Top 10 list: How not to respond to Indigenous experiences of racism in Canada

| September 4, 2013
Stop doing these 10 things in response to Indigenous experiences of racism. (Photo: Tumblr)

Earlier this week, Ian Campeau of the band A Tribe Called Red made headlines when he argued that the Nepean Redskins, a youth football league in Ottawa, should change their name because "redskin" is a slur used against First Nations people. Predictably, non-Native people flocked to the internet comment threads to voice their objections to his opinion. Below, a summary of these knee-jerk responses that are always trotted out by the masses when indigenous Canadians describe their experiences of racism, and why you should not use them. 

1. Don't bring up your own experiences of discrimination.

 My favourite comment on the Nepean Redskins name debate comes from a man who proclaims that "my ancestors came right off the boat to Canada from Scotland however, they were badly discriminated against for many years," and then goes on to suggest that it's really the Indigenous people who are racist. Classy! Listen, we all know that everyone's ancestors were invaded by the British and so you too can lay claim to historic oppression! And everyone has at one point or another been insulted for some intrinsic quality, and it made them feel bad. But someone calling you an "evil ginger" on the playground is not the same as living in a society that tramples your human rights and dignity. And even if you think your experience is equally bad -- or even worse! -- the fact is that this particular conversation is not about you. You know that person who interrupts someone else's story to say, "Oh man, I have an even WORSE story about flying with Air Canada"? Everyone hates that person. Don't be that person.

2. Don't claim you have more important things to worry about than racism.

 Someone is always eager to point out that there are "real things to worry about," like radiation or Syria or child poverty. This is a really cool way to say, "I don't care about you or your experience, but I'll mask my indifference by pretending I am fully preoccupied by a more important cause." Did you know it's possible for different awful things to be happening, and that there is not a finite amount of consideration for the awfulness of the world? That you caring about Syria does not preclude you acknowledging that racism is a damaging force in the lives of many, and that other people might want to pay attention to that too? It's true!

3. Don't argue that some racism is worse than other racism.

 Recently, AnOther Magazine put actress Michelle Williams on their cover, done up in dark makeup, feathers and braids. The cover was flagged and criticized for the depiction of Williams in "redface," but many felt that even if the cover was tasteless, redface was a grey area that wasn't as bad as, say, blackface. Even though it was pointed out by many that redface and blackface are both racist, detractors insisted that this wasn't bad enough to complain about. Let's just agree that all racism is bad, and should be avoided whenever possible.

4. Don't act like not being racist is a burden on you in particular.

 The discussions of headdresses at music festivals have illustrated an interesting phenomenon: people don't want to seem racist, but they also don't want to modify their behaviour at all. As Adrienne K from Native Appropriations has pointed out in detail, there are lots of good reasons why you shouldn't wear a headdress as a fashion statement. And yet many people act like it's a huge, unreasonable demand to ask them to shelf their Forever 21 headdress and wear something else to Coachella. But they fail to see that they have a choice: shelving their faux-Indigenous accessories or being easily identified as a lazy racist. That's a privilege, not a burden! You know who doesn't have a choice? Indigenous people, who have to see white teenagers trampling all over their identities and culture in pursuit of an awful trend.

5. Don't try and trap them in a racism logic puzzle.

Ian Campeau of A Tribe Called Red recently submitted to a tedious, insulting series of interview questions attempting to logic-puzzle him into admitting that some acts of cultural appopriation were okay and therefore all acts of cultural appropriation, including the one he thoughtfully objected to, were okay. Do not do this. Using inane thought experiments ("But what about the fact that Roman senators basically killed Christ and also threw Christians to lions, and The Ottawa Senators mascot is a lion?") to try and justify racism makes you sound not only like a racist but also like a C-minus philosophy undergraduate.

6. Don't trot out your "Native friend" stories. Did you text your one Native pal to see if he thought this incident was offensive and he texted back "dunno i guess not, what r u up 2 this wknd" and you have decided that opinion represents the other 1.4 million Indigenous people in Canada? In science we call that a "convenience sample" and it's cheerfully dismissed. That is, assuming we even believe you have this fictional convenient example friend.

7. Don't use ignorance as a shield.

"I don't get why this is racist!" you say, as if your similar ignorance about other topics -- astrophysics, post-modern literature -- are grounds to refute their existence or validity. It might be possible that as a person who does not belong to the cultural or ethnic group in question, you have never noticed certain incidents of racism or the erasure of identity because they just didn't apply to you. Your reality is not everyone's reality. Your reality is not necessarily the best or the most correct. If your reality involves dismissing or ignoring the suffering and dehumanization of others, well, it's definitely not the best or most correct.

