“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.