COLUMN: Kevin Joseph — Feb. 21, 2014

Kevin
Kevin Joseph
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“Why can’t the police arrest him for being racist?”

My 11-year-old son asked me this recently. 

While I don’t agree that ignorance should be a jailable offense, my son’s comment made me think. What got his 11-year-old mind stirring was watching his dad talk to two First Nations men who had just been warned by a security guard in the mall that they should leave.

Were they causing a disturbance? No. Were they drunk and disorderly? No. In fact one of them had just bought a bottle of pop in the same mall. 

Why they had been singled out is because they were recently in the news. They spent a night in jail after being accused of attempted kidnapping at the same mall. It has since come to light that the two men had grabbed the child as he ran into traffic saving him from injury.  But the fact that they may have saved a child never received anywhere near the attention as when people thought there were kidnappers in the area. And after all, the two men are “just panhandlers.” 

Admittedly I may be making a harsh judgment of my own here.  The security guard was probably just “doing his job” and asking these two men who were sitting and visiting with a white woman to leave may not have been influenced by their race. 

And maybe it was the colour of my green jacket that caused me to blend in with the plants that caused a store clerk to totally ignore me while they catered to every single other non-aboriginal person who entered the store after me. 

But there is no way to misinterpret the time me and a friend went to a house party only to be greeted with “Who let the Indians in?”  We were promptly carried outside and I was held back as four others beat my friend severely on the front lawn. 

Prince Albert is still known across the country as “The Mississippi of the North”.  This is, unfortunately, not because we have a rich history in blues music. 

Having spent most of my life in Prince Albert I can tell you that the vast majority of its citizens are good people.  I love this city and I would not raise my children here if I thought it to be a terrible place.  But racism is like cancer.  Even a little bit is too much.   

My boys are now at the age where I need to talk with them about the birds and the bees.  But how many of you need to tell your children that there are people who will judge them on their skin color alone? 

I was the same age as my son when a white friend asked me what I was.  His parents were curious. They thought I might have been Asian.  I told him I was Cree.  This was not a big deal to the kid.  But I was never invited back in that house again. 

Kids aren’t born racist. Or sexist. Or angry. Or jealous. Or insecure. We teach them these things at the supper table.  They learn these things when our friends are over and we think their kids aren’t listening.   

For me to be writing in this paper is offensive to some.  I have read many of the letters to the editor over the years. I have read the words of people who say how awful this city has become.  One person complained that they can’t go to the mall now because every time they drive by they see a bunch of drunks hanging around outside. 

This person has the amazing ability to tell if someone has been drinking simply by driving by. Incredible.

Another complained that Prince Albert used to be such a nice place to stop as they came from Saskatoon on their way to their cabin at one of the lakes.  But now the city is dirty and “the riverbank is filled with bums.” 

So this person, who is going from one home to a second home, wants people to feel sorry for them because some homeless people are an eyesore for them.  I don’t know about you, but when we were asked as children what we wanted to be when we grew up, I don’t recall any who said “I would like to spend my days scrounging money to keep myself drunk enough to forget whatever terrible things will happen to me between now and then.”

Someone else blamed all the “scummy people” who hang around downtown for chasing away business.  It’s not the giant chains like Wal-Mart that can afford to charge way less than a small business that are responsible for dwindling sales.  It’s these “scummy people.”  Scummy people like the two gentlemen who spent a night in jail for saving a kid from being hurt and who spent what little money they had to buy a drink at a local business. 

While those two individual may not have had much money, Aboriginal people spend between 100 and 200 million per month in Saskatchewan. Prince Albert not only has more reserves within a one-hour drive than any other city in the country but we are the Gateway to the North.  At any given time the hotels are packed with mostly Aboriginal northerners who are in town to shop. 

Ask some local businesses about the spike they see when the Northern Lights Casino powwow or Voices of the North is in town. 

