July Op-Ed for Bridge River Lillooet News
Recently, I emailed a criticism to a CBC radio show. While conducting an interview the host learned that slaves had been sold to buy molasses for the making of rum. Instead of the host commenting, she ignored it and kept the interview flowing along in the nice, polite manner for which she’s well known. I was shocked.
I emailed the show— didn’t ignoring something so terrible reveal a racist blind spot? The host wrote back and denied doing it. I persisted: didn’t her silence send a message that it’s okay to render invisible the enslavement of people, the selling of people? The host went away and reviewed the interview tape. Then she wrote back: having a discussion about slavery did not fit with the mandate of her show. I couldn’t let the matter go: she did not need to have a discussion but she could have, and should have, acknowledged the slavery before moving on with her interview. Her final response? I was impolite.
I had been direct and I had pointed out a wrong. How was that impolite? It got me thinking. Does Canadian-style politeness, of which we’re justifiably proud, come with an invisible down side? If politeness requires silence and turning a blind eye to what’s wrong then politeness can be nicely disguised oppression.
In another recent discussion online, this one about BC’s proposed LNG plant, I expressed my approval of Manchester, England, for banning LNG. That prompted a BC man to say that people have no right to protest about fossil fuel because they drive cars. “I’ve not seen one screamer leave their vehicle at home and walk 25 miles to the store,” he said, “It’s not the fossil fuel producers that are the problem, it’s the consumers that demand energy so their lives are made easier.”
I pointed out that blaming people for driving is unfair, we have no alternatives, and if we keep up the pressure on our governments they will have to force oil companies to change. We send spaceships to Pluto, we cure diseases, and we invent amazing technology. Surely we can create sustainable, sane energy solutions.
He said protesting was futile. I invited him to get on board the change train and spouted that maxim by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” He said, if we cave to protesters and special interest groups that leads to anarchy. I asked him to name one example of government by anarchy.
Then he launched into a tirade about U.S. violence and geopolitical aggression since WWII and how Canada’s peaceful style had benefited our nation for hundreds of years. His summation: “You get a vote, I get a vote, and our neighbors get a vote – the majority passes and the demonstrators can go suck lemons.”
At which point I gave up and went to make some lemonade.