Mordecai Richler invented a child character called Jacob Two-Two. Jacob Two-Two is called that because he has to say everything twice before any adult will even hear him.
Jacob Two-Two could be any Aboriginal person in Canada.
In Canada, one of the stereotypes of Aboriginality is that Aboriginal people are always complaining about how they are treated, and always complaining about racism even when it isn’t there or isn’t intended. The implication is that Aboriginal people are too sensitive about a problem that isn’t as bad as they say. Or happened long ago.
In other words, Aboriginal people are whiners, and what is important is not what they have to complain about, or even whether what they have to say is true (which it mostly is), but whether the tone of voice in which they made the complaint is acceptable to those hearing the complaint.
The issue of tone of voice is related to the issue of status. A high status person can demand that a person of low status speak respectfully.
The Canadian concern with Aboriginal tone of voice shows that a whitestream Canadian typically considers him- or herself as more mature, more important and of higher status than Aboriginal Canadians. The Canadian concern with Aboriginal tone of voice proves that Canadians are indeed racist, with dismissive racial attitudes.
Don’t whine, Jacob, says whitestream Canada. I don’t like it when children (and Indians) whine.
It’s because Aboriginal opinions have always been ignored, and because, on the other hand, priests and their like have been idealized by society, that the widespread abuses in the residential schools were dismissed for so long. It is because it has always been fashionable to dismiss Aboriginal concerns in Canada, that so many children were raped by priests and school personnel, generation after generation, in the residential schools.
People looking from the outside at the situation in the Indian residential schools are often inclined to blame the pedophiles and abusers themselves for what happened to the children. The Catholic Church’s well-documented propensity of relocating pedophile priests, sometimes to residential schools, is an example of the sort of things tut-tutted about.
But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. It was the deep racism of Canadian society and the Canadian government which allowed the abuses to continue, which rendered residential schools as sanctuaries for the Catholic Church, for instance, and the child rapists they wanted to protect. It was the entrenched racism of government and Canadians which refused to listen to the children. It was entrenched White superiority which refused to listen to Aboriginal parents.
Racism threw the children to the sharks, and when that didn’t turn out, blamed the sharks. But it was those who put the children there, and refused to listen to their distress once there, who were really to blame.
The government and the Canadian people had gone to the extraordinary measure of removing children from the protection of their families and their communities. They had thus created an extraordinary duty to protect these children. Instead, they failed to protect them at all.
It’s easy to blame the sharks, the criminals who abused the Aboriginal children. But it’s the Canadian government who prevented the children’s rescue or escape. It’s the Canadian government who consistently refused to listen to the Aboriginal children and their communities. It’s whitestream Canadians and their government who allowed the terror to continue.
You simply can’t ignore the role of the government and racism in creating the conditions where abuse was inevitable. Narrowing the blame to those who actually committed the crimes is simply self-serving.
You can’t throw children to the sharks and then blame the sharks.