8. Don't use history as a scapegoat or an excuse.

Yes, we know the past was racist. Extra-racist! But that was a long time ago, right? Well, no, it’s a pretty unbroken continuum of racism. But don't pretend that just because the past was arguably worse, everything is fine now. Let's dare to strive for a higher standard than "Not as bad as smallpox blankets."

9. Don't refuse to acknowledge that you might be living in a racist society.

Everyone would prefer to think of themselves as not-racist. "I’m not racist," everyone insists, before detailing their racist position. But generally, insisting that you are not racist while trying to defend ideas that others have identified as racist is a losing battle. The fact is, Canada was founded on racism; it was so racist it was actually a role model to other racist regimes. It’s likely that growing up here has resulted in internalizing some racist beliefs. It happens! If you’re called out for them, don’t trip over yourself to explain how you cannot possibly be racist because in your heart you know your intent was pure. Ask yourself: is it possible that living in a country that treats First Nations like a plague to be eradicated may be why you are so ready to dismiss their voices and claims, to assume that they are exaggerating or flat-out lying about their experiences? Is it possible that you might be wrong?

10. If you realise you're wrong, don't refuse to apologize.

Apologies are the mythical beasts of social interactions, especially when they are real apologies and not blame-shifting versions of "I'm sorry if you misunderstood what I was trying to say with this headdress." But we have a role model now: Paul Frank, designer (not to be confused with Frank Paul, an Indigenous man left to die by callous police officers!), held a terrible fashion party that was "powwow-themed" and was called out by Indigenous writers. Rather than defending their actions, or claiming that their detractors were just being hypersensitive, the company formally apologized, took responsibility for their actions, and made steps to rectify the situation by consulting with Indigenous designers on new, authentically First Nations collections. I'm not saying that if you make a tasteless Native joke you need to roll out a line of consumer goods in supplication, but a simple, "I see why I was wrong, and I'm sorry," goes a long way.

 

Michelle Reid is a health researcher, magazine editor and occasional writer living in Vancouver, BC. She is a proud member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation but doesn't use that as an excuse to wear headdresses to music festivals. She tweets frequently as @ponymalta

 

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Comments

Thanks for this, it is an excellent list!

A fantastic article that needs to be read widely. I wish they taught this in schools. Instead, what they taught me in Canadian classrooms about aboriginal culture was often racist, and as a child I didn't know better and couldn't help but internalize it. The difference now is that as an adult I recognize that I was taught a racist curriculum and instead I now learn about the legacy colonialism and genocide have had. I know that it's my responsibility to monitor and challenge my own racist thinking if and when it occurs, and to actively seek out truths as spoken by aboriginal people in their own voices. It helps a lot to have those voices online and easily accessible. Please keep it up, because as much as I liked my appropriated moccasins, I know it's far more important to eliminate racism, and I need your guidance.

1 and 3 are contradictory. The only way to reconcile them is if some races don't count.

5 claims for less-recently-migrated races, exactly what 7 denies to those descended from more-recently-migrated races.

I know I'm not allowed to ask questions, at least according to the article, but:

How is redface racist? Is bleaching cream also racist in a similar manner? Or is bleaching cream racist against darker colors only?

Before we can advance this discussion, we may have to agree on a definition of racism. And my suspicion is that racism is such a strong instinct in most people, that they will define the concept in terms of specific races, which I would call racist myself, but hey, I'm white, what do I know?

To me, this article sounds like, "Shut up and take our word, you evil, oppressive, white Satan!" 

Racism is simply a real post-adolescent instinct that people have to learn to deal with and not be douches about. Just like sexuality. Yes, it's true that the other tribe was more likely than not to kill you for most of human history. Yes, it's true that for most of human history, the most aggressive males and most capricious females were the most likely to reproduce with superior (individual) specimens. That doesn't justify violating another individual's rights, no matter how much you think his group needs "a taste of its own medicine"!

I still don't see how I'm to blame for the acts of past or even present politicians. The only way to place blame on me is based solely on the color of my skin, and that is precisely why I resent these blanket race-based claims of racism.

I feel like this is meant to guilt trip me into doing or advocating things on behalf of another race that I wouldn't even advocate on behalf of my own because, well, I find them fundamentally racist! I don't feel like that's helping anything. I feel more helpful when I hold other races to the same standard as my own, (which I initially thought was their gripe in the first place!) so if I don't mind a mascot called The Fighting Irish...wouldn't being outraged at "Redskins" (which to my generation carries more mystique and awe than any other connotation) be a racist attitude for me to adopt?

