we value people not as means to an end but as ends in themselves.
One of the other disturbing aspects of the letter and the comments to it is this widespread racist notion that the target group is somehow getting 'extra' help, cannot stand on their own, or are essentially just a bunch of lazy social pariahs. In the letter the man says "let them stand on their own account like the rest of us do." But of course, the truth is that the rest of us don't. The facts are fairly simple, the power and wealth of Western Capitalism was built largely on the backs of slaves and victims of brutal colonialism. Even today, much of our material wealth in a country like Canada is the result of cheap goods produced in countries which were 'underdeveloped' as a direct result of colonial power. Far from "standing on our own," many of us stand on the backs of generations of brutalized victims. If the racists in Canada really want the Aboriginal peoples to "stand on their own account" then they should begin by giving them back most of their land and, at the very least, living up to the original agreements signed by the crown and compensate them for the generations of resources and money that has been stolen from them. Even if the governments actually lived up to the treaties and properly compensated for what is being stolen from the First Nations people today - much of our resource wealth would have to be shifted over to them, leaving us less wealthy and them considerably more prosperous. You see, what the racists in this country fail to understand is that the theft from Aboriginal peoples in Canada is not just the stealing of land in some distant past, but it is an on-going tragedy and injustice. And thus far from "standing on our own account," we continue to raise ourselves on the backs of others.
The fact is that there are values to be found in all peoples from spiritual to scientific. And if racists really valued "rational" discourse they way that claim they would, at the very least, understand that someone's prosperity is based to an overwhelming degree on their position in society, their color and the wealth of their parents. Far from being equal (in opportunity or any other sense), we live in a context of great inequality at every level. And people rise not when they are force to "stand on their own account" but when they either oppress others or, what we should be working toward, when they are nurtured, given educations, opportunities, and their fair share in the social wealth.