No offense but…

I recently had a fight with someone I consider a friend, and day three after the event, I am still trying to deconstruct how it all went so wrong.  This ordinarily would not be blog material, except that the situation is all too familiar, for me, and no doubt for many others.

I think these situations can come about in three different ways:

  • Someone says something she or he knows is offensive, with the intent to offend (honest bigotry).
  • Someone says something he or she is pretty sure is offensive, but feels that others will understand because it really wasn’t meant that way (dishonest “no offense but” bigotry).
  • Someone says something she or he honestly doesn’t know is offensive (unaware bigotry).

Let me state for the record, that being a bigot is not an incurable disease.  It is not everything you are.  It doesn’t necessarily move you from the ‘good’ column into the ‘bad’ column. In fact, I feel strongly enough about this that I want to shift the dialogue a little, in order to focus on people’s behaviours which are bigoted, rather on them as bigots.

The bigot

To me, a bigot is someone who has consciously chosen to remain prejudiced, either by omission (not trying to learn more) or by commission (learning, rejecting, rooting).

Someone who is unaware that there is any problem with their behaviours is not necessarily a bigot, imo.  Their behaviours are bigoted, yes…but the magical alchemy that changes someone from a person who does/says bigoted things into A Bigot, happens after their attention is drawn to to problem. It happens when that person either decides not to do anything about it (omission) or decides to learn more and then chooses to continue doing and saying those things (commission).

You can rant and rail all you want (I’ll be your willing chorus line) about systemic bigotry and how it is perpetuated in socio-political structures.  But I honestly believe on the individual level, people can change if they are given the opportunity…or else I wouldn’t even put the kind of effort into this blog that I do.  Nonetheless, I absolutely need to stress that it is not the job of the targets of bigotry to change minds.  The commitment has to come from within.

Short version?  Don’t be a bigot.

I’m a lover, not a fighter

Breaking bigoted behaviours into categories is useful for me, because it helps me determine my approach.  Dealing with full on bigots is something I try to avoid.  It’s too scary, honestly.  I shouldn’t be expected to try to ‘educate’ someone who straight up hates me because of the group I am a part of.  No one should be expected to  expose themselves to that level of psychological, emotional and even physical violence.  That’s ‘last resort’ stuff, in my opinion.

It’s shocking how often people do expect us to confront these kinds of people, however.  As though a failure to do so is the cause of the bigotry.  No lie.  And if it’s unclear here, this expectation is not restricted to indigenous peoples.

We are also expected to address bigoted behaviours, often for the same reason (if you don’t, it’s kind of your fault that they keep believing that).  This can actually be more traumatising, because rational people will understand why I’m loathe to go toe to toe with a swastika-tattooed woman in a “I hate Indians” t-shirt…but they might not understand why I’m pulling away from a discussion with a friend.

I feel that lack of understanding is at the root of ‘how things went so wrong’ recently.

So because I’m calmer today, I’m going to try to explain this, and hopefully when someone out there experiences the same sort of thing, they can avoid the anger and guilt and read this and go…I’m glad it’s not just me!

I can’t believe you just said that!

Here’s where it begins.  You’re blithely going about your day (or perhaps you’re even being a bit bitchy on an online forum) and then boom.  Someone says or does something that stops you in your tracks.  Fight or flight response, the adrenaline surges!  And maybe you don’t deal with it well.  You give into the anger and you attack, because it hurts.

Now let’s talk about spaces and armour.  Because there are certain spaces which aren’t safe, and you go into those spaces knowing this.  You prepare for what feels inevitable sometimes…you prepare for the thoughtless and incredibly discriminatory statements or actions.  It can be exhausting to be in these spaces, but maintaining your armour also becomes a bit of a habit.  When people say or do heinous shit in those spaces, it might still trigger you, but you’ve probably got a battle plan.

Then there are spaces which ought to be safe.  Even if intellectually you recognise they aren’t guaranteed to be.  The classroom for example.  You want it to be a safe space, but often it is anything but.  Or being around friends.  Even when you know that they aren’t the kind to pussy-foot around their opinions (and neither are you).

Being in places where you feel ought to be safe, you end up not necessarily as prepared.  Less armour.  Things can get to you in a way they might not when you’re expecting it.  Your reaction may be less ‘smooth’.  You might just fly off the handle.

You know.  Not that I’ve ever done this.  Repeatedly. *innocent eyes*

That’s so messed up, I can’t even talk to you about it.

So what do you do?  Different responses flood your mind.  Generally I have a burning need to be very clear that whatever was done or said isn’t okay.

But you also might be too shocked, and too angry to deal with the incredibly long and complex process I described in bullet form in the last post.  Or you might not have the opportunity to get into it (e.g. you’re in class or at work).  Or you might resent the fact that just pointing out that something was not okay too often means you are the ‘bad guy’ until you convince everyone otherwise.  And if you have anything like the burning need for vindication that drove me through high-school, a degree in Education and then a degree in Law, you’ll understand why it’s hard for some of us to ‘let it go’.

Sometimes these considerations cause you to remain silent and fester about it for a while.

Sometimes you blurt out the equivalent of “I can’t believe you just said that” and then you run, for all the reasons listed above.

That’s not my argument!

Almost invariably in these situations, someone makes your argument for you, either in their heads, or out loud. And almost invariably, it’s completely and utterly divorced from your actual concerns.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about certain topics.  A lot of those misconceptions centre around what people believe you (as a group and as an individual) want/think/advocate.

Not understanding our concerns is a root cause of bigotry.

