There are a few things that get me down, but perhaps colonialism is near the top of the list. That’s sounds grandiose, right? But it’s true. I didn’t realize how vehemently I hated colonialism until I moved to Britain. Living in the UK — the place where the oppression and genocide of Indigenous people in Canada originated — is tiring, to say the least.
Many people I know here are very sensitive to the impacts of colonialism (specifically: British Imperialism) on the lives of Indigenous people in North America. However, I have persistently come up against a flippant, bizarre and unrepentant racism and bigotry in broader UK culture.
There was this image in the Guardian (NO! Not the Guardian!):
There were these headdresses at H&M (which they agreed to pull from Canada and also promised not to restock in the UK):
There is the reluctance to publish anything I submit about Indigenous issues, from an Indigenous perspective to almost any British venue. (Best to have a white guy translate and explain Indigenous suffering for a British audience).
But at the end of the day, part of the healing from the trauma of colonialism will mean also starting conversations about that pain with the countryfolk of the Empire responsible for the policies, ideologies and arrogances that deliberately destroyed the lives of Indigenous people in North America.
So even though I feel a bit weary, a bit tired, a bit hopeless about how easily people ignore the trauma wrought by British Imperialism, I also know that we have to keep trying to engage in respectful dialogue about these issues. Maybe one of the most important parts of healing is to feel like someone acknowledges your pain, acknowledges your suffering. We all deserve the dignity of feeling like those who have hurt us understand, somewhere in their soul, what they have done.
In that vein, here is the letter I submitted to Metro UK in response to this piece of rubbish that was published in yesterday’s paper.
In today’s paper, you printed a story on page 40 (snapshot attached) that made light of genocide (the crack about ‘I’m glad my ancestors wiped out his civilization’).
I am an Indigenous woman living in the UK, who has worked in communities where children were removed by the State to ‘kill the Indian in the child’ — action taken under a constellation of racist policies that were implemented by Glasgow-born John A. Macdonald in the 1800s, and which still exist today under the “Indian Act”. Today many people are calling for the oppression and abuse (and in some cases murder or manslaughter) of children in these state-sanctioned residential schools in the name of colonialism what it truly is, according to the criteria set out by the United Nations: a genocide. Here is an op-ed from the Toronto Star detailing these realities. [hyperlinked]
To make light of the ongoing suffering and oppression of Indigenous people in North America (or anywhere, for that matter) is not only disgusting, it is an affront to the millions of Indigenous people in North America affected by deliberate attempts to ‘wipe them out’.
Furthermore, the image you published alongside this horribly racist piece was incredibly offensive, serving to further entrench misguided and bigoted views of Indigenous peoples here in the UK.
I demand an apology for your misguided editorial decision, and I would also hope that you will refrain from publishing anything that makes light of genocide in future editions.
afternoon update: so, the comic who penned the piece responded to my post on his Facebook wall.
October 14 update: Richard Herring makes a further attempt to defend/explain his humour here: http://www.richardherring.com/warmingup/11/10/2013/index.html
It’s your classic “I’m sorry you were offended, but here let me explain why my scintillating intellect is far superior to yours, young lady” type response. Bullocks. I acknowledge what he was trying to do with the piece, but the line about wiping out an entire civilisation crosses the line. He would not, I imagine, make the same quip about wiping out Jewish people or make a joke that endorses the Holocaust, so why is it acceptable, in Britain, to make a joke that makes light of genocide in North America?
I read this response out on the bus to my travel companions. A middle aged couple was sitting ahead of us. As I read it, the woman began to sigh loudly — British speak for ‘you are an inconvenience to me as I contemplate the sandstone buildings and whether to buy a beige bra or a white one at John Lewis’, while her husband smiled knowingly at her. Uppity Canadians. I continued to read in a steady voice, refusing to be silenced. I imagined how arrogant you must be to find an Indigenous woman upset about genocide to be a mere annoyance on your bus ride in central Dundee.
As we approached our stop, I contemplated confronting them. I wish I had said something like ‘oh, is the slaughter of millions of Indigenous people — some at the hands of your Scottish countrymen — an annoyance? Isn’t it interesting that your country wants compensation for Scottish oppression but you can’t see how you might have played a part in a very sinister (and still present!) genocide across the Ocean?’
But I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to embarrass my travel-mates. Instead I just loudly said ‘I’ve never been prouder to show you Scotland’, which was my ironic way of telling these two individuals to get stuffed. Everything here is cloaked in irony, politeness and a suffocating passive-aggression.
Thankfully, as we descended the stairs to the ground floor of the bus, we ran into my neighbour. I explained the situation to her, and she listened compassionately. She offered a thought, suggesting that she suspected Richard Herring’s piece broke some laws in the UK, and said she would look into it for me. I thanked her for listening, and confided that I would have burst into tears had we not run into her.
And in this afternoon you get the whole experience in a nutshell — the complicit passive-aggressive middle class folks who find Indigenous people annoying, the man-splaining dicks who profit from weak humour, but also the wonderfully empathetic people who live here and who are trying to make things better and who are willing to engage in a dialogue about healing. It’s going to be a long road to engage in love-based conversations about healing here in the heart of Scotland. But I guess I’ve already made my choice: I’m descended from some fierce Metis and nehiyaw women and the only path I see is one in which I lean into the discomfort and confront it head on (with love and compassion). One facebook post, conversation, blog post, op-ed and moment at a time.