I mean, in the USA, racial minorities started out, back during times of widespread, socially-acceptable, institutionalized oppression, as saying, "What does the color of my skin matter?" And now that to most people it doesn't matter more than as an aesthetic variety, they're going the opposite way, "Hey! Pay ATTENTION to the color of my skin, dammit! It makes me better than you because you're an evil white oppressor, and there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT! Sure, you can accommodate our prejudice and we'll be less mean to you, but you'll still be evil."

Good points, though everyone's going to find fault with this in some way or another. It's the nature of sensitive racial talk. I say it's a worthy effort.

It's about a power imbalance.  The Irish long ago achieved a degree of whiteness and privilege in North American society.

Recognizing privilege isn't about telling white people they are bad.  It's about acknowledging that white people face fewer barriers because the system has favoured them over hundreds of years.  The fact is that people are RACIALIZED in our society and in the context of systemic racism the colour of their skin affects their experiences of the world.  Suddenly pretending that everyone is equal actually doesn't make it so, but it does help to silence and erase the real life experiences of people of colour.  That's why recognizing that people's experiences and privileges/disadvantages are affected by the colour of their skin (whether we like it or not) is the first step to correcting that imbalance.

As for appropriation of indigenous culture, if you don't know why it's fucked up then imagine this...

Imagine someone came to your home, and stole it.

Imagine that to do so, they pointed guns at you, and took it by force.

Imagine that they infected you with deadly diseases on purpose.

Imagine that they tricked you, and destroyed all of your food so that you would need their money and you would be forced to sell them your land.

Imagine that when they bought it they made you sign a contract, under coercion.

Imagine that they violated that contract, again and again, because they could.

Imagine that they outlawed your culture, and way of life.

Imagine that they took your children, and tried to make them just like them, and abused them and performed heinous experiments on them, and then tried to cover it up.

Imagine that they poisoned your water, and tried to take more of your land than they already had.

Imagine that, when you resisted, they pointed more guns at you, and threw you in jail.

Imagine they just threw you in jail in general, and criminalized you, and discriminated against you.

Imagine that they tried to tell you this was all your fault.

Imagine that they took pieces of your culture, the very culture they had fought so hard to destroy, and imagine that they claimed it for their own and ripped it of its meaning, and stereotyped it, and made a profit from it.

Maybe you would be a little upset too?

I think that the above comment made by cloakedinpureevil has missed the point of the article and has oversimplified a very complex issue.

racism is not some thing that existed in the past and now has stopped. It is not about blaming one person or group of people and excusing others. The point of any article that tries to highlight issues of racism is to get the audience to think about things that they might not otherwise. And being a white person means that you are not going to think about things that a non-white person is going to think about. That is your privilege. There is no way for you as a white person to know what it is like to experience the world as a non-white person. The point is not for you to feel bad about yourself because of this, its for you to become more aware of the experiences of non-white peoples and to be sensitive to those experiences and what people are saying! It is not about us versus them - it is not about you because you are white are inherently evil - it is about realizing the privelege that you have as a white person and understanding how to be resposible with that privelege. Like supporting people in their attempts to courageously challenge racism. While understanding that we are all humans. 

 

 

Don't make top 10 lists that are so obvious that a 3 year old wwould find them insulting to his/her intelligence... 

Rabbleuser, you say this:

"being a white person means that you are not going to think about things that a non-white person is going to think about."

"There is no way for you as a white person to know what it is like to experience the world as a non-white person."

... but then you say this:

"The point is ... for you to become more aware of the experiences of non-white peoples and to be sensitive to those experiences and what people are saying!"

So, are white people capable of becoming more sensitive to non-white people, or not?

I don't agree with all of CloakedInPureEvil's post -- it seems pretty obvious to me that redface is, at best, disrespectful, and at worst, overtly racist -- but there were a couple of points in their post that I thought were important, in the first few sentences.

For example, it is true that 1 and 3 directly contradict each other. If you claim that making fun of someone for having red hair is not as bad as taking away someone's human rights, that's fine and I would agree with you. But then you have to acknowledge that one form of racism (taking away legal rights) is worse than another (calling someone names). I don't think it's racist to say that, sometimes, something is worse than something else.

5 bothers me as well. Basically, it has the feel of a nice, handy excuse to ignore logic altogether. I can imagine someone reading my previous paragraph and accusing me of posing some kind of racism logic puzzle. Well, if using logic and asking questions is the same as posing logic puzzles, then perhaps logic puzzles aren't such bad things. It seems to me that, if a person is afraid of logic, they should stay out of complex discussions.

Without logic, all you're left to argue with is rhetoric -- saying a bunch of pretty-sounding words that make the reader feel like they've learned something when they haven't. It's these kinds of articles that get spread around on Facebook, getting read only by people who already agree with what little content they have. Everybody feels warm and fuzzy inside, but nobody actually changes their behaviour.

