Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Diving into the racist cesspits 

At Eschaton, Thers wrote yesterday:
You know, anyone who thinks that we as a nation have Overcome Racism ought to check out the comments section of any local newspaper that has any online story whatsoever to do with race, however tangentially. That comments section is, I guarantee, a fucking racist cesspit.
Canada has its own racist cesspits when it comes to the comments on news stories about our Aboriginal people.  MP Charlie Angus flags some recent horrible comments:
Online commentators responded to the natural disasters in places like Oklahoma, Bracebridge or Alberta with an outpouring of comments that were very heartfelt and moving.
And yet, when two communities in my region -- Attawapiskat and Kashechewan -- were hit by flash flooding earlier this spring, the pages were overwhelmed with vicious glee. . . The idea that government agencies might send aid to help these Canadian citizens sent the online commentators into a rage.
And I'm sorry, I had intended to quote some of the comments that Angus used to illustrate his article but I just can't --  they make me feel tainted even to repeat.  Just go read the link.
What Angus asks is why the rest of us are apparently so willing to tolerate these cesspits, to go along with what is being said, to not push back.
I used to think that trolls wrote this crap because they could post their junk anonymously. But now I seeing people who are not only willing to sign their name but supply an accompanying headshot. Far from feeling marginalized, the purveyors of these false stereotypes -- the "lazy" Indian, the "corrupt" Chief, the "ripped off" taxpayer" -- seems to be hijacking the public conversation away from issues like chronic infrastructure underfunding, third class education and the inability to share in economic development.
Having received such little push back the trolls continue to promote even more dehumanizing caricatures. In a recent comment on Attawapiskat one person wrote, "Europeans have created the modern world, while you people created lice, fleas and more welfare recipients." Such screeds were once found on marginal Neo-Nazi sites. They now find themselves at home on the public spaces provided by reputable media organizations.
In my own case, I usually don't even read these types of news comments.  I'm uncomfortable getting into pissing matches with foul-mouthed, ill-informed and mean-spirited people, and I didn't think I could say anything that would change their minds anyway.
But it never occurred to me to wonder about the effects of my cowardice on Aboriginal people:
. . . I think of the trauma experienced by children in Attawapiskat by online attacks. When the media began reporting on their struggle to have a school built in the community, the online haters overwhelmed the comments pages. A teacher in Attawapiskat told me the children were very shaken up when they read the long string of abusive comments that demeaned them as "lazy Indians," "losers", "gasoline sniffers," etc.
. . . Some Aboriginal friends have asked me if the silence from general society reflects a tacit support for such views? I certainly don't believe this is the case, but clearly Canadians and the media need to do better.
This brought me up short.  It never occurred to me that my silence implied consent with what the racists are saying.
So once more into the breach, dear friends.  As I wrote a long time ago, we cannot always choose the battle. Sometimes all we can do is choose our side.  
My side is with Charlie Angus and the children of Attawapiskat.  And if this means I have to dive into the cesspits of news comment sections from now on, then so be it.

Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers | 5 comments


I did. A few National Post stories, using my real name.

By Blogger thwap, at 5:28 am  

Thanks, and me too.

By Blogger CathiefromCanada, at 12:21 pm  

In my day to day life I have always riposted sharply whenever such comments are made in my presence because I have always seen silence as being agreement or at least not sufficient disagreement because the focus is not worth the effort/concern to do so. It comes from growing up very bullied I suspect, I saw it that way when I was tormented and everyone else averted their eyes, said nothing and went on their merry way. I know how much that silence affected me, so I know how much such has to affect other targets, such as aboriginals as you cited. While down here in in Halifax I don't run into as much anti-aboriginal intolerance as I do other forms from those aimed at black locals to immigrants of varying colours I have noticed that when I do it seems even more virulent, ugly, and intensive than the normal/typical xenophobic comments/attitudes.

