THE UN­FIN­ISHED BRIDGE BE­TWEEN TWO COM­MU­NI­TIES

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE -

When I met this with a half-hearted sigh, they pounced. “So you don’t re­ally care about racism,” they said, as if I am obliged to ad­ju­di­cate ev­ery in­ci­dent equally or not at all. As if the means are ir­rel­e­vant to the ends, as if words float in a space va­cant of at­mos­phere, of con­text. As if, for some un­happy mo­tive which they can never quite define, I must just have it in for my fel­low white peo­ple. As if that makes any sense at all.

There’s no doubt Robin­son’s words were flip­pant and ill-in­formed. His ham-fisted de­fence of them was worse. They were absolutely hurt­ful to the folks they tar­geted: peo­ple who work at Os­borne House and who wanted to raise money for it, peo­ple who have spent years and sweat and tears help­ing bat­tered women. Robin­son ap­par­ently does not un­der­stand them and owes them a gen­uine at­tempt to do so along with his apol­ogy, noth­ing less.

But the rip­ples of out­rage have spread be­yond those folks, and with each new wave it’s a fine time to re­mem­ber that pry­ing apart the ten­sions of race is not a gi­ant game of “gotcha,” keep­ing score by an­gry sound bites float­ing in a void. Robin­son wrote a dumb thing, but in the grand scale of this so­ci­ety it holds lit­tle power to truly harm and it is not a symp­tom of a larger sore.

For the record, I think Robin­son and his ad­viser were wrong about the event look­ing bad, but I sus­pect they, like many folks, do not un­der­stand the fem­i­nist streak com­mon to mod­ern bur­lesque, the mys­tery and joy with which it is re­vealed, or the way it cel­e­brates the real shapes of women.

But when I read his words, I do not see ab­ject hate. What I see is an abo­rig­i­nal man long ac­cus­tomed to feel­ing frus­trated with folks who dole out pre­scrip­tions for abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties with­out hav­ing lived a sin­gle day in them. With­out ever ask­ing what it is to ex­pe­ri­ence this so­ci­ety through an in­dige­nous iden­tity. With­out ever re­ally lis­ten­ing.

What I see is a man who has watched abo­rig­i­nal women fight for ba­sic dig­nity against a dom­i­nant cul­ture in which the ram­pant sex­ual traf­fick­ing, abuse and ex­ploita­tion of abo­rig­i­nal women and girls is met with si­lence or a shrug. Through that lens and his own lack of aware­ness, he as­sumed a bur­lesque fundraiser was an event that “de­means women” and as­sumed it was yet an­other case of in­ter­ven­tion with­out un­der­stand­ing.

We can be­lieve that he is wrong about that, and I do. And we can con­demn his words. But if we do not also con­sider th­ese un­fin­ished bridges be­tween com­mu­ni­ties, then it is an ex­er­cise in anger with­out pur­pose. Be­cause many of us have the priv­i­lege to sim­ply ig­nore what Robin­son said or, if we choose, to ex­press how those words hurt and have that hurt be met with wide agree­ment rather than abrupt dis­missal.

Af­ter all, no­body has ac­cused those crit­i­ciz­ing Robin­son’s words of be­ing “over­sen­si­tive” or “too po­lit­i­cally cor­rect,” yet.

No mat­ter which I choose, Robin­son’s com­ments do not threaten my abil­ity to live my life to the fullest de­gree this so­ci­ety al­lows, and I will never have to won­der if they or oth­ers like them will, or if they have al­ready. In­stead, there is a dis­cus­sion to be had about the un­der­stand­ing deficit be­tween com­mu­ni­ties — and for that, I’m lis­ten­ing.

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