The difficult in addressing this is one of the big reasons so many of us choose to disengage…because this is freaking HUGE.  Someone makes a comic or a statement or an argument that is bigoted, and instead of just being able to bring that to the person’s attention, you now have to also address the argument they’ve assigned to you.

It goes like this.  Someone disagrees that indigenous people have any more right to the land than someone who has been born there.  That’s a pretty fundamental issue for indigenous people, but the person saying this probably isn’t aware of just how fundamental it is.

So if you wanted to take on the monumental task of straightening out this confusion, you already would have to go into a lot of background about what land means to indigenous peoples, and about the plethora of ways in which people deny indigenous rights to land (any one of which could be motivating this person’s rejection of indigenous rights to land).  That’s a big task, right there.

Except you can’t even get to that part yet, because you have to wade through the things the other person thinks are ‘inherent to your position/argument’ first…because quite often, the person in question is going to throw these things in your face like facts, and then base their argument on your supposed position.

Maybe they think you want to kick all non-aboriginal people off the land and go back to living like we did pre-Contact (a fucking ridiculously common assumption that drives me up the wall every time).   And this is where things so often get turned around, and you get called the bigot.  That’s right.  This person doesn’t even actually know what your position is, but they think they do, and now if you don’t want to look like a bigot, you have to refute their false assumptions.

*throws hands up in air*

Sure, you win, whatever.

I’ve gotten good at spotting this problem, so I don’t get confused anymore when it comes to:

  1. recognising that someone has constructed a strawman argument (often without even realising it) and,
  2. fundamentally does not understand the initial position.

And I can basically say, sorry, that’s not my argument and you don’t actually understand the situation…

But that isn’t going to satisfy the other person. They’re going to want you to prove it.  Both that this is not your argument (by presenting what is often a complex argument) AND by refuting the initial statement/whatever.

If you can, walking away from this crap is a good idea.  The person you are dealing with does not understand what they are asking you to do, and just how much work would have to go into fulfilling that expectation. Even explaining to them what is involved in addressing their accusations requires you to deconstruct the power dynamic involved in this confrontation.

Not understanding how hard it is to deconstruct bigotry, and expecting the targets of it to do this for you, is an exercise in privilege.

This matters to me.

The issue in question is probably just an idle thought in the other person’s mind.  For you, it might be central to who you are.  And if it’s one of those ‘common beliefs’ people have about you and the the group you are a part of, you’ve probably had to go through this same dance so many times that your feet are just plain sore.

Talking about this stuff is hard.  No matter how safe the space.  Don’t understand why?  Go read the comments on any of the Huffington Post articles I’ve submitted, and you’ll see the level of evil shit people hurl at us all the time.  Someone suggested that maybe this was making me sensitive, and I had to laugh.  That statement assumes this is a recent thing I’ve been exposed to, rather than something I have spent my entire life immersed in.  Does it get to me more at some times than other times?  Sure.  But it is always there.  A background of hatred.

Not understanding how deeply these issues impact our daily lives is an exercise in privilege.

Not understanding how often we are called upon to defend ourselves on these issues, is an exercise in privilege.

I am willing to talk to people about these things.  I am willing to spend a lot of time doing it.  But I am not willing to have someone waste my energy when they don’t actually care about the issue; they just like arguing.  I am not willing to talk to someone who disrespects me by telling me what my argument is, rather than asking me.

I am not willing to go through all this effort with someone who demands I do so according to settler rules of adversarial debate. Particularly not when that person is a friend.

Requiring us to speak to you on your terms (or risk being dismissed), is an exercise in colonialism.

And there is another layer you might feel you need to point out to the person in question…but at that point, it’s often easier to just give up.

You have to want to understand.

Not everyone cares about your issues.  Some have never really encountered them before, so their behaviour falls into the ‘unaware bigotry’ category.

Others want to piss you off and make no bones about it.  These are the ones with behaviours that are in the ‘honest bigotry’ category…but encounters like these tend to be pretty rare, because it’s often the full on bigots that do this.

Some don’t understand the issues and perhaps haven’t made much effort  to learn more because these things do not impact them personally.  A lot of these people have behaviours that fall into the ‘dishonest “no offense but..” bigotry’ category.  Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that they have some sort of special exemption that absolves them of their bigoted behaviour.  Sometimes they think they have this exemption, because they are close to you and you know them better than that.  Broaching these subjects with friends can be even more stressful than bringing it up with a stranger.

Demanding that the targets of bigotry convince you to care about their situation, is oppressive.

I like to believe that people don’t want to be assholes all their lives, so when they find out they’re doing something bigoted, they will work to figure out how not to do that anymore.

It doesn’t always work this way, I get it.  But I can only do so much to persuade people to engage in the work necessary.  The rest of my energy must be spent on those who are trying already.

If you just don’t care about what matters to me, I’m not necessarily going to hold it against you.  I don’t need the whole world to be as interested in these issues as I necessarily am.

But I will not accept that not engaging immediately in all of the above work with someone who just made a bigoted comment, means I am just being a bitch for no reason.

I do expect others to learn enough to avoid engaging in active bigotry.  That may require learning something about the topic…or it may just mean not saying things about the situation when you don’t know anything about it.

Sometimes, silence is golden, people.


One last thing, before I present you with a little review.  There have been some excellent things written about solidarity movements, which by definition are made up of people who are not part of the group they are in solidarity with.  I bring this up, because some of the principles (such as decolonisation) involved in solidarity movements might help people understand what is involved in engaging actively in deconstructing bigotry.