I have money to spend. But I will not spend it in a shop that doesn’t value my business as much as every other person who enters that shop. And that’s the most frustrating part of it all. It’s an embarrassingly low bar to jump over. All we expect is to be treated the same as everyone else. 

If you want this city, this province, and yes, this country to thrive as much as I do and if you want small businesses to be able to thrive even in this day of Wal-Mart Super Centers and online shopping, now is the time to treat every individual as a potential sale.  And if you want a better life for your children as I do, today is the day to teach them to celebrate the many amazing and distinct cultures that make up this nation and to not judge, hate, discriminate or be afraid of them. 

 

Kevin Joseph is a Prince Albert freelance writer. His column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph, Sharon Thomas and Lori Q. McGavin.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Wal-Mart, Northern Lights Casino

Geographic location: Mississippi, Prince Albert I, Saskatoon Saskatchewan

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  • sam sahm
    February 27, 2014 - 18:13

    Racism...all I can say is that it is alive and well and comes in many colors. Reading this column brings to mind many experiences from my long and travelled life. This something I could have written back in my younger days, but today it just seems like a whole lot of rhetoric and whining. Nothing gets changed by whining about it. Don't get me wrong, I am very much an indian..status card, home rez, beautifully browned, the whole nine yards. But after all this time, the race card to me is just not important. I'm in my 6th decade now, I realize I have lived through it all relatively unscathed. It didn't stop me from getting my journeyman ticket or my B.Ed, and I can still laugh with the best of them, no matter the color. I have learned to deal with it effectively, and immediately in my own way. If I feel my camouflage coat renders me invisible, I no longer stand there and stew because I feel I've been ignored, I address it immediately and in a way that my message is understood. In fact, reading the column, I find that I have had similar experiences, but through the years I discovered that my skin has grown so thick to this behaviour that it doesn't bother me one little bit anymore,. I prefer to handle each situation in a manner that fits the occasion. As I said, racism is there in every culture and always will be, rather than write long drawn out tales, we must all face up to it immediately if it is seen to cause us concern. Sorry to offend you (writer), but it saddens me to see our young people still hung up on an issue that doesn't deserve the attention it gets.

  • Nancy
    February 22, 2014 - 14:55

    Bravo! Good job in calling a spade a spade. If Prince Albert thinks they have conquered the political correctness of being culturally aware and sensitive they are living in a delusion - fixed false beliefs about who they are! It may appear that racism has been "toned" down and there is more openness to diversity but the back room discussions still prevail. Discussions on how "those Indians still get everything handed to them" ... Perhaps it's resentment towards the facts that we are the original people and that can never be disputed no matter how hard their scholars try to re write history? Perhaps it is their inner gut fear that one day they will have to make amends for the past 250 years? History can not be escaped. So when you see us on the streets maybe you should re think your position of blaming us for being homeless. We are not homeless...we are living on our home lands and our ancestors allowed your ancestors to share our home. Next time maybe instead of judging us you should say thank you!!!!!

  • Donna Ross
    February 22, 2014 - 08:34

    Beautifully articulated!!! Thank you. I read once that it is impossible to hate someone whose story you know. It has served me well, as I have made more of an effort to learn stories. Price Albert is a lovely city and hopefully, someday, racism will become a lesson that is not taught there. At all.

  • Donna Ross
    February 22, 2014 - 08:33

    Beautifully articulated!!! Thank you. I read once that it is impossible to hate someone whose story you you. It has served me well, as I have made more of an effort to learn stories. Price Albert is a lovely city and hopefully, someday, racism will become a lesson that is not taught there. At all.

