Friday, February 22, 2008
In my first year at MUN I took Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology, and one class my prof asked us how old we were when we first experienced racism. I didn't know, but I was sure that I had, after all I've always carried an underlying guilt about being white. But for the most part I've been spared, most likely because the population of Newfoundland and Labrador is mostly white. Or I was spared until about two years ago.
I was attending a Canadian University Press National Conference in Vancouver, B.C., and I went to a discrimination caucus. I'd never felt discrimination in my workplace, but I wanted to hear other people's stories and see if there was any way our paper had been contributing to negative stereotypes about others without even knowing it. One guy there from another paper was talking about issues he faced as an Aboriginal person, and handed out copies of this Aboriginal youth magazine, which I *think* was Redwire. I took my copies and packed them up to read at home - I was too excited about exploring Vancouver to stay inside and read anything.
When I got back to Newfoundland, I put the magazines where they would most likely get read - the bathroom. I did start to read them, but I had to stop - there was so much hate in there from the readers, all directed at "the whites". I knew that white Europeans, and then Canadians, had done horrible things to the Native population of this country, but I really resented being lumped in with the settlers and government. It wasn't *my* fault, why blame me because of the colour of my skin? I threw out the magazines (okay, I recycled them).
I went to the national conference again this year, and the same guy who had given me the magazine was there again (and I apologize to him should he happen to be reading this post - I don't know your name, or remember which paper you're the editor-in-chief of). Our first keynote speaker of the conference was Jack Layton, leader of the federal NDP party. Now I vote NDP, but I knew that a lot that was going to come out of his mouth was political posturing and general ass-kissing to us, the very people who would most likely be grilling him on air/ in the national papers about NDP policies in five or ten years. It was a bit dull.
When it came time for questioning, though, this guy stands up and asks Jack Layton what he's going to do for the Aboriginal population for the country. Mr. Layton spouted some scripted answer for him, but he wasn't going to take it - he started talking about "the whites" and "the white power structure." I was really insulted - I mean, yeah, there is a white power structure in this country, and it is keeping the Aboriginal people down, but *I* wasn't a part of it - this was racism! (That's right, I said racism - discrimination against white people is still racism, not "reverse racism" as I've heard people call it). I knew where he was coming from, but he had lost my sympathy there.
I few weeks later I came across an article in my inbox that had been flagged because it mentioned Newfoundland and Labrador - it was by Marie Wadden, who coincidentally taught me Investigative Writing at MUN last year, and was about the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Aboriginals who had been forced into residential schools. Wadden made a point that hit home for me - hatred is directed at white people by Aboriginal people, because white people threw hatred at them. Yeah, *I* didn't force anyone into residential schools, but most of the people who did are dead now, and who is left to blame?
My feelings might be hurt by being lumped into the category of *the whites*, but at the end of the day, no one took my culture, heritage, or children from me by force. I get to go home to my middle class lifestyle, with indoor plumbing, heating, and light. I have some relatives with addiction problems, but they drive fancy cars and have great jobs - in fact, compared to some of my relatives, I'm poor. But it's still nothing compared to life on a reservation, or in socialized housing in a major city, nothing compared to the lives of a large percentage of this country's Aboriginal peoples.
I've been guilty of believing stereotypes about Aboriginal people, but I know that the problems many of them live with today are because of the lives that were forced upon them by our government, our ancestors. It's not so great to be Canadian, particularly when you happen to be the first Canadians, and if the only way to make it better is to sit down and talk, and ask Aboriginal people what they want and what they need, instead of just assuming and giving them social programs, housing, jobs, etc. that don't fit into their lifestyles or cultures, then the least we can do is put up with anger filled talk about "the whites". After all, how are we supposed to convince people that not all whites are bad if we don't do something to repair the mistakes of the past?