Being supportive, or going further and being in solidarity with other people, requires that you do a lot of internal work.  That isn’t something you can expect other people to lead you through.  There are many resources out there for those interested in anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-sexism, etc etc etc.  Find them.  Learn from them.

Some things to think about.

So let’s review:

  • It is not the job of the targets of bigotry to change minds.
  • Not understanding our concerns is a root cause of bigotry.
  • Not understanding how hard it is to deconstruct bigotry, and expecting the targets of it to do this for you, is an exercise in privilege.
  • Not understanding how deeply these issues impact our daily lives is an exercise in privilege.
  • Not understanding how often we are called upon to defend ourselves on these issues, is an exercise in privilege.
  • Requiring us to speak to you on your terms or be dismissed, is an exercise in colonialism/oppression.
  • Demanding that the targets of bigotry convince you to care about their situation, is oppressive.

For more detailed information on how conversations get derailed into being about what the person exhibiting bigoted behaviours feels and wants, please check out Derailing for Dummies.

Thanks for your time, nitôtêmitik.

About âpihtawikosisân

Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Currently living in Montreal, Quebec. Passions: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. Education: BEd, LLB, working on a BCL
This entry was posted in Alienation, Decolonisation, Injustice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to No offense but…

  1. Sandra-Lynn says:

    kookum Chelsea when are we starting our new tv show? Charlotte is going on more dates soon and I think we need to be there in all our gear!

  2. Brian Fisher says:

    Bigotry is often a question of insisting that people have to play by rules that the bigot thinks are totally fair. Usually this is because those rules require little or no compromise on their part. “Why aren’t you satisfied?” is the question the powerful ask the disenfranchised.

  3. Arlene says:

    The most wonderful part about these trying times, is that technology enables us to communicate directly. Concentrate on those that are listening and don’t give up any power to the creeps. The government and media often fuel the fire of racism, but at least we now have a show like 8th Fire that has, to my surprise, lots of great videos and resources posted on its CBC web site. Getting stories into the regular school curriculum is a must. If I were a teacher wanting to discuss residential schools and indian agents etc, I would prefer to use materials made by native teachers.

  4. JazzSoup42 says:

    Dear Beloved Stranger of the Unpronounceable Name… 😉

    This is SUCH a well-thought-out and carefully written post! Quel surprise (comme d’habitude). But in this case, I think it’s clear that your work is easily transferable to other situations as well, and therefore *every* reader can learn something about *every* situation that involves prejudice, disrespect or any other form of non-equal interaction. *forward, forward, clickety, click, click*

    You have channelled the huge energy of your experiences into something that hugely benefits everyone in “eyeshot”, so to speak. 😉 I’m guessing that it’s *because* of your experiences, in other words, that it comes so “naturally” to you to deconstruct them. And doing so in such a caring and thorough way says to me that you have determinedly walked a lot of miles in those other guys’ sabots and slippers and such, whether you wanted to or not, non?

    Who’s going to second the motion that you need a (permanent) vacation from being required to do this constantly, whether or not it’s out loud? *frantically waving hand*

    I bet you just can’t wait to reLAX. I mean, really, truly, deep-down breathe-out somebody-else-can-take-the-ball-for-a-while-or-forever RELAX. Not telling you what to do, here, just wishing in your direction…

    BTW, DON’T YOU EVER GET _NOT_ SENSITIVE! (No danger, I don’t think. Just saying.) As somebody else I know said once, “I’m sensitive and I plan to stay that way.” Dammit.

    Some comic relief that came to me because of your post title: Years ago a friend of ours, who ironically is a “sensitive” person who likes to start arguments, had an encounter in an elevator where an Aboriginal person said to him mildly, without warning, “Outta the way, ya white prick,” then without a pause added thoughtfully, “No offense, eh.”

    Got me right in the heart, and I laughed my head off. Sometimes it’s okay to laugh. 🙂

    • Rhoda says:

      Nearly exactly what I felt. By the way, I think I’m totally white but, as there is undetermined bloodlines in my family tree I like to think I’d better not be prejudiced as I may be related. However, when I was in Grade 7, Chief Dan George came to my elementary school, Lloyd George, in Kamloops and he was hopping mad, really furious. I had never met such an angry man. I did understand he was self-identifying as Indian. Some of my friends at school were too but, they weren’t angry at ‘me’ like he was. I wondered why, and, ever since I’ve tried to listen, learn and understand. It seemed his anger was about something pretty huge and sensitive and as he was elderly I respected him automatically. I appreciated any clues I found and especially if someone of First Nations, Inuit, Metis trusted me enough to confide a clue, or to advise me that so much information had been wiped out that that was a part of the anger Chief Dan George was expressing as well. There are other reasons I strongly appreciate your well-spoken, courageous sharing, both on a personal and professional level, because my children are of First Nations descent and as a person believing everyone on this planet is deserving of every consideration. ♥ To hurt someone, you first have to dehumanize them.

  5. Lynda Vanhorne says:

    What percent of people in this world would you consider non prejudice? Every damn one of us are and have been all we can try to do is think before we speak.No one race or colour or religion is exempt. W hat do you think about the middle east people how they think about the people in of USA? You need to examine your own way of thinking, Last rant of yours reeks of bigotry!! If I had wrote this about meti or first Nations people you would be all over me.I would like to see a reply to this. please.

    • Hahahaha…did you just seriously accuse me of bigotry for explaining how to address bigoted behaviours?

      Ahhhhh. Thanks, I needed the comic relief, Lynda. You managed to hit a lot of points in a very small post! Like:

      – Not understanding our concerns. (Your strawman argument, where you claim that I support a bunch of stuff I never actually said or even implied, then attacking that argument and coming to the conclusion I’m a bigot.)