In terms of posting under an alias, I only started doing that after I got married, I used to write online under my real name, because I never write anything that I would not be willing to defend in person, but I've seen too often that there are some nutcases out there and while I am fine risking myself I am not when it comes to those closest to me getting caught in the crossfire. I have never had any patience for xenophobia of any stripe, and I will always speak up to it when I encounter it, because I know that it takes an active opposition to make it fade from view (alas not fade away, but at least force those with such attitudes to be circumspect and not pollute our public environs with it) and create an environment for those that have been so victimized to feel like they have a place in our society and that they are welcome in it.

I think that unless one has been on the wrong end of such intense and pervasive treatment it is difficult to truly appreciate just how hurtful that silence of others can be to such language being used. So good for you for coming to see this and deciding to take a more active stance with it, the only real way we can remove xenophobia from our public discourse is by making it utterly socially unacceptable, and once it losses it's public acceptability/visibility it should be harder to create more new xenophobes, because I truly believe that for the most part it is a learned condition rather than inborn nature (other than the seeds of it are, it has been shown that humans to have an innate fear of the strange/different, but that is a far cry from full out xenophobia).

It will be especially nice to see that finally achieved for aboriginals, because of all the forms of bigotry I have heard and seen I have to say I've found that which is aimed at aboriginals to be about the ugliest out there. It never ceases to really freak me out to hear otherwise sensible people say some of the most shocking things where aboriginals are concerned, things they would never say about any other group, and not see that they are showing bigotry, and indeed bristle at you daring to point it out as they defend the obvious factual nature of their comments (the chestnut about how aboriginals only suck at the public teat being a big one, the fact that treaties are contracts, which were repeatedly broken not being a concept they grasp where aboriginals are concerned, which if about other contexts/groups they would see just how there are massive grounds for reparations from breech of contract(s) to the point where they would agree that the imbalance from the breeches even discounting penalties for breaching would leave those contract holders in such a position that arguably they could/should own almost everything in our nation in terms of land and infrastructure to truly achieve balance).

I could go on and on on this crap, but I won't. I will just close with saying good for you Cathie for seeing this, writing this, and coming to this decision. It is the right thing to be doing, ethically, morally, socially in my view.

By Blogger Scotian, at 1:53 pm  

Thanks, Scotian I have always respected your comments and your viewpoints. You write so well, too, that it is a pleasure to read what you have to say.
I have not experienced bullying myself so I'm sorry I have not responded forcefully to it before this. At least I don't have to worry particularly about the impact on my family -- for the most part, they are more outspoken than I am!

By Blogger CathiefromCanada, at 8:29 pm  


My wife came from a rather shall we say traumatic background so I am loathe to risk any additional pain to her from people that think getting at me though her is a good way to attack,and I know there are those out there that think that way, I've encountered them too often in the past, both where I was the target or someone I knew was. In my case that is about the worst thing you can do because while I am a reasonable person as a rule and keep a close watch on my temper I do have a very bad one, and it is the classic Celtic cold rage type, and once in that state I am capable of anything (which is why I keep it under such tight restraint, I learned early on in my life that if I didn't it would end badly, first for others and then for myself, which is also why you so rarely see me showing serious active anger/rage in my comments over the years).

I had to learn how to swallow my rage at a young age because when your typical bullying comes from groups starting at at least a half dozen and ranging upwards, and usually of people bigger than you one either learns to or ends up either dead or jail, and neither appealed to me. I did learn to think in a very tactical manner though, and thankfully I was a very lithe, limber, and fast kid if skinny and not very strong, so I made it very difficult for the kids to physically corner me where they could attack. Verbally though was another matter, that alas was a daily school and elsewhere experience. Which is why I can appreciate just how impactful silence can be to someone on the wrong end of such.

Anyway, I look back at that experience and take the value it gave me, my approach to life is very much that no matter how good something is there is always a negative somewhere in it, and no matter how bad something is there is a positive in it, so when the bad things happen work through them, find the positive(s) and make use of them, thereby for me at least making the pain of the negative easier to deal/cope with. It works for me, and has kept me from being a bitter/angry/negative personality, and after all quality of life starts being defined by one's own perspective before everything else, and I prefer to find ways to enjoy my life instead of feeling miserable about it.

Take care Cathie....

By Blogger Scotian, at 5:30 pm  

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