Before responding to my post, bear in mind that I have given you no explicit information about my race/ethnicity/culture. So, no ad hominem arguments about how I have no idea what I'm talking about because you assume I'm this race or that race.

In Catholic schools in Ontario as recently as the 1970s, it stated in "history" books that humanity was divided into 4 races: White, Black, Red, and Yellow.

Michelle - You come across as an ignorant know it all - possibly by far one of the stupidest people I have read from - RE point#1 - educate yourself about the highland clearances and the residental schools in Scotland - If one  minimized the Canaidian residential schools the way you just did for the scots would they be a racist?

I think they would and I think you are.  According to your article you don't get to use ignorance as a shield, so please smarten up.

I didn't particularly find points one and three contradictory.  In point one, the author seems to me to be making a point about the time, place and intent of bringing up ones own experiences of discrimination.  I didn't get that the author was minimizing other people's experiences, but rather starting that when people bring up their own experiences of discrimination as a rebuttal to someone else's experiences, or with the intent of derailing, or shutting down the initial conversation, then that's not okay. 

There is very little doubt in my mind that the author intended to minimize other people's experiences. If not, she would not have brought up such a specific example:

Someone calling you an "evil ginger" on the playground is not the same as living in a society that tramples your human rights and dignity.

This is quote from the author explicitly stating that the first instance of racism isn't as bad as the second instance. Again, I agree that being called names is not as bad as having society as a whole "trample on human rights and dignity", but that means that #3 is out. By #7 and #10, either the author should retract the "ginger" statement and apologize, or retract all of Rule #3.

You guys do realise that "ginger" is not an ethnic or racial group, right?

"Ginger" refers to a set of traits that are typically inherited genetically, so making fun of it is well within the ballpark of an racial/ethnic slur. Also, if it's not an ethnic or racial group, then why did you bring it up in the article? And even if it's not, are you saying that ethnic/racial discrimination is the only kind of discrimination that exists or matters? Also, does this mean you are saying that, yes, it is your intention to make light of the experiences of people being called an "evil ginger" (I'm not going to bear down on you if the answer is yes -- I just want to know the answer)?

It remains that calling someone an "evil ginger" is a form of unjust discrimination, if a relatively mild one -- to give it a pass on the basis that it's not "technically" racism seems like a stretch, to say the least. It also remains that the central point of you bringing up the "ginger" thing in the first place was to point out that some forms of discrimination are not as bad as others, and that it is important to keep things in perspective. I agree with that part. What I don't agree with is saying A is not as bad as B, then going on to say that every form of racial discrimination is equally bad.

Great article Michelle. Interesting to note that many of the responding comments, unfortunately, illustrate the ongoing need to keep hammering away at indefensible racial privilege.

Interesting to note that many of the responding comments, unfortunately, illustrate the ongoing need to keep hammering away at indefensible racial privilege.

The comments here have been pretty tame by internet standards, so I don't know what you're talking about. There's been some disagreement, but where I come from, when someone disagrees with you, your course of action should be to listen and attempt to convince them otherwise, not to dismiss what they say and refuse to get into a discussion.

I still interpret the author's intent differently.  I will, however,  say that her choosing to use an example was unfortunate because any example she could have used would offend someone.   The example she used seems to have resulted in the spirit of the argumen being obscured.  Instead of discussing the validity of that argument, many of the posts instead are dissecting and criticizing the example used..  The author goes on to say:

And even if you think your experience is equally bad -- or even worse! -- the fact is that this particular conversation is not about you. You know that person who interrupts someone else's story to say, "Oh man, I have an even WORSE story about flying with Air Canada"? Everyone hates that person. Don't be that person.

This suggests to me that point one, is really about the tendency of people to bring up their own experiences to undermine the experience and perspective of the person originally doing the sharing.

If she had written something like this for point one (please don't criticize my style - I'm not a writer, just some random internet person that thinks that discourse around the subject of racism is valuable), would you have perceived it as being less contradictory with point three?

1) Don't bring up your own experiences of discrimination.  Bringing up ones own painful experiences in an attempt to hijack the conversation, or diminish the experiences of someone else, or in an attempt to ignore the message being conveyed  only serves to shut down communication.   Racism and non-racial discrimination, is rampant, and we should be allies in stamping it all out.  Being on the receiving end of racism and other discrimination, can incflict wounds that last a lifetime, and there is room to discuss, and try to put an end to all of it (please see point three for further clarification).  Timing and context make a huge difference, and when someone else is attempting to call us out on our own racist behaviour or attitudes, or share an experience of being on the receiving end of racism, that it not the time to trot out own own pain.  That is the time to listen and learn.     