      – Not understanding how hard it is to deconstruct bigotry, and expecting the targets of it to do this for you. (“I would like to see a reply to this. Please” which sounds an awful lot like “justify yourself right now!)

      – Requiring us to speak to you on your terms or be dismissed.

      Well done!

      • Yvette says:

        As young woman, a friend in anger declared me to be an Indian! His body language was powerful as he towered over me. The hostile elaboration of his racial slur was that “I always was an Indian, I still was an Indian, and I was never going to be anything more than an Indian.” To this, I burst-out laughing and continued to do so whole heartedly. Seeing me belly-laughing my friend immediately realized his blunder and began belly-laughing too. To this day we share this humorous story with others. I am happy to report they too usually join-in with laughter at the ridiculousness of his statements.

        As I listen to the Settler community, I hear fear. It seems to me fear is the subtext of derogatory remarks directed at First Nations. It is a deep seated fear. Fear about admitting to each other and to themselves what it means to come to terms with horrors of complicity, and, yes, for some, perpetration. This perspective keeps bigotry/racism from penetrating my defenses. For me, what Settlers’ say about First Nations says a lot about Settlers. It says nothing about First Nations. Fear is fermenting in their community and manifesting into expressions of denial and anger (bigotry/racism).

        In South Africa and Germany many perpetrators and, both indirect and direct, conspirators of genocidal horrors could not bare their truth. It may well be that denial and anger expressed as bigotry/racism by the Settler community is their jump off point to beginning their own reconciliation with each other and individually.

        âpihtawikosisân, I truly value, respect, and honor the great work done here to engage in dialogue. Your strength is to be admired. And, there is a, not unwarranted, occasional bite to responses. For example, a commentary accusation is occasionally met and matched with a retaliatory responses that points out how the person is ‘wrong’. The Reader can experience this as salt-on-an-open-wound-experience when they have just learned social, historical and legal information that is psychologically disruptive.

        It would be easy at this point to assert that I am attempting to exercise colonialism by “requiring us to speak to you on your terms or be dismissed.” Instead, I argue, that this is an honest reflection exercise meant to probe about for intention… to ask if disparaging the less eloquent/knowledgeable diminishes this project’s objective? And if so, then how , if at all, are dysfunctional expressions of denial and anger to be best addressed? Silence was mentioned as being golden….

        Thank you again for the learning.

        • Thank you for your words, and I do see your point. This last round of comments has had me thinking a lot, and I still have not decided how I feel about it. On one hand, it seems an almost satirical presentation of something I alluded to in this post…how even discussing these things causes people to become so upset that they turn around and accuse you of being racist. Against them, I think. So it seems to me hard to believe that someone could read that, and then go on to do exactly what I described.

          On the other hand (and I may end up with more than two here, just warning you :D) I did speak about how these conversations can trigger a fight or flight response, on both sides, which can cloud reactions.

          So I struggle with how patient, and understanding to be. And that is difficult to do when someone attacks you. Yet here I am, telling people that when someone tells them they have been offended, it is important to listen.

          But there is an important dynamic involved that cannot be forgotten. For example, when a disabled person tells an able-bodied person that a certain action or phrase was offensive…they might do so in the heat of the moment, upset at what hurt them. I do ask people in that situation to consider their words and not immediately ask the other person to justify their words with long explanations and deconstructions. Shouldn’t I then apply the same standard to the able-bodied person who is upset at having their behaviour called discriminatory?

          But frankly, when able-bodied, cisgendered, heterosexual settlers respond to these discussions with accusations of racism, something else is going on. There is certainly something being triggered, and I think you’d hit on it well…there is guilt and shame and discomfort and so there can be lashing out. Except this lashing out is often used to silence, in a way that perpetuates power structures, keeping the ‘other’ in their place. Silent. So the standard being applied is already different. There is no equality in power imbalance, and ignoring that is merely another facet of privilege.

          When I talked about ‘silence is golden’, I was indeed invoking the golden rule. But I also feel that we have a duty NOT to be silent when people engage in oppressive behaviours, so it’s a difficult balance to keep.

          To bring this back to the reaction to my latest post…if the argument is, this discussion is making non-native people feel uncomfortable (and please note, my discussion was not limited to the native experience), then I’m afraid that’s simply too bad. That discomfort is exactly what is needed in order to get people to reexamine their behaviours. Facing this stuff IS uncomfortable. If it isn’t, you’re not doing it right.

          Does that mean I have to act like a saint, or have everything I say be invalidated? That is certainly the expectation I encounter in these situations. That unless every word I say is kind, and helpful, and full of compassion for ‘other people’s points of views’ (unfortunately the ones demanding this are often part of the majority culture who have their views respected via force regardless of what I have to say), I am somehow failing…well it’s a load of shit. It is another way of saying that we are responsible for bigotry if we aren’t nice enough to people who attack us.

          Does that mean that I have somehow insinuated I am perfect, and do not fail where everyone else is flawed? That is another accusation I hear a lot when I talk about these things. This is another straw in the strawman argument used to mischaracterise the dialogue about bigotry and deconstruction, and I don’t have a lot of time for it. When I point out that none of us are perfect, I’m in that ‘us’.

          (Just want to point out here that I’m springboarding off your words, not saying you are advocating any of this. I’m working through my reactions and perhaps fleshing out the post above a bit more.)