  • Shawaha
    February 22, 2014 - 04:03

    My heart hurt as I read your sharing. It brought me back to a powerful message a pastor once shared: He gathered many clocks he'd found and asked the kids what the clocks all had in common: The kids rang out with; hands, legs, faces, arms, bodies and they show us the time! Yes he said they all have these things and yes they all look different but the most important part of what they have alike is that they all work the same, just like people who come in many shapes and sizes and colors! The day one person believes that by the color of their skin makes them better they may want to look in the mirror and ask how they could help being born with those color of eyes or their nose or that mouth and then rethink those thoughts that someone told them and really decide if that is what they really want to be known as: a person others only feel sadness for because their lives are so shallow they have to talk bad about someone they don't even know. I am First Nation and with skin that often people initially mistake as just white or something...when they spill out their inner thoughts and then have to own them when I announce I am a proud First Nation woman...the first thing they then share is about the friend they once had that was Native...like I care at that point! Our people have hearts of gold and will help you vs. drive past you when you are in need. Can non aboriginal folks be proud of their behavior. Those same men they call bums are the people they may take pictures of at one of our POW WOW'S so how are these people really kidding? Not any of us. Thank you for sharing such an heartfelt article...I'm so proud to read articles which focus on accountability...I was an aboriginal counselor in the prison system and our men had a 96% success rate working with me which meant they didn't re-offend. Could they say that about the mainstream populations? No...I was told to quit doing such a good job because I had to remember we needed our numbers up to have a job and shortly after their study my job was ended abruptly. Too funny! Oh yes, they had to move up to a med. security to get more inmates...so funny! We are healing One Vision, One Person, One Community, One Nation at a time... Please join us at www.facebook.com/Shawaha and like our new page when we post it later this week. When the non-aboriginal folks soon learn that it is our people who will save the water in which their lives depend upon they will soon have a new outlook...only our people can save the waterways and without it they themselves would not have life...I point folks to FLOW on youtube so they get a good sense of what it will be like if they destroy us. Killing us will in fact kill the water... I'm both honored and humbled and proud Kevin to say ALL MY RELATIONS!

  • Ken Finlayson
    February 21, 2014 - 20:55

    Good points Kevin. However too often people (including your article) assert "racism" as if it is the exclusive province of the "White" race and that's just not the truth. I myself have been disparagingly referred to by aboriginals as "White Trash" and other less flattering names. I've been refused service in a MacDonald's restaurant in a black neighborhood in St Louis and turned away at the door of an East Indian shop in Toronto where two men asked me first before I was allowed to enter; "do you like our brown people?". I have loved ones in my family who are 1/16 native and have "status" and grandchildren who are 1/2 and have non. The absurdity of this race based system we have here in Canada only promotes and fosters racism. Not long ago my 9 yr old grandson asked me; "Granpa am I native?" obviously someone had pointed that out to him. Just as I had learned from my family that I am descended from Scotch, Norwegian and Swedish ancestors I told my grandson that he is descended from Scotch, Norwegian, Swedish, (then his Granma's side) Spanish, Danish and English and native on his mothers side. We're all Canadians! Our ancestors don't define or determine who we are! We do! Racism is just an ugly manifestation of tribalism that has no place in an enlightened society. In your article Kevin you make the same race based assumption as the woman your criticizing. "the river banks are filled with bums". She doesn't say their natives, you don't say their natives but apparently she and you share the same race based stereotypical assumptions and biases. Or were you talking about White bums? Whose the raciest here? Do you think special status is the anecdote to racism. To be treated as "equal" is what you (and most of us) want. How does " perpetuating special status translate into equality? It simply perpetuates prejudice and makes people a target for discrimination. The history of the warring tribes and nations of the world attest to that. Maybe some of those "bums on the river bank" weren't native as you imply. And maybe we all (all of us!) have a responsibility to help those of "us" on the riverbank instead of reinforcing racism by focusing on and blaming race the based stereotypes of "them"?

  • Max Morin
    February 21, 2014 - 18:30

    Thank you Kevin very well written I agree we would have a better world if we can love more and not judge each other. Thank you.

  • Max Morin
    February 21, 2014 - 18:29

    Thank you Kevin very well written I agree we would have a better world if we can love more and not judge each other. Thank you.

  • Ian H.
    February 21, 2014 - 17:14

    Thanks so much for this! Well said.