“We are all better when we are loved”
I wish newspapers would hide entirely behind paywalls so that when Facebookers and Twitterers link to columns I can’t skim them (if I read you it’s because I agree with you and if I don’t read you it’s because I don’t – I used to read for contrary opinions but then Stephen Harper happened and life got too short) and then let my eyes wander down to the racist and hateful commentary by Canada’s vox populi.
The nether regions of columns.
As Fran Lebowitz, my favourite lazy person, would say (quoting William Tecumsah Sherman) “Vox populi, vox humbug”. For more on Fran, check out this jealous tirade by, of course, some unknown guy: http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/56397/really-fran-lebowitz-gets-to-publish-that
To my Sooey Says reader(s) I have to ask: “Who the hell are we trying to save Canada for, anyway? I mean, wtf? If the comment sections of our newspapers are any indication, we’re a country of racist grandmas from coast to coast to coast! Why not just let Stephen Harper have at it and do his worst?”
Back when I worked in a government program focused on Aboriginal kids, the youngsters, hither and yon but not living on reserves, one of our major achievements involved bringing together our own program people from across this great big racist country of ours for a powwow in Winnipeg.
(One of my most vivid memories of the meeting was of Winnipeg being completely iced over and a co-worker striding confidently in her high heels, using them as ice picks, while the rest of us slipslided and crawled to the restaurant a block away from the hotel. It was when I first started hating ice and questioning my mother’s advice about sensible heels.)
Our leader from Ottawa (we were a team of four ingenues, meeting with the hardened veterans of the regions) was a beautiful black lady, born in the islands, moved here at age two by her doctor parents. Only one of our team was Aboriginal, her mother being a full blooded Cree, I believe.
Dad was white, a retired cop, and, for what it’s worth, although she rarely mentioned her mother, she referenced her dad all the time.
I kept a low profile because I really don’t understand government (again, if you think public servants have it easy, be my guest and sign up, Joe Sixpack and Sally Housecoat) and it seemed to me that we had it all ass backwards and that the regional people should have been running the program, as opposed to a team of four perpetual newbies (staff turnover being an epidemic), two of whom were casual temps, in Ottawa.
But anyway, in keeping my low profile (I was one of the two casual temps and, of course, we were both whiter than snow, surrounded by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis, our boss the soul black person, also of course) I decided to take on a sort of United Nations observer status role.
(I did make an attempt at bridging the gap by sitting at the Winnipeg table for lunch, but I’d been pegged as a naysayer for a dubious project of questionable merit, so I was pointedly shunned. The originator of said project used to preface every sentence with, “As a gay Aboriginal man”, so if you know him, tell him Sooey Says, “Hey” and “Nyah nyah”.)
Now, our team leader, Carp love her, had a certain patrician air about her, like maybe she’d been born a princess, floated down a river in a basket, and then been adopted by a couple of stray doctors, who would later emigrate to our fair land. (And boy does it look fair when you’re traveling to the regions with a Barbadian basket princess.) And when she stood to address the crowd in the conference room of the hotel, she did somewhat bring to mind the Queen in her younger years, doing her annual Christmas address to the colonials, I have to admit.
Which was unfortunate, given the context, and I fully expected one of the paper airplanes our Aboriginal brothers and sisters were folding to leave the hand of an owner and get stuck in her professionally-manicured ‘fro.
Later, I took aside our half Aboriginal team member and said, “Uh… what was THAT?”
Her chagrined response? “Ah, well, I’m sorry to say, Sooey, that my people can be somewhat… racist.”
She went on to explain, you know, the usual ins and outs that can add up to a certain lack of tolerance, but it was illuminating for me because I tend to associate racism with southern white trash as portrayed in “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and the Tea Party as portrayed on Fox News. And our team leader did have a certain lack of tolerance of her own that she wasn’t doing a good job of keeping under wraps. She’d had a life of privilege, for sure, but she’d also been the only black kid at school in the town she was raised in outside of Ottawa.
And, as she told me on the flight home, she makes it look easy and sometimes other Canadians resent that, but the real facts on the ground for her were regular strip searches at Canadian airports (she looks like your classic drug mule) and a reluctance to visit small town America with her Asian husband.
(One day her brother came looking for her to take her for lunch. A large muscular black man doing his best to not bust out of his suit walked by the glass door of her office where we were having a gabfest and she jumped up and said, “Oh, that’s my brother – I’d better get him before somebody calls security!” And true, there were only two men on our floor, which was all about saving the children from their parents, and they were both soft and delicate and recent winners of the Halloween costume contest – they came as Yin/Yang. But no one really would have called security, she was just doing what she was used to doing – over-anticipating, over-functioning, over-preparing because she was a Barbadian basket princess relocated to a fair and not-so-tolerant land.)
In other words, she, like many Canadians, had a little bit of that, “Ohferchrissakes get it together, Aboriginal people!” simmering below the surface. And it’s not like those bubbles are completely inaudible.
But for some reason, the other casual temp and I ended up at a First Nations, Inuit, Metis training session that tipped us off beforehand as to how the meeting might play out, in a worst case scenario way. The Inuit presenter was fun and informative, a professional, as it turned out, who bore such an uncanny resemblance to my sister-in-law that I wonder if my kids might have a little native blood astirrin’. It was remarkable, she was just a darker-skinned original version (and, interestingly, my sister-in-law tans like crazy, while my ex has black hair). She told great stories about eating seal meat, sad stories about the RCMP shooting her grandfather’s dogs so he couldn’t hunt (all part of some grander scheme to civilize inhabitants of the North), interesting stories about women preparing meals, making items from skins and furs, teaching children the old ways that are the current ways so I don’t know why they’re called the old ways, but whatever.
The Metis presenter was a bit of a collector, so it was more about artifacts and I zoned out a bit (besides, no offense, eh, but it’ll never get more interesting than Louis Riel for the Metis) but the First Nations presenter, omigawd, uncomfortable-making much? My co-worker and I had arranged ahead of time to nip out to check in with the office at an appointed hour, but when it arrived, I looked across the room at her, our eyes locked, and we both, barely, so as not to be detected, shook our heads, “Not happening”.
Only an insane person would have got up and left the room.
Now, I have to say, the fact that we were mostly low level government worker bees, temps and casuals, made her presentation somewhat inappropriate. After all, we had no control over how government was or is run. On the other hand, some of the people in attendance were front line, and her message really boiled down to, “We’re angry, some of us have even been driven mad, because we’ve suffered generational abuse at the hands of government, so yeah, we’re not always easy to deal with when we call.”
Fair enough, may as well have an inkling of who’s on the other end.
Her presentation was unsparing, brutal really. Her mother had committed suicide after spending most of her life on the street. She’d been raised by her grandmother, had a child herself that she was raising on her own, a result of a sexual assault, and at one point as she was talking at us, raging really, tears were streaming down her face. And, of course, the backdrop to it all, the sadness, is residential schools, relocations, cultural genocide, the denial of the right of family by our government.
The rock of our society, family, was denied to her people by our government.
Message delivered, message received.
What’s a shame is that all Canadians couldn’t attend that presentation to gain an understanding of what IdleNoMore is attempting to do and how important it is for all of us that this movement is happening. It will make us a better country, a better people, the more of us who live better, and I don’t understand why there is such reluctance on the part of so many Canadians to support a movement that will lift up us all.
To me, this is what government should be, but the government isn’t interested in being that so why not let the people take over.
In the end it really comes down to the theme of “No Great Mischief” by Alistair MacLeod, that “we are all better when we are loved”, doesn’t it.
In the meantime, Mr. Media, put up that paywall.