Yes, I would have perceived it as less contradictory. I am not particularly concerned with the details of the example used; I'm concerned with the fact that an example was used.

@soggy, I like your rewrite! I wasn't trying to defend appearance-based bullying, only suggesting that bringing it up as a way to say that you "get" (and can therefore dismiss) someone's experience of racism is indefensible.

I used the ginger example because as I am a ginger I have heard it before and it was the first example that came to mind. I am still of the opinion that "ginger" is an appearance-based insult and not a racist remark, because the genetics for red hair are found in all ethnic groups. The truth is, I wasn't expecting so many people to read this piece, and I probably would have been less flippant in some of my examples if I had. That said, there is much better writing out there that gets into the finer points of defining racism, and that's not what I am trying to do here.

My intended point in using it was to say that however unpleasant it is to be made fun of for something about you on the playground, that belongs in a different conversation than one about systmatic racial discrimination. It seems to have really hit a nerve with you, @holycow81, and I'm sorry if my intent in using it was unclear. And I'm not the comment police, but harping on this ginger-hair point is a quintessential of an example of racism-discussion-hijacking, so I hope this response satisfies you and we can drop it.

That response satisfies me, and I will stop bothering you now.

Michelle, thanks for a well-thought-out article. I feel that discrimination and racism are different, although often related. I know people who lived in residential schools and others whose parents did; the long-lasting effects are so devastating. I was called names and had rocks thrown at me when I was in Grade 4 and the Doukhobours were marching in BC. My last name was not English in derivation and other kids identified me with that group. But that is discrimination, which is not the same as racism, which includes knowing that the ruling group of people have tried to eliminate everyone of your race.

I became aware of racism for the first time when I was a teen working in a drugstore in a small town. A group of middle-aged white women were discussing a young Aboriginal woman who had gone to hairdressing school, worked at a local shop, then saved and started her own business. They called her 'uppity', a term I had only heard of in writings about the southern USA. I still remember how shocked I was that 'we' were racist, too. But I didn't really become conscious of my own mindset being racist until I was in my mid-forties, as I read books written by Aboriginal people and heard in their own words (not 'ours') what it was like to live in this country.

Twice in my life I have had my actions/lifestyle compared infavourably to that of Aboriginals and both times I was shocked to the core, by the unthinking hatred most of all. It was a good thing, in the end, as I began to comprehend the incredible ignorance and prejudice that exist in this country.

I think if any of you who have been busy criticising this article would take the time to read what Aboriginal people say about their lives and experiences you would learn a lot and perhaps begin to think differently about behaviours we all take for granted.

One other thing that still bothers me; Lincoln is so extolled for standing up against slavery of black people in the southern USA; no-one seems to remember that at the same time he was signing consents for the destruction of Aboriginal peoples. That is just ignored or glossed over.

I would like to say, too, that until we come to common definitions of various words, any meaningful comment is pretty much impossible. If I say 'chair' and am referring to the head of a committee, but you are envisioning a piece of furniture, nothing we say to each other will matter. In the case of discrimination and racism, we need to define the terms, examine our own assumptions, take some responsibility, then move forward to create a better, more inclusive world. Just my opinion, of course.

Hey CloakedInPureEvil, you had me going there, I thought you were serious until about halfway through your parody. "1 & 3 are contradictory," yeah right. Claiming equivalence between races who came here tens of thousands of years ago to a land void of humans, and those who came a couple of hundred and shot at those already here. At least 5 straw-man arguments. But your pitch-perfect imitation of someone doing point 9 gave it away. Nice job, though.

It's funny how even on a lefty site like rabble.ca, we can talk about racism and have scads of white canadians going NOPE! NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE

 

It's like they didn't really read this at all.  Either that, or there's some kind of latent trigger mechanism that white Canadians all have that is engaged whenever the topics of structural oppression and/or white supremacy are being discussed. OTherwise intelligent and thoughtful people become overwhelmed with internalized bigotry and are categorically unable to reasonably examine any claim that challenges the dominant weltanschauung.

gg, folks.

Rigid:

"1 & 3 are contradictory," yeah right.

Based on Michelle's response, I don't think that rules 1 and 3 are necessarily contradictory. However, what is contradictory is to assert rule 3 ("Don't argue that some racism is worse than other racism") and then to go on to argue exactly that, as follows:

Claiming equivalence between races who came here tens of thousands of years ago to a land void of humans, and those who came a couple of hundred and shot at those already here.

