The following is my fifth and final installment in my blog series on racism and Aboriginal people. I thank those of you who have been following it, for your interest and for your supportive words.
This has been a very emotional series of articles for me. Some of the things I have shared, I did for the first time ever or first time since around the time they happened. I have been an “Indian.” I am an “apple.” The Indian has never left. He’s always there and more often feels the most real.
I am very fortunate to be where I am today. Part of it may have been resilience but good people, their influence, played a big part. My mother was a rock, who sheltered me from violence as best she could and sneaked me food when I was hiding from my dad’s rage. Ironically, it was my dad who was responsible for me going to college and whose surprising open-ended apology, whispered in my ear on one of his last Christmases, gave me some measure of release.
And there were white people, lots of them who treated me as an equal and who told me I was better than I thought, who pushed me to succeed and never seemed uneasy around my family or any other Aboriginal people. There aren’t many urban places that would have happened in, besides Prince Rupert.
Rupert has one of the largest ratios of Aboriginal to white people of any city in Canada and, I would guess, anywhere in the world. Being exposed to Aboriginal people all the time meant that white people, more often than not, didn’t have to go to where they live because they were already there. They worked with us, they played with us.
The play part was huge for me. I love sports and what better way to break down barriers than by joining a team and becoming part of a common goal where you all need to support each other to succeed. I played lots of floor-hockey, ball-hockey, flag football and softball and, in all of them, there was a mix of ethnicities. I know that perceptions and attitudes were changed in some white players. I not only heard it in their words and saw it in their demeanor, but I felt it. I made life-long friends through sports and over half of them were white.
School, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. There was considerable racism there, from students and staff. But it has changed over the years. Many districts are adopting curriculums that include significant components on Aboriginal history, customs and language.
Education will be the most important tool in putting a dent in racism. The long hidden truth of the cruelty and efforts to crush a people and their culture, the stories of the reserve system and residential schools and their devastating and long-lasting effects that, in turn, created the perception of the inferior, “dirty Indian,” are being taught in our schools. Kids and their parents will understand why most Aboriginals live in poverty which, in turn, spawns crime.
Understanding how Aboriginals got to where they are will also help white kids realize how they got to where they are, and that they had an edge. They’ll find out that, while in theory, we all run the same 100-metre track, many people begin at the 20-metre or 50-metre point and few of them are Aboriginal.
It’s going to be hard to bring real change, real equality. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on it happening in my lifetime because, unfortunately, it will probably take a literal revolution to make the changes in the institutions and traditions, particularly the political and financial ones, that are necessary for it. Privilege is usually something that has to be torn away. I hope I am wrong about that.
For those of you still struggling with the concept of white privilege, it doesn’t mean that you are not poor, are not struggling, and do not get pulled over or brutalized by police. It just means that those situations don’t occur because of the color of your skin. And, since you personally didn’t create this privilege, you don’t have to apologize for it. Just acknowledge it. And talk to others who share that privilege about how unfair it is to so many of those who don’t.
Peace and love, my friends.