THUNDER BAY – Just getting along. It sounds so easy. But in Thunder Bay there is a sad often quiet under current of racism that often hangs in the air with a smell worse than any paper mill could ever have made. Likely most of us have seen examples of the kinds of behaviour, however subtle, that is meant to put down others.
In Thunder Bay, history has shown how there has been racism against Italian, Finns, and others. Over the past while it has been more pointed against Aboriginal people living in our community.
I have witnessed how the actions of a small fringe minority can impact people. Seeing how a so-called game called “spoons” where teens in a vehicle throw a spoon at an Aboriginal person, if they hit them they “get a point” if they miss they have to get out of a car to retrieve the spoon. There are versions of this sick “game” played with eggs, and when McDonalds have a free coffee promotion, with cups of hot coffee thrown from vehicles at pedestrians.
When you witness people in a business who are treated like major interuptions, rather than the reason the business is in operation, it makes you really wonder why racism would be accepted by any business.
It can be as subtle as an Aboriginal woman being escorted out of the OLG Casino because someone in security decided she was too excited that her friend won.
It can be people being asked to leave a bar because they are Aboriginal.
It can be the huffing and puffing over someone forced to wait in line at a store because an Aboriginal person is using their status card, as is their right, to not pay the provincial portion of the HST. There is a long list of ways that some people treat others, or react to others that can cause problems.
Now the truth is also that racism isn’t something that goes only one way.
There are those who are Aboriginal who have racist attitudes against others too. So before any of you reading this piece start thinking this is a slam against anyone, stop and take a deep breath. What it is, perhaps is time to stop, think about what is being said, and start making sure that as we head to 2012 that this is the time when together we all started to work harder to just get along.
It is a vicious cycle that will not end until it is broken. Racism isn’t something people are born with, it is a learned behaviour. Breaking the cycle means ending the racist attitudes. That is starting to happen in more and more circles of our society. Mayor Hobbs orated, in his State of the City Address, “As many of you know, The City of Thunder Bay has begun a journey of also working more closely with our local First Nation, Métis and Inuit people. We signed an historic Declaration of Commitment on October 4th between Fort William First Nation Band Council and Thunder Bay City Council, which represents a way to move forward together towards a brighter future.
“As Chief Collins said, “It’s an exciting time for us in our journey toward the new path we’ve created. We used to make two footprints in the sand and that’s what we had for years. Now it’s time for a new journey for us – we’ve created one footprint that looks at better opportunities for both communities, and beyond. It’s a public demonstration that we’re working together, and we understand each other.
“Seeing many Aboriginal people still fighting for equality or to be welcomed within every part of our society is something that should no longer exist. We as a Council have made some progress but not enough.”
The job of getting rid of racism is not a job that can be left to government. Government can offer leadership and direction. But it is up to each one of us to take action. Getting rid of racism is a task too important to be left to goverrnment.
It is up to each individual person to take a stand. It means not accepting racist comments, not allowing race to be a metre stick for judgement. It means no longer tolerating those “everyone knows…”. It means taking action to demonstrate that discrimination is going to be allowed in our presense.
That will take courage.
Over the past year, there are several people who have shared their racist opinions or tried foisting them on others in my presense. Taking action to shut down their ridiculous behaviour has meant learning that there are people so consumed by their bigotry and hate that even when confronted with the truth they refuse delivery. To lose such people as “friends” or associates or even as acquantainces is not something to fear. Maybe left alone on an island of their own hatred, they will find the time to realize that it is their attitudes and actions that are out of touch with reality.
Getting along can’t be all that hard. So in the last days of 2011 and as we enter 2012 let us all learn to get along with each other. I think it will be far more fun.
Chief Content Officer
photo by Nicole Baxter