In this sentence, you are implying that one form of racism is worse than another. I am not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with that statement. However, if you are arguing that some racism is worse than other racism, then you are going against rule 3. If you say "A is true" and then say "A is not true", you are contradicting yourself. Do you understand?

Ayiman:

It's funny how even on a lefty site like rabble.ca, we can talk about racism and have scads of white canadians going NOPE! NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE

I'm not sure where this "scads" comment is coming from. I've read all the comments responding to this article, and the only comment of disagreement that explicitly stated that the commenter was white was from CloakedInPureEvil. What basis do you have to assume that every other person who has disagreed with a part of this article is also white?

It's like they didn't really read this at all.

As I said, I have read every comment that disagrees with this article (from CloakedInPureEvil, myself, and whateverj). Every one of them has quoted or at least paraphased part of the article while making their point, so it is strange for you to suggest that they haven't read the article.

With regard to #3, I think the crux of the point is here:

Even though it was pointed out by many that redface and blackface are both racist, detractors insisted that this wasn't bad enough to complain about.

So the way I happened to interpret point three is that people shouldn't use the argument that some forms of racism are less bad as an excuse to ignore, or let some racist issues slide.  I didn't interpret this point as the author suggesting that there aren't some expressions of racism that aren't more pernicious than others, but merely arguing that just because there are worse examples of racism out in the world than the task at hand, is not reason to ignore the task at hand.  I think in fact that this leads back to concept of time and place for everything.  There is room to work on eradicating all of it, but that doesn't mean they should be jumbled together.  Most people aren't in a position to get involved in addresing the large scale systemic issues, and thus the way the average person can help in eradicating racism is by standing up against the little things - the magazine covers, the off colour comments, the racist jokes, etc - that's how the atmosphere of racism can be erased from the ground level - in people's homes, at their work, and when they vote with their dollars.  I think point three is really saying that there isn't a minimum threshold of horror that needs to be passed in order for something to be deemed worthy of standing up against.  I just do not see how acknowledging that all forms of racism are worthy of being eliminated is incompatible with saying that not all conversations about racism are the same, or that not all examples of racism belong in the same discussion, or that not all expressions of racism should be addressed in the same way. 

I will also ad that I think the style and tone of this article fits a particular niche, while it does need some clarification and tightening in certain areas, the author did say that it wasn't intended as an academically rigorous piece, and I think that lighthearted tone reflects that.   I really wish that there was more disucssion around the spirit of the points and less discussion around the supposed  logical gaps in the piece.

 

I really wish that there was more disucssion around the spirit of the points and less discussion around the supposed logical gaps in the piece.

Logic matters, and details matter as well. The very premise of this article originated on the name of a sports team, a topic which, as you and the author have stated, is dismissed by many people as an unimportant detail. But as you said, such little things do have some importance. The choice of words in an online article is another detail that many people would dismiss as unimportant, but I think that words are very important. If you want to talk about the spirit of the article, it seems to me that, if an article is about how we shouldn't ignore the seemingly small errors our culture makes, then it would make sense if some more effort had been put into smoothing out the reasoning errors in the article itself.

So, who is this article aimed at, and what is its purpose? Is it aimed at changing people's minds? If your goal is to change a person's mind, you have to be prepared for an argument, and that means putting forward the most polished arguments you can as persuasively, and hopefully rigourously, as you can. Or is it aimed exclusively at people who already agree with all its points? In that case, who actually benefits from the article's existence? These are not rhetorical questions.

Another non-rhetorical question: What would a discussion of the "spirit" of the points look like, if the participants in the discussion were forbidden from discussing small details?

Since this is posted on rabble, I think this article is aimed at people that are sympathetic to most of its points.  This is where I actually think such an article can do the most good.  If a person is hostile to the concepts, logic isn't going to persuade them.  If a person has already accepted that racism exists, racism is something that should be eradicated, and has already accepted that they may currently, or at some point in the past may have haboured racist attitudes, or racist behaviour, but are now interested in being active allies in eliminating racism, they are more likely to recognize themselves in one or two of the points, and possibly think about how those behaviours might be infuriating.  

As a discussion around the spirit of the points, well, I would have liked to see more FN people that identify themselves as such participating, so I could direct my questions to them, as I am a non-FN person of colour that has personally experiened a lot of racism, and I deeply believe in the value of examining and eradicating racism and discrimination.   For example, I don't entirely agree with point one.  I think there is a spot for empathy and sharing of ones own experiences of racism with the intent of saying, I feel you, I've been there, you're not alone.  However, it's a fine line because what if I get it wrong, and inadvertently aggravate the person speaking?  

