Friday, March 29, 2013

The Nanaimo Letter and the On-Going Racism. . .

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.

3 comments:

Owen Gray said...

We live in a a time where our movers and shakers try to justify cataclysmic inequality, Kirby.

It's a minor step from there to unadulterated racism.

kirbycairo said...

Lyssa - a rather sad and pathetic comment that does little or nothing to counter my points. You are wrong at almost every level.

Your notion of "equality," though commonly held, is childish and ridiculous. Treating people equally does NOT mean treating them the same. We have always treated people differently and we should because not everyone has the same abilities or needs. Anyone who has several children and is intellectually astute must surely understand this. If I have a child who has significantly less physical and/or intellectual ability than my other children, or has significant emotional challenges, it would, if fact, reduce equality if I treated this child the same as the others. Treating people according to their needs and abilities is an exercise in increasing equality not decreasing it.

We live in an inherently unequal society - a white male child born to rich parents in our society has many more opportunities than, say, a black woman born to poor parents. Therefore, the poor black woman has to have much greater levels of accomplishment to have equality with the rich white man. It is because we don't have equality that we, as a society, treat people differently.

According to your notions of equality, people who cannot walk should not have access to wheelchairs or ramps because that would be giving them "special" treatment.

kirbycairo said...

I ignore your comment regarding Kant because it was misplaced. I have a thorough-going knowledge of Kant but it is not worth bringing him into the discussion here.

This brings us to the problem of so-called "equality before the law." There are two issues here; the application of the law in strict terms, and the question of the application of equality through public policy. In terms of strict application of the law regarding native people, it simply hasn't been done. White judges have systematically ignored the law (the application of treaties with the crown and government). Native groups are recognized in the constitution as separate nations with certain legal rights. These have gone unrecognized. If we actually adhered to these legal rights the government would owe a great deal of land and tens of billions of dollars to the native peoples. But racists attitudes and policies only think about law and order when it benefits the establishment.

However, here is the bigger issue - it is the natives that aren't getting their "fair share." Everyone in Canada gets money and support from different levels of government. From healthcare to education to the plowing of the streets and the cutting of the park-grass, we all get things from the government. But the facts were made clear in the Royal Commission - over all natives get considerably less of this support than most Canadians. That is a fact recognized not only by a Royal Commission but by numerous national and international bodies. The numbers don't lie in this regard. Far from getting robbed of your "fair share," you are getting more than your fair share.

As far as your "right makes right" attitude - it is so sad and brutal that I hardly dare answer it. Besides the fact that you misrepresent the facts - (in many cases they did not "live and let live" but specifically attempted to kill every native they could) - like most racists you hold a double standard. If you really believed that whoever wins has some moral or inherent right to rule then you presumably wouldn't object if China invaded Canada and won. I am sure you would just say "oh well, they won so they must be right." Your attitude is, in fact, the very source of racism and brutality and deserves nothing but derision and disgust on the part of any civilized person.

This will be our last communication because I will not feel compelled to publish any of your further comments because I don't believe in giving a platform to racists and brutes. I only published this comment because it proved my point - racism is alive and well in Canada and expressed by people like you. (I will also block your source-feed so I will not even see your comments so don't bother replying)