Beyak controversy offers a good chance to talk about racism

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
January 9, 2018 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — I wonder if we’ll ever be able to have a respectful debate about racism in this country.

It’s such a deeply sensitive subject that we just don’t seem able to even mention the word unless it’s in anger. Racism. And yet, the word is so commonly used it’s starting to lose effectiveness.

Senator Lynn Beyak has been kicked out of the federal Conservative caucus. The move is justified in view of her refusal to remove letters — or rebut them at least — from her Parliamentary website that refer to Indigenous people as “lazy” and that say they should be grateful for residential schools.

Still, there are subtleties worth talking about. For example, Beyak has stated that some residential school teachers were “well-intentioned” and that their “good deeds” should be acknowledged.

When she made those remarks last March, she also pointed out that “horrible mistakes” were made, but that even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted that some students benefited from the acquisition of new skills and friendships.

Obviously, the overwhelming harm done by residential schools far outweighs any good. Attempted assimilation not only endangered an entire culture but resulted in abuses that scarred generations.

Yet Beyak’s dismal attempt to bring her own idea of balance to the debate has created a teachable moment in which we as a country can look inwardly to our own humanity.

Nothing about this issue is simple. If we only react with the kind of ignorance laid bare in the letters posted on Beyak’s site, or condemn every nuance as right or wrong, good or evil, in simplistic terms, we miss an opportunity.

If we can admit the complexity of the issue, we can start a constructive conversation about it, including the actions and intentions of many of those who were part of the residential school system.

If we can do that, maybe can have that respectful debate.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.