Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mama Bean is trying to be an Ally

I was introduced to the term "benevolent oppression" today (in the context of chivalry, being a sort of benevolent patriarchy, a rabbit trail I don't wish to follow today.)

I sat and thought about it for awhile.

I've been quite captured by the Idle No More movement. It's been about a year now that I've been exploring these ideas of my own privilege, and how it relates to my feminism, my Christianity, my politics, and my racism. The INM movement has brought all those thoughts into a very stark reality. I have been challenged in a variety of (mostly online) arenas to confront the ways I am oppressed, and the ways I have participated in oppression.

And the ways I no longer want to participate.

Benevolent oppression is the favourite defense of most of the racists I see on my facebook feed these days. It's the argument that we (the majority, the White man, the colonialist, the not-Indians) have done so much, give so much, spend so much on these lazy people who can't help themselves. It's the argument that history can't be changed, so why don't they just get over it. It's the argument that tries to turn the oppressor into a victim.

"Don't you see we're just trying to be so nice and you insist on being such ungrateful wretches?"

(Read an excellent summary of The Distress of the Privileged here.)

You know what? I don't think anyone in this situation likes dwelling on the past. Would you want to relive over and over the way generations of your children were taken from their homes and systematically denied their identity? But the presentation, the cultural message, is this seeming broken record of rehashing the past - doesn't it feel that way?

Maybe it's just that we're not getting the fucking message.

I tell you what, I did not get the message. I thought I did, I thought I was sensitive and understanding and compassionate. I read the books, I watched the National Film Board documentaries, I listened to the CBC broadcasts. I thought I was on the right side, but I had a lot to learn.

(If you feel like you have something to learn, start here.)
(Interestingly, I also agree with a lot of what this guy has to say.)

The past that we don't want to dwell on anymore is that Canada is a benevolent oppressor (and sometimes often not so benevolent) of its indigenous people - and I for one don't want to dwell in that past anymore either. The Indian Act (and other comparable legislation) treats aboriginals like they are less than human (for example, by suppressing their rights to education or equal health care) under the guise of being some great Colonial Provider. These laws allow us to live here and benefit from a land that is ridiculously blessed with resources, without properly compensating the original inhabitants.

You and me, we are not the original colonialists, I know that. We didn't sign those treaties, we didn't create those laws. It's not our "fault" that our country is this way. But it is absolutely and completely our fault if it stays this way.

Let me invoke Godwin's law for you, or on second thought, how about no. This is not like blaming all Germans  for Hitler and the Nazis. I'm not blaming our history of Colonialism on you (and me.) I'm saying if we hide our heads in the sand, if we refuse to listen, if we deny justice, then we are no better than the colonialists. No better, and frankly, useless.

We can't go back into the past and right those wrongs. I can't just hand my house over to the nearest aboriginal person with my very best wishes. We can't move our cities, we can't change (most of) the current resource extraction, we can't move reserves (or outright abolish them in any overly hasty manner.) That isn't even a logical place to start the discussion! But it is fair to look for something equitable, it is fair to look for something just. It is fair to say the Indian Act and its compatriots don't work, have never worked, and must be replaced with something else.

By the way, it's also fair to say the old treaties aren't working terribly well either. The signatories of those treaties are no longer geographically accurate - Canada is its own country now. It's time for her to sign her own damn treaties.

I still do not know enough to know where to go from here, but I know that I want to be an ally. I want to be open to and learn from and participate in this dialogue. And that means, right now, I listen. I listen and read everything I was not taught before. I listen to what the oppressed think is fair and right and just. I am 1000% sure that they don't "just want more money." They've been denied so much for so long, poverty and marginalization and the continued cycle of oppression were inevitable. I can't even imagine what justice will look like, and I don't want to imagine something that merely puts words in the mouths of people who've been denied a voice for so long. I just want to hear, for perhaps for the first time in my life, their voice, their words, their life. No more lip service. Idle no more.

[My blog, my rules. If you comment ignorant shit, I will delete it. Don't like that policy, tell it to the rest of the internet. They'll care, I promise.]

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this post, friend.

    I have been struggling so much to understand the anger that I see the "haves" demonstrating. I just don't get it!

    Thank you for putting into words how I am feeling.

    I will be sharing :)