No one ever became more loving and accepting by first being called a racist. Or a bigot. Or any number of names I can think of with negative associations. Yet people point fingers all the time. And what effect does it produce other than simply breeding more hatred and contempt, leaving the labeler with the false belief that they are somehow more superior?
Last month singer/artist Joni Mitchell labelled Saskatoon as a bigoted community, comparing it to the deep south, and naturally there was much backlash. Then a photo of a Saskatoon park bench circulated on social media with words “F*** all dirty Indians” spray painted across the bench, and Mitchell Tweeted the picture, along with a message saying “Joni Mitchell never lies.”
I think Mitchell means well, for the most part. She clearly believes more cultural awareness is necessary in the community. That’s definitely true in many respects, but the trouble lies in grouping people together, and affixing them with all with a label -- which is essentially how racist and prejudiced people operate. They take the actions of one or two and incorrectly decide that everyone in that group is effectively the same.
I definitely know people who have said and/or done racist things in Saskatoon. I also know people who have gone out of their way to be more accepting and understanding of other cultures and races. I’ve seen it on both sides. I’ve felt it on both sides. I’ve had experiences where non-Aboriginal people said racist things to me because I’m half-Cree. I’ve also had experiences where First Nations people said racist things to me because I’m half-German. I was raised Cree, so it sometimes stung more when First Nations people said racist things to me.
One time I had a moment where I felt so frustrated with the all the racism I experienced, I thought to myself that I could just move somewhere else, to escape it all, probably like Joni Mitchell thought. So I imagined where I would move. Well, the rest of Canada was out because First Nations people are all across the country, and I would be lumped right in with all the other Aboriginals, and still feel the racism. So then I thought I could move south.
Of course, there are First Nations people all over the states, but the racism there seems to be focused more on relations between everyone else. Perfect, I thought. I could hide out, and let everyone else fight. But that’s not my nature. I would feel the urge to intervene because I would detest being cowardly. Truly, I’d much rather feel the racism and have to deal with it personally than to just stand by and watch other people suffer from it.
Then I looked across the globe, for a new location. Everywhere else was also a problem because it seems that if people aren’t fighting because of race, they’re fighting because of religion, or sexuality, or over land, money or resources. It was hopeless. I couldn’t go anywhere. Hatred would be my neighbour everywhere in the world.
Saskatchewan didn’t look so bad then. I remembered all my friends of different colours and how we’re all making a difference by choosing love and friendship over hatred and war. I know plenty of people who were just as appalled to see the photo of that bench as First Nations people were. To me, that’s what matters.
I’m not denying that we don’t still have racial barriers in Saskatchewan. We do. We have a lot of work to do to improve relations between all groups in Saskatchewan. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but I have seen improvements in my short time on this earth, and that leaves me hopeful.
I still like Joni Mitchell. She said some harsh things, but I think at the heart of it all, she just wants people to get along and love one another, despite their differences. And one incredibly awesome thing about all of this is that she has opened up a dialogue that encourages self-reflection. No one wants to be a racist or a bigot. And even if someone has held those attitudes in the past, it isn’t a life sentence.
People have the remarkable ability to change. We can all choose to be more loving, compassionate, and understanding, one action at a time. We can wake up and be a different person tomorrow. It’s always a choice.