          Anyway. I don’t have trouble with the ‘less articulate’. Some approaches piss me off because of who I am as an individual, while someone else might laugh and move on. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I have been very clear in my approach on this blog when it comes to comments. If you (the general you, as in any person) can come here, and engage in a respectful dialogue, I will take the time necessary to understand what point you are trying to get across. But if you come here with accusations and demonstrate no attempt to dialogue but merely want to state your anger for the record…well, the world is your oyster. I don’t have to allow my blog to become the place for all the discomfort of those who are threatened by discussions of privilege and bigotry and oppression.

          I endeavour to write when I am calm, and at my most willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. If that still is not good enough for some people…if I am still too ‘angry’ or whatever, then they can find someone else to read.

          It is not my job to convince them that I am nice enough to listen to.

          Anyway. Sorry for the huuuuuge rant. I really do have to consider how I respond to people on this blog, and it’s an ongoing process of reflection. It is tricky, because these issues are so sneaky sometimes…people can type up well-meaning phrases that are profoundly rooted in an oppressive world-view that rejects our ways of knowing…and they probably don’t even realise they are doing it. It can be jarring to feel like you are saying something good and supportive, and then have someone point out why these words are symptomatic of an acceptance of dispossession or marginalisation (as an example). But I sort of feel I need to address those things. That’s pretty much the point.

          Then you have people who do get upset and aren’t able to articulate everything that is upsetting them. I can be patient with that up to a certain extent…but when it’s just more of the ‘you made me uncomfortable, I can’t believe how racist you are!’ well…I can’t waste all my time addressing every negative thing people want to believe about me. I’d get nothing else done.

          Yikes. Coffee+thoughtful response = verbal typhoon.

        • I also want to point out that I have considered just trashing these kinds of comments…but I don’t. I haven’t had to do that much here, shockingly enough.

  6. JazzSoup42 says:

    I forgot to say that our burly, verbally-pugilistic friend just stood there with his mouth open for a split-second, and then burst out laughing. And he has a great laugh. I can just picture the Aboriginal guy hearing that and walking away with a grin on his own face. Like I said, gets ya right in the heart.

  7. Emo says:

    I have to weigh in with a highly technical point here that (brace yourself) you probably didn’t see coming.

    Bigot has both an unclear denotation and a weak etymology. Why? Well… the awkward truth is that the origin of the term itself is itself a kind of racial slur: “…as a surname Bigott, Bygott are attested in Normandy and in England from the 11c., and French name etymology sources (e.g. Dauzat) explain it as a derogatory name applied by the French to the Normans…” (source of the quote and the rest of the story on the history of the term:

    For anyone who complains that I dare to mention this: there was a time (one whole year ago) when this was a language and pedagogy blog.

    The primary reason to avoid using the word bigot is simply its lack of clarity, however, in a world where people denounce one-another as racist because they consider terms like “native” to be implicitly offensive, it is practically impossible to employ “bigot” as a factually valid category.

    By contrast, the terms racist and also racialist are fairly clear and specific in their meaning; I’m aware that people are avoiding these terms as “fighting words”, but there’s something to be said for accuracy.

    And, in related news, your new favorite website is: (it’s a sort of “social experiment” in gathering together the implicitly and explicitly racist statements that people make, in their own words, immediately after stating the disclaimer “I’m not racist, but…”).

    • The reason I use bigot is because it is a general term. There are more things involved in bigotry than racism. I’m not the type to get super hung up on specific terms:)

      • Emo says:


        With all due respect, the problem with using overly general terms (such as “bigot”, in this case) is that they can come to mean “anyone who doesn’t agree with me”.

        I’m going to start a website (parallel to examining the pattern of people saying disrespectful things immediately after the phrase, “with all due respect”.

        • No offence but…with all due respect…hahahaha. The problem for me is, I’m not just talking about racism. I’m also talking about homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc, etc, etc. I’ve got to use some sort of term. I could spend a lot of time wandering through a linguistic labyrinth trying to find just the right phrase or term, but that tends to annoy the hell out of me. I think that’s the job of those who enjoy that sort of thing.

          I think bigot is a good enough term. It’s clearly negative. It refers to discriminatory behaviours towards people because of their characteristics or group identity. Yes, people will turn around and use this term to mean ‘anyone who doesn’t agree with me’, but so what? Calling people reverse-racist or hetereophobic, or whatever ‘reverse’ terms they like to create to blame marginalised peoples for bringing up the uncomfortable topic of discrimination, doesn’t mean much to me. It’s just smoke and mirrors.

        • Emo says:

          To say one more sentence about it:

          Consider that the same way you regard bigots (as being self-evidently wrong about everything) is pretty much the same way that Christians regard me. I’m openly non-Christian, but I’m well read in both the Bible and the history of the church; from their perspective, I’m making the (self-evidently wrong) decision to go to hell, while fully understanding all of the issues and options. It isn’t out of ignorance that I’m not Christian; it’s an intentional refusal.

          This may seem like a strange parallel (and it is), but I’m inviting everyone to think outside of the box for a minute.

          If we look back and forth at each other over this kind of invidious divide, then, indeed, from the perspective of the Christians, I’m a bigot, and from my perspective they’re bigoted against me.

          The politics of Christianity (and the rejection of Christianity) = hard for anyone to address or deal with, inside or outside of the First Nations communities involved.

          Example from ᐆᒉᐳᑯᒨ, Quebec:

          I can’t say that any of the racism I encounter (amongst grown adults) is unintentional, inadvertent, nor out of pure ignorance (people who are truly “pure” in their ignorance also tend to be open minded… because they’ve never really heard of any of the issues involved before…).

          I can’t say that it helps if I sincerely tell the Christian majority that surrounds me that I’d rather go to hell than agree with them. Hell, at least, is equal opportunity.

