Here’s a Martin Luther King, Jr., quote you won’t see in your wellness Facebook group for #MotivationMonday:
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”
The truth is Canada was founded and weaned on a regular diet of active and passive white supremacy that began at contact. The enslavement of Indigenous peoples, the forced displacement from their lands, their subjection to systemic segregation, imprisonment, and abuse were all in service to white settlers’ ownership and domination of Canada’s resources to serve Mother Britain’s—and later, Big Brother America’s—mercantilist economic and trade policies.
Resource extraction. That’s the Canadian economy in a nutshell, where we continue to operate as a colonial outpost by shipping our newly extracted resources (not refined products) across a transportation network that has existed since before Confederation. Our manufacturing base is either in service of resource extraction or is an outpost of an American industry such as the auto industry. (It’s funny to hear some Canadians bash Alberta for not diversifying, since Canada has barely diversified since Confederation.)
Capitalism is the mechanism by which white supremacy is regulated and measured, which is why historically, Indigenous, Black, and Asian people were kept from specific jobs. Capitalism is—and will always be—the string that white supremacy uses to control society.
Assimilation is the opiate of self-determination.
The protests by the Wet’suwet’en people opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline have inconvenienced the settler establishment order by not falling in line or assimilating. The white colonial political order responded by protecting white supremacy at the expense of justice, using militarized force to do so.
The Royal Colonialist Militarized Police (a.k.a. the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), whose relationship with Indigenous people is historically and currently abusive, were prepared to violently remove protesters from their land. The Guardian recently reported that during their January 2019 raid, the RCMP concluded that “‘lethal overwatch is req’d’—a term for deploying an officer who is prepared to use lethal force,” and that the “RCMP commanders also instructed officers to ‘use as much violence toward the gate as you want’ ahead of the operation to remove a roadblock which had been erected by Wet’suwet’en people.” It’s no surprise that it was the actions of the police—who also erected exclusion zones to keep press out to prevent them from reporting—that ignited the protests of solidarity along railway routes across the country.
What is particularly troubling, is not just that the RCMP were happy to use weapons on unarmed civilians, it’s also their use of aerial surveillance techniques that put targets on the backs of Indigenous people. Surveillance is the way white supremacy has controlled populations by controlling their movement, who they associate with, and the spaces they occupy. And the control of spaces is the way white supremacy enforces the socio-economic construct of Canada, in which whiteness reigns.
It’s funny that the RCMP can find any Indigenous protester they put their mind to, but when the alleged neo-Nazi Patrik Mathews was missing, they couldn’t locate him with all their sophisticated surveillance at their disposal.
Qwhite the inconsistency.
The framing of the Wet’suwet’en situation has cycled through so many political distortions and turnabouts, it’s hard to know what any party’s position is from one day to another. Within a week, the prime minister had gone from seeking patience to speaking to Indigenous people like the father you disappointed by cutting class. In a paternalistic backtrack from the supposed understanding he showed in Parliament only days before, the PM stopped short of threatening Indigenous protesters. It’s a condescension reminiscent of his mockery of an Indigenous protester who dared interrupt his Liberal fundraiser to advocate for Grassy Narrows, a community struggling with mercury poisoning for more than 40 years. Their patience is ignored, whereas settlers’ patience is sought as a priority.
Reconciliation smells like Colonialism 2020.
In the same vein, the Conservatives continue to prove that they’ve learned nothing from their election defeat. Andrew Scheer, their lame-duck leader, awkwardly reframed the protests to include typical dog-whistle Conservative politics: rule of law, the economy, and “radical activists.” This framing is dangerous and puts Indigenous people at risk for violence from vigilante groups—whose actions were encouraged in a now-deleted tweet by Peter MacKay—and the police. However, as long as the violence against Indigenous bodies is in service to the economy, the RCMP can be used as an arm of the state at the whim of politicians to clear out the inconvenient Indigenous “radicals.” It’s not like they haven’t done it before, because that’s what they were founded to do.
It’s no wonder Scheer couldn’t win an election against the guy in blackface. When your campaign manager was a former Rebel Media director, your attitudes towards Indigenous issues have already been noted.
Jagmeet Singh continues his emoji politics. His squeegee responses and the fact that his provincial counterpart, B.C. Premier John Horgan, seem to be pursuing an agenda of aggressive whiteness puts him in a particular predicament for a so-called progressive party that extols the virtues of Indigenous rights. However, in a party whose leadership is mostly white, despite having a leader of colour, the tenets of white supremacy remain steadfastly adhered to in the form of Singh’s prior support of the Coastal GasLink project a year ago, despite protests and police violence. Horgan makes the NDP look more politically right than the “Conservatives-in-tree-pose” Greens; Elizabeth May, however, is surprisingly adroit on this issue.
The quote at the beginning is from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he was imprisoned in 1963 for participating in protests against segregation, or “illegal protests,” as they would be defined today by a very white Canadian media, whose defence of oppressive white supremacy continues to shape Canadian perceptions of legality and justice. As history would prove, MLK’s “illegality” influenced a nation still resistant to justice. Which side of history one wants to be on should factor into the political triangulations of everyone involved.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.