Saturday, January 12, 2013

January 13: invisible racism....

It's Saturday night, and I was just reading the Sunday edition of The South China Morning Post; (they're half a day ahead of us.) The Morning Post is not a great newspaper. But it is the major English language paper in Hong Kong. And it had a big story on the Idle No More movement; and the meeting with Harper. It's not a great newspaper. But that newspaper on the other side of the world had more information about the Idle No More Movement than I have seen in all of the Irving press. Indeed, it has as much as most Canadian newspapers, but without the bigotry and innuendo that is common in Canadian coverage. It even devotes a couple of sentences to Harper's motive - to get native peoples out of the way because they're blocking his massive destruction of the environment to please oil and mining giants.

This is happening here in Canada. It's happening in New Brunswick. Why am I reading better coverage of it in a newspaper from China?

If you want good coverage from Canada, the best source is probably a blog site called
Look for the name of Karl Nerenberg. I knew him, though only slightly, in my early radio days at CBC. I thought him then a first-rate journalist; and he went on to prove it as a superb producer of news shows - particularly in his years covering Ottawa. He also has long experience and contacts in dealing with First Nations issues. He's honest. He's intelligent. He's unbiased. He knows what he's talking about.

In his column, he talks about how the Canadian news media have used innuendo against Idle No More - and what the truth behind it really is. He talks about the appalling conditions on reserves, about the failure of Canadian governments to carry out promises and obligations, about how Ottawa, not native administrators, is often the cause of bad accounting on reserves. He talks about Harper's motive to get rid of the very idea of native peoples, to get them out of the way for his rich friends.

Why do Canadian news media go along with this? Why is their reporting and commentary so lazy, so ignorant, so false?

For part of the answer, take a look at who owns most of the private news media. New Brunswick would be a good place to start. These are the same people who want the environment destroyed so they can make a quick buck - and the hell with the future for the rest of us.

But why are reporters and commentators, even the  most prominent ones, taken in so easily? Why are we, who will suffer as much as native peoples for the damage Harper is doing, taken in so easily. The answer is in one word. Racism.

Oh, I know, I know. Canadians are tolerant and understanding. They are the least racist people in the world. Not at all like those terrible people in places like rural Alabama. Right.

In fact, Canadians, both French and English, enslaved native peoples. Didn't you learn that in your Canadian history courses? We did. Think that over, kids, next time you stand for the mandatory playing of O Canada on a lousy, school PA system so you'll become patriotic.

We stopped it for two reasons. One is that it was too easy for native slaves to escape into the wilderness. The other reason is that they died too young under the harsh conditions of slavery, commonly in their early twenties.

That's why we switched to African slaves. They lived longer, some to thirty or even more. Open racism was shown to African Americans well through the twentieth century through severe job and social restrictions. Quebec has a large black population. But until very recently, there was not a single, black policeman in the whole province. There still isn't one on the provincial force, and no plans to let any in. It's within the lifetime of any baby boomer that it has been hard to impossible for an African-Canadian to stay in a decent hotel or eat at many restaurants. Nightclubs were usually segregated.

African-Canadians were not accepted in the Canadian army in World War One - except as labourers. Next time you see an old photo of Royal Canadian Air Force crews in the Second World War, tell me how many African-Canadian faces you see. Tell me how many you see in the Senate, today.

Finding a place to live could be hard. As late as the 1970s, apartments for rent in Canadian cities commonly warned "select clientele only". Select. That meant white. Oh, it also meant no Jews.

Well into the twentieth century, rioting against orientals, smashing their shop windows, etc. was practically a civic duty in British Columbia. That's why so few objected in 1942 when Japanese Canadians from BC were put into primitive prison camps, and their homes and personal belongings confiscated by the government.

One of my best friends was five when the army came to put him and his family with hundreds of others into a cattle barn. He still feels the fear and humiliation of it as profoundly as the day it happened. Just a few years ago, when he had become a doctor of considerable distinction and respect, he could not speak of those days without choking up.

Throughout Canadian history, wave after wave of immigrants has suffered racist discrimination. There were the Ukrainians who were arbitrarily imprisoned in World War One, the Jews who faced severe hurdles if they tried to enter university, and who were denied entry to Canada when they tried to escape Hitler's Germany. (And who were still denied for some years even after the war.)

We are and always have been as racist as any nation on earth. But we refuse to see it. A recent report on immigration to New Brunswick made a point of mentioning that many immigrants do not feel accepted in New Brunswick society. That was scarcely even mentioned in the Irving Press, and there was no comment on it. We're racist. But we refuse to see it.

And the greatest single target of our blind racism is those people we call Indians. There is virtually no contact with them, no knowledge of how they have to live, no information in our news media, no sense that we all have some things in common, that we have obligations.

Part of the reason we get so little information is because the private news media owners like it that way. But part of it is because so many of our journalists, like us, are kept ignorant and suspicious and blind by their own racism.

And many of us believe the innuendo and the lies and the misinformation because that's what our racism wants us to believe.

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