        • If you’ve got a suggestion besides ‘racism’ which is so severely limited in scope, I’d be willing to consider it. Until then, I have to work with the words I’ve got, or risk not being able to communicate with anyone.

          I disagree that ‘not agreeing with me’ is a valid use of the term bigot, and if people want to pretend it is, that’s their problem, not a problem with the word. Unless you are perpetuating and engaging in prejudice and marginalisation against said Christians, then I’d evoke the image of smoke and mirrors again. It’s like not using the term ‘feminism’ because a big group of people use that word to mean ‘man-hating lesbian seperatists who want to destroy civilisation’.

  8. Rhoda says:

    Excellent statement above on every person’s rights whether for dealing with a bigot, an anti-First Nations, anti-minority or an abuser of any kind. Respect, caring, kindness and willingness to learn and better understand are pre-requisites to asking of someone information in order to understand their circumstances and perspective especially when the topic is endemic to their identity and character.

  9. Claire says:

    Ah, yes – laughing. I want to just go off on a tangent somewhat. At the beginning of your post, I thought “Oh, God, that’s just what I did last weekend. (“Someone says something he or she is pretty sure is offensive, but feels that others will understand because it really wasn’t meant that way (dishonest “no offense but” bigotry”). Because…. I am the mother of 2 wonderful adult sons and married to an equally wonderful man. I really do HATE man jokes. You know the kind – that portray men as idiots or mindless boozers. I know that every man was somebody’s lovely wee baby, just like the baby girls. We ARE more alike than we are different. Somewhere along the line, some of those guys got diverted into a less-than-ideal path. And yet, and yet….as a “second wave” feminist, I remember the times when male privilege was accepted wholeheartedly (see Mad Men). And I laugh, often quite heartily, at the jokes about men. They talk to a time when that WAS to the point. But it’s changing. So what did I do last weekend? I assured my dinner table guests that I only share those jokes with my old feminist friends and don’t distribute them any further. My younger son became quite cross at my sexism. And I feel bad about it. At the same time, I know that my perspective is that of someone on the short end of the stick, AKA a woman, in this context. My point? I dunno. Maybe just that humour at the expense of the oppressor is understood by many. So…anyone got some good jokes?

  10. Lynda Vanhorne says:

    It seems to me as long as you and some of the people that comment on here can say what ever you please to some white or non indian and its just so funny. What makes it alright for you to say these kind things but god forbide if someone inavertentally says something to you and it was obvious to me he/she didn`t understand what was said was such a faux pau.You know something I won`t be reading any more of your blogs because you are not trying to help anyone understand anything about the history or culture..As far as I`m concerned you a educated person are not helping anyone only condoning hatred.The hurtful things that you have had to hear and put up with are not true and you know it.You earn respect you can`t demand it.

    • I haven’t the slightest idea what you managed to find offensive in my post, but I suspect you constructed it, stuffed it with straw, and propped it up there somewhere. To claim I have said anything hateful is laughable at best. I’m sorry you were so actively seeking to be offended, but I am happy you got your wish.

      Enjoy your weekend!

    • morehistory says:

      Lynda: The hurtful things that you have had to hear and put up with are not true and you know it.You earn respect you can`t demand it.

      Well, really that goes both ways.
      You can’t believe it’s ok to DISrespect someone, and then expect them act respectfully to you?

      I can’t act as a witness for âpihtawikosisân, as I only know her through this blog. But I have seen, heard, and been witness to many disgusting displays against Aboriginal people.
      I’m pretty amazed you feel confident in calling âpihtawikosisân a liar over something you would have to know her pretty well to have any real knowledge about.

      Linda: if someone inavertentally says something to you and it was obvious to me he/she didn`t understand what was said was such a faux pau.

      This isn’t something that is limited to Aboriginal issues either, to be clear.
      Making a faux pas is human — all humans make mistakes.
      I think the clear point here is that because one person makes a mistake, it shouldn’t
      obligate the offended person to launch into a history and culture lesson to explain the offense and then require a followup debate to justify it.

      Linda: I won`t be reading any more of your blogs because you are not trying to help anyone understand anything about the history or culture… [you are] only condoning hatred.

      LA LA LA I can’t hear you … what an enlightened way to respect someone who you seem to disagree with.
      âpihtawikosisân is a passionate writer. But she is (not yet) a professor, and none of us are sitting in her classroom. And while I’ve learned alot from reading this blog, I’ve learned as much from other resources that I’ve explored. I think the focus here is to get you thinking, as well as to express feelings and frustrations.
      I also don’t see condoning of hatred. I see sometimes humanity and anger, but I see a lot of reflection and a lot of compassion. Hatred bring heat, where understanding brings light. We should always strive to bring light, not heat, to a situation.

      • I am still struggling to figure out what Lynda was so upset about to be honest.

        • korenle says:

          Wow.. i just read this thread.. Sometimes people go to the strangest places to seek affirmation. I can attest to what you are doing here to create an awareness and educate. How people read or read into it is completely up to them. Keep up the awesome work.

  11. morehistory says:

    âpihtawikosisân, some bigotry can be attributed to poor education or a poor background in the issues — and these are usually people who are willing to look at their misconceptions and change them, even if it’s hard.

    I’ve encountered a few “new” types of bigot though, and they irritate me more then even unrepentant ones. These are “educated” bigots, who through the use of statistics and seemingly logical argument attempt to build a “solid” case. They use sources, and quote treaties, and might even add anecdotal evidence from time to time, which seems to show that the “anti” crowd is right. Now, Aboriginals don’t have a monopoly on these educated bigots — I have seen people behave this way toward many marginalized groups, and it’s not always the same people.