Another thing I was hoping to discuss is when do we cross the fine line from appreciation into cultural appropriation (which I consider to be tangentially related to point four)?  I completely understand why headdresses aren't okay.  There are other things, though.  For example, I happen to be drawn to the woodlands style of art, and would love to have some for my home.  I also believe in buying original art, not prints, so if I purchase some woodlands style art for my home, but I don't know the ancestry of the artist, is that cultural appropriation?  If the artist happens not to be FN, then is s/he guilty of cultural appropriation by painting in that style?   

What about spiritual matters?  I saw a discussion online, where a non FN person was called out (and rightly so), for purchasing a sage stick at a new age store, and smudging in her home.  But what about those who happens to be genuinely drawn to the beliefs of a particular nation, and wants to learn more, or a non FN married to a FN person that wants to participate in his/her spouse's culture?  Is there a place for non-FN people to actively participate in aspects of FN culture without it being cultural appropriation?  

I also don't entirely agree with point seven, and would love to discuss how to navigate the waters when someone calls us out for saying or doing something that they deem racist, I do think that there needs to be latitude in the discussion for saying, "I don't think it is, and this is where I'm coming from."  I think there needs to be a spirit of give and take in these discussions.  I think it's just as important to question and discuss assertions of racism as it is to define and eliminate racist behaviours.  There seems to be some rigidity of thought, around this, though, and it seems that any questioning whether something actually is racist or not (not talking about the examples given in the article, as those are pretty clearly racist), can result in the questioner being being branded as a racist, or using racism as a shield.

So, just off the top of my head, those are a few things that I was hoping to read about when I first scrolled through the comments.

 

- not so soggy anymore, now that the sun is shining

Since this is posted on rabble, I think this article is aimed at people that are sympathetic to most of its points.  This is where I actually think such an article can do the most good.  If a person is hostile to the concepts, logic isn't going to persuade them.  If a person has already accepted that racism exists, racism is something that should be eradicated, and has already accepted that they may currently, or at some point in the past may have haboured racist attitudes, or racist behaviour, but are now interested in being active allies in eliminating racism, they are more likely to recognize themselves in one or two of the points, and possibly think about how those behaviours might be infuriating.  

As a discussion around the spirit of the points, well, I would have liked to see more FN people that identify themselves as such participating, so I could direct my questions to them, as I am a non-FN person of colour that has personally experiened a lot of racism, and I deeply believe in the value of examining and eradicating racism and discrimination.   For example, I don't entirely agree with point one.  I think there is a spot for empathy and sharing of ones own experiences of racism with the intent of saying, I feel you, I've been there, you're not alone.  However, it's a fine line because what if I get it wrong, and inadvertently aggravate the person speaking?  

Another thing I was hoping to discuss is when do we cross the fine line from appreciation into cultural appropriation (which I consider to be tangentially related to point four)?  I completely understand why headdresses aren't okay.  There are other things, though.  For example, I happen to be drawn to the woodlands style of art, and would love to have some for my home.  I also believe in buying original art, not prints, so if I purchase some woodlands style art for my home, but I don't know the ancestry of the artist, is that cultural appropriation?  If the artist happens not to be FN, then is s/he guilty of cultural appropriation by painting in that style?   

What about spiritual matters?  I saw a discussion online, where a non FN person was called out (and rightly so), for purchasing a sage stick at a new age store, and smudging in her home.  But what about those who happens to be genuinely drawn to the beliefs of a particular nation, and wants to learn more, or a non FN married to a FN person that wants to participate in his/her spouse's culture?  Is there a place for non-FN people to actively participate in aspects of FN culture without it being cultural appropriation?  

I also don't entirely agree with point seven, and would love to discuss how to navigate the waters when someone calls us out for saying or doing something that they deem racist, I do think that there needs to be latitude in the discussion for saying, "I don't think it is, and this is where I'm coming from."  I think there needs to be a spirit of give and take in these discussions.  I think it's just as important to question and discuss assertions of racism as it is to define and eliminate racist behaviours.  There seems to be some rigidity of thought, around this, though, and it seems that any questioning whether something actually is racist or not (not talking about the examples given in the article, as those are pretty clearly racist), can result in the questioner being being branded as a racist, or using racism as a shield.

So, just off the top of my head, those are a few things that I was hoping to read about when I first scrolled through the comments.

