A spot of bother: that column
When I first moved to Yellowknife in the summer of 2016, I was both curious and amazed about a number of things I found here.
The most startling was how white I felt. And that unbearable whiteness of being came with an itchy blanket of guilt.
For once in my life I felt that I was a guest on someone else’s land. My southern attitudes to Indigenous people were being shocked and slapped around.
I embraced my eye-opening immersion in a new reality. Indigenous people here have made great strides in putting the colonizers — my ancestors — in their place as they emerge from decades of racist oppression.
One of my closest friends is a Metis woman who is a producer and on-air host at APTN in Winnipeg. Over the years, she had educated me a lot about the country’s first peoples, detailing the dire situations she found while reporting in Indigenous communities.
But I still arrived here as a typical middle-aged white guy from southern Canada. Winnipeg has been branded Canada’s most racist city and having lived there, I must agree.
And if Manitoba’s capital is riddled with racists, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s only worse in the smaller cities and towns in the southern part of that province.
So after living here for a while, I decided to write about my new reality. I chose to use a tongue-in-cheek approach and also inject some other observations from my life experience for flavour. It’s a style I have used often in the past as it provides some nice twists for the reader — if the entire column is read.
I wrote the piece and it was approved for publication by my boss.
Sure, I expected it would raise a few eyebrows, but I thought people would see that I was being facetious and trusted they would ultimately get the point I was trying to make.
Well, it kinda backfired.
Since the post was behind a paywall, many people didn’t read the whole piece. They started to react to comments from people who had cherry picked a line or two from the column and posted it to social media.
The Internet will always overreact at whatever it sheds its light on. I was being branded a racist for a column where I was trying to show how humbled I felt living here. I was being attacked for telling about how much I admired the strides made by the Indigenous community and how stupid I felt being the descendant of the oppressors.
There is no way to make the world a completely inoffensive place to all people all the time, but going forward I can make sure I write as clearly and directly as possible — especially when the topic is race.
Here’s the column, in full, so you can judge for yourself what my intent was:
No matter the height, this columnist isn’t at the top
“Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”
– from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Anyone reading this who didn’t immediately get the reference to Monty Python, perhaps the rest of this column is not for you.
I’m speaking to my demographic today — the emerging white middle-aged male minority (WMAM).
Yup, while the world was once the oyster for me and my ilk, these days, it’s more like a stinky clam.
Now for those of you who didn’t take my advice and have kept reading, us WMAMs are losing our once strong grip on the tiller of society.
That’s good, you say? It’s about time, you mutter? Is it? I guess.
You’re just some cracker colonizer. OK, that might be going too far. Don’t throw salt on my wounded, bleeding ego.
There is a sub-genre of the WMAM — those who are also, well, a bit right-wing. A new poll suggests a strong majority of right-wingers (73 per cent) and even political independents (58 per cent) say “they keep some political beliefs to themselves.”
The Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, finds that 71 per cent of Americans believe political correctness “has silenced important discussions our society needs to have.”
Those on the left of the political spectrum “are unique, however, in that a slim majority (53 per cent) do not feel the need to self-censor.”
Yeah, I feel that. I don’t talk politics with anyone these days.
At work, in the bar, on a date, even with my cats. Except I will with you, dear readers.
So if I wasn’t already in a sub-genre of WMAMs, worse news came in that poll.
A majority (63 per cent) of right-wing folks believe journalists today are an “enemy” of the people.
Now that’s from an American poll, but it scares the bejeezus out of me.
If that sentiment ever creeps way North, that would really squeeze me into a tiny little box with the vast majority of society out of my reach.
But don’t squeeze too hard.
You see, I’ve always also been oppressed due to my body size.
I’m tall. There. I’ve said it.
At six-foot-four and generously proportioned, I can’t fit into sports cars, must try to squeeze into theatre or arena seats and forget about walking erect through most basements.
I get yelled at for standing in front of people at outdoor concerts and am always the one asked to reach for people’s possessions on any given top shelf.
But, you don’t see me filing any human rights complaints about spending extra for seats with leg room on airlines.
In fact, when I heard there was a push in my former home province of Manitoba to expand human rights protection to people who are overweight, I face-palmed way up here in my own atmosphere.
What? No mention of the overly tall?
Looks like I’ll have to get used to my new life view.
I’m a minority. And a shrinking one.
My new mantra: “And now for something completely different.”