    The reason that they irritate me more then others is because, at first glance, it seems like they might actually be on to something. Without research or checking, they might seem scholarly and knowledgeable, and it seems like they might have a point — maybe they are even right.

    My main irritation is that otherwise reasonable people can be swayed by these seemingly “academic” arguments. Make no mistake, though — while these “educated” bigots dress in the robes of “reasonableness” and “logic”, it is obvious that their academic “curiosity” only extends to examining one stance, while continuously ignoring any evidence that might counter that stance.

    A concrete example: On a comment board, one particular commenter writes at length about how the Feds are giving more then what is written in the treaties. At first glance, this might seem like a reasonable argument — if you and I sign a contract, we should have to adhere to the terms stated. Since I’ve recently been learning about this, I take up the challenge. Various First Nations have an understanding of the treaties they signed, which is different from what is written in those treaties. The treaties were written in English, a language that many FN people didn’t understand, so they needed a translator. (One could also argue they needed a lawyer, but I’ll digress). They did have one, but it seems odd that many treaties over many years were mis-translated so that the FN all have different understandings of what they were promised then was written.
    Now, there are more issues then I’ve stated, but this should be enough for a reasonable person to question the premise of “what is written in the treaties”.

    Our particular commenter then goes on to ask “How do we know that the oral history is accurate” and in another comment, “What keeps the Indians from changing the story”.
    It’s a great illustration, because it exemplifies the one stance examination. The only questions asked are aimed at the FN — no mention is made of the Gov’t negotiators, what their motivations or prejudices were. There are also what I call the “minor digs” … here, using Indian rather then Aboriginal or First Nation, outside of something discussing the Indian act.

    Now, if it was one comment or two, then maybe it’s someone with pure intent who is playing devil’s advocate in a thread or two. But when such commentary is persistent and plentiful, there is clearly another agenda at play. It’s an attempt to make unrepentant bigotry palatable by knowing the issues and sounding academic in your treatment.

    It’s clear there is a lot of prejudice and bigotry out there, âpihtawikosisân. We each have to do what we can to combat it — and you’ve already contributed an immeasurable share to that. (And I’ll thank you again for it)

    • I have the same concerns about the ‘educated’ bigots as you. They are a scary bunch, and sometimes they even seem like they are pro-whatever-group-they’re-discussing. Using western liberal notions of equality-as-sameness, they argue that respecting other people’s differences is actually incredibly bigoted. They can twist these arguments to and fro, and it takes experience with that sort of thing to spot it. But these people are entrenched, ‘commission’ bigots imo.

      Then you have the kind of people you discuss, who approach these conversations in an apparently rational fashion, but work from a base of cultural assumptions they never examine, and which fuel all their questions and points. These are the ones who are engaging in “dishonest bigotry”, in the sense that they do not see themselves as doing anything wrong at all. They don’t recognise how marginalising the views of others is of course going to lead to the outcome they want.

      There are ways to deal with these people, and the bulk of my time is spent doing exactly that. The ‘four corners’ crowd, who want to analyse ‘what is actually in the Treaties (on the page)’ don’t last long when you point out (as Pam Palmater did) that nowhere in the numbered Treaties were water rights ceded. That nowhere in the Peace and Friendship Treaties was land ceded. That their argument actually works against them. Etc.

      Yet they often miss the point that you are not accepting their ‘four corners’ interpretation…but rather highlighting how silly the approach is. The desire is to get beyond that approach into something more meaningful, but when you have a ‘weekend warrior’ crowd of online commentators, there is no real desire to get into it any further on their side. They will merely keep repeating the same thing over and over.

      My hope is that more people will have the tools to refute these arguments, cutting down on the pointless chatter, so those of us trying to get things done don’t always have our energy sucked away by the same lampreys of online and in-person trolling.

      • JazzSoup42 says:

        Also, this form of “argument” is a HUGE red herring, whether or not it’s conscious.

        What if the treaty had been that I would “only” kill one of your children, and I actually “let” three of them live? I could then quite “reasonably” argue that I had surpassed the requirements of such a treaty, and indignantly ask what people are on about…

        • morehistory says:

          JazzSoup42: Also, this form of “argument” is a HUGE red herring, whether or not it’s conscious.

          The “educated” bigots that I’m talking about are conscious. They are knowledgeable about different First Nation bands (many more then I am), about treaties, about protests and injustices. They’ve obviously gone to a lot of trouble and read far and wide to know what they know. But they use their vast amount of research to advance an agenda, rather then trying to uncover the truth.

          I’d disagree it’s a red herring, though. It’s an attempt to “civilize” and “elevate” the discussion, and to use certain facts and logic to “prove” that First Nations are in the wrong. It’s an attempt to put lipstick and makeup on pig.

          Focusing on what a treaty says misses some of the point, though. Even if you think the Government has fulfilled it’s treaty obligations (I don’t), there was a clear policy by that Government to eliminate those obligations by defining who could reap the benefits and then trying to move people off those benefits. A treaty discussion needs context, including details of negotiation and implementation.

          âpihtawikosisân made a point that went through me like a dagger several blog posts ago. It’s that “Aboriginal law” has NOTHING to do with the culture, traditions or methods that First Nations used — but rather how legal traditions imported from Europe are used by settlers and their proxies to rule over them. This kind of thing gives our “educated” big advantage, as almost no one considers “Aboriginal law” in this way, as our view of “law” is very culturally centric.