 

- not so soggy anymore, now that the sun is shining

Another point that I was hoping to have discussed was point five in its entirety.  When I clicked through to the example used, I was even more confused.  Although I found the tone of the interview somewhat combative, I did think that the interviewer did raise a valid question, as to whether the head dresses depicted on the merchandise were indeed specific to a particular nation, and the question was ignored by Campeau entirely.  Further, I was very surprised by Campeau's answer the the question as to whether or not it would be okay for a FN person to wear a tacky plastic head dress.  I was shocked to read that hypothetically speaking, he thought it would be okay.  He does go on to say that he hasn't seen it happen, and doesn't think that it ever would, but I'm rather puzzled by his response to the hypothetical.  It might not be, strictly speaking cultural appropriation, but in my mind, it would still be wrong because of the reasons given for not wearing head dresses - particularly tacky plastic ones would still apply regardless of the ethnicity of the wearer. I am genuinely perplexed about this, and would love to see someone explain it to me. 

I get that when someone is making a point, it's maddening to have others nitpick the details, and argue and go around in circles that eventually the discussion turns into something other than the original point.  Still, there has to be an opportunity for someone to ask a question for clarification, without eye rolling, or being labelled as tedious or trying to trap the speaking in a logic puzzle. 

You forgot Big Fat Numero Uno in your list of "what not to say in response to indigenous experiences of racism". In fact, this Numero Uno is usually ignored in ANY discussion of racism. Here goes:

Numero Uno: The moment you make a generalization about ANY other race, or hurl an insult at a person because of their race, *especially* in a discussion of racism, that makes YOU a racist hypocrite - and blasts the logic out of any of your ensuing points. So don't do it.

In that light, your entire article is an epic FAIL. In your very first paragraph: "...a man who proclaims that "my ancestors came right off the boat to Canada from Scotland however, they were badly discriminated against for many years," and then goes on to suggest that it's really the Indigenous people who are racist. Classy!"

You choose a White person of Scottish ancestry to illustrate your definition of racism (because after all, as per anti-Caucausian stereotype, ONLY Whites can be racists!) and snidely call him "Classy" (ok for YOU call names, because YOUR skin is brown). How hard would it have been just to quote the guy and refute his point *without* bringing his race or ancestry into it, or name-calling?

You'd have made your point anyway just by stating that a non-Native man commented that because his ancestors were persecuted, it's ok for others to persecute indigenous peoples. It's a comment that could just as easily have come from a Black or Chinese or Jewish person! And I strongly doubt that the man actually stated that "all indigenous peoples are racist." If he did, I'd like to see the direct quote from his comment, please. 

One of the most interesting things I learned studying comparative linguistics in University was this: EVERY human language studied so far on this planet has been found to contain derogatory and slang terms about other races. *Every one* - except for the languages of peoples who have NEVER encountered other races! And as soon as one of these "exception" cultures encounters foreigners, they quickly come up with their own racist terms. What does that tell us? That racism is an ingrained first response to fear and mistrust of unknown peoples. Does that make it OK? Of course not! But it sure throws out your racist assumption that only Whites are capable of racism, doesn't it?

To deal with racism, you must first admit that it exists in EVERYONE no matter what their skin colour is, then you need to deal with its causes. Ignorance. Closed mindedness. False assumptions (stereotypes). Discrimination. Resentment. Hatred.

Re the Redskins moniker - yes, I can understand how that could be offensive. But let's take a look at the Fighting Irish for a moment, or the Boston Celtics. When the Irish came over here in boatloads starving from a famine, they were classified in society as literally lower than dogs. The "Fighting Irish" term was a slur about their drinking habits, not their nobility as warriors! That was the stereotype, the Irish were seen as a bunch of drunks who were always getting into fights. But - just because Whites don't seem to be offended by these team names now, doesn't mean Natives don't have the right to protest a word they find offensive!

My point is, racism comes in all colours, not just white. Yet it's the Whites who are all tarred in the media with the "racist" brush. The stereotype I read the most is that we're all rich overentitled snobs, ungrateful for what we have and hating everyone but our own kind. Articles like yours aren't helping. If you don't want to be resented and persecuted as a race, the first step is not insulting other races by practising the same tactics against them.

 

 

Are white people racist at times?  Absolutely, and it should be addressed when it occurs.  However, having worked with First Nations children and adults daily over the past 5 years, the amount of racial epithets directed toward other races in casual conversation is truly astounding.  Not simply whites, but blacks, East Indian and Asian peoples.  When I read this article (and the comments), I immediately thought of pots, kettles, and throwing stones from glass houses.  Please note that I'm not saying "It's okay to discriminate against Indians because they discriminate as well."  I am just remarking on the fact that there is a big push in popular culture and media to have whites improve their attitudes, but trust, appreciation and respect need to flow both ways.  First Nations have, predictably, developed a cynicism towards other races, especially after their historical experiences.  However, there does come a time when actions need to take the place of words, and First Nations need to step up to the plate along with other ethnic groups and take positive steps to change their outlook and behaviour toward others.

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