I’ve been following the ongoing occupation of Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver with some interest. For those who don’t know, indigenous activists have taken over part of that park and evicted Canadian authorities, arguing that, as per the recent Supreme Court decision, that land is unceded and needed to house the homeless, who suffer under the economic system of ‘Canada’ and the legacy of invasion and colonization.
What’s been disheartening in all of this are the remarks people so predictably make in the comments sections of various news outlets: ‘give them 100.00 and a bus ticket to calgary! were done with these loosers....’ (sic), ‘move themout to musquem reserve...see how they like it..want to be a part od Candada? Pay taxes and get working’, (sic) ‘Its another issue of the bums not leaving the area quietly as development goes on around them. This is not a land ownership issue...this land is long gone to them. I passed by this area today on the bus and saw many of the "protesters" weaving about on lawn around the tents. Must be a nice life when you do not have to pay the rent’. (sic)
Such comments are made by people who would take great pains to say they weren’t racists--and in their minds they aren’t.
When one racial group in a society consistently comes out at the bottom in terms of health, lifespan, economic success, etc, there are only two possible explanations. Choose one:
A) External. There are forces outside the group’s control that stop them from doing better. This is also called ‘oppression’.
B) Internal. The group in question is simply incapable of doing as well as other groups due to inherent weaknesses. They are simply inferior.
If you answered A, congratulations! You are not a racist. However, answering A also entails accepting the fact that oppressed people need assistance overcoming their oppression. What non-indigenous Canadians can’t seem to get through their skulls is that telling First Nations people to ‘get working’ isn’t an analysis or a solution--it’s a venting of hostility and frustration--and the source of that frustration is a lack of clarity regarding the nature of the situation.
If someone tied a twenty pound weight to your neck and told you to go out and compete in a 100 meter sprint, you might find the request slightly unfair, especially if, failing to reach the podium meant you went to bed hungry that night. The only alternative to this view is the racist one that says ‘Native people are just slower’.
So which is it for you, Jack and Jill Canuck? Here in Canada we like to think of ourselves as good guys and gals--a nice bunch of folks who believe in Universal Health Care and...whatever, but the reality isn’t quite so pretty when issues with real heft come up on our radar.
Did you ever stop to think that you might be a racist and not even know it?
Next week we'll consider the economic nature of racism.
Adrian Barnes is the editor of the Rossland Telegraph and president of Lone Sheep Publishing.