  12. Me No Speak Frenglish! says:

    While I was in Alberta, a “friend” of mine said “Oh, I live in Wetaskiwin. Because the Indians live close by, there are lots of bars and liquor stores.” I totally know what you mean about “safe” spaces and people. I got that hot anger and that feeling in my gut that tells me to immediately punch the person who is speaking. But I didn’t. She was my ride home and honestly, it was exhausting to think about getting into “it” with her. So I was angry but I let it go. And then I was mad at myself for letting it go. I think maybe I will passive- aggressively send her this post. Lol.

  13. Lynda Vanhorne says:

    I consider myself told off royally.My only defense is that to retaliate to these people in a smartass way doesn`t teach the bigot anything except keep the anger and hatred going. I repeat you are intelligent people raise above the bigotry thats been said because you know the things being said is not true about you or your people. I`m Sorry about all the horrible things done to you in name of religion in the past and our childern all are paying in a horrible way for the actions of the sick and depraved among us. I had better stop now before I get in any more shit…..

  14. Lynda Vanhorne says:

    I have been thinking about what set me off, too strongly I`d say, but I`m quick to anger and shoot off like a cannon. Its a learned behavior thing from home.I know its wrong but its usually a feeling of being done wrong that sets me off.instantly. I am sorry!!
    I couldn`t explain what set me off about your blog about bigotry and how a person should or could answer it back until I read the responses from Emo .The feeling I got was If I didn`t agree with everything you said then you were calling me A BIGOTin capital letters.I try hard not to judge anyone unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. As the old saying goes.Then when I read the responses from your reads and they agreed with everything you said which sounded like [yes master] to me. I should of asked you nicely if that was how you expected others to view your blog.
    THats how I saw it I`m sorry to say.
    Is there not a danger of getting so buried in the past wrongs done to you and your familys that a person can become incapable in raising themselves above it to lead their life now in a meaning way and in the future. I guess I`m trying to say inspite of it all.?

    • Sure there is a danger of that, but most people I know don’t waste their time that way. We wouldn’t bother trying to explain these things if we weren’t trying to move on with life. Take a look at Wab Kinew on 8th fire…he says more than once, “I’m not mad” and then deals with painful stuff because it has to be dealt with. That’s part of how we move on. People can unlearn bigoted behaviours, and that’s the entire point of this post. The post was also to help people understand how dealing with the targets of bigotry can become an exercise in oppression if there isn’t a real internal commitment to that change.

    • Emo says:

      With all due respect… I do think this particular pair of blogs from âpihtawikosisân directly resulted from some kind of (undisclosed) feud with a longtime friend, and the extent to which the author was upset when writing at least the first of the two (if not both of them) was obvious to many of the readers (including myself). I agree, BTW, that it was a little strange to see a chorus of unconditional agreement following after this venting of her frustration (as Lynda comments), but a great deal of this was simply people wanting to express support, in the context of what were largely autobiographical (and emotionally charged) articles.

      By contrast, the replies to her comments on the RCAP were rather more cerebral.

      “We” have a big problem in Canada (in this context “we” = everyone, of all races, etc.) with approaching both strangers and loved ones with the demand, “either you agree with exactly the political doctrine I’m setting down, or else I’m never talking to you again”. At least throughout anglophone Canada, it’s endemic to the milieu.

      You can see this in each and every walk of political life in Canada. Anyone who has spent time with LGBT groups can tell stories about people being castigated (and cast out) for not using precisely the same nomenclature for “queer” issues as some other member in the group (cf. my comments above about people getting screamed at for using the words “native” vs. “non-native” in a value-neutral sense). In political causes both grand and trivial, the same mentality prevails: of absolute conformity to an ideal (often badly defined to begin with) or else absolute dehumanization (as a bigot or otherwise).

      I can remember turning up at a political event concerning a really down-to-earth environmental issue (it was either a specific sewage treatment plant, or a specific hydro dam issue, etc.) and I was immediately denounced as being an undercover cop (!) because I expressed some mild skepticism and disagreement with what some of the other people standing around were screaming into the microphone of the lone CBC reporter (I’m pretty sure the CBC didn’t bother reporting anything that happened that day). In Canada, you can be denounced as a cop, bigot, homophobe or heretic, just for differing in the slightest way imaginable from those around you. I’ve seen this in academic settings, in formal party politics, and in many walks of life in-between. We don’t have an intellectual culture that appreciates dissent, difference, or debate; instead, we have a really hostile set of social norms that are largely “left over” from the cold war era (e.g., either you’re for nuclear war or your against it, and if you don’t agree entirely with us, you’re cast out, denounced, and possibly suspected of being an undercover cop, etc.).

      A certain sense of paranoia sets in, because anyone can have their credentials held up to a shifting standard of scrutiny at any time, and everyone is always attacking everyone else for failing to live up to their presumed ideals, even in groups that are supposedly defined in terms of “inclusivity” and “providing support” (LGBT groups being a good example). All of this exacerbates the intellectual isolation that is, to some extent, a natural result of Canada’s geography. I sent a very mild e-mail to an anti-war group, asking why they were combining an anti-war message with an anti-prison message (meanwhile, I note, I’ve been trying to volunteer with various prison charities… so I know a little more than zero about the issues); let me assure you, I have never heard from that anti-war group again, and I never will. If I disagree with them in the slightest matter possible I’m dehumanized as an enemy of the people, and never spoken to again (in this case, e.g., I had mildly suggested that prisons should be better funded so that people in jail can have access to books, education, etc., whereas their position is that prison funding should not increase in any way).

      Canadians (of all races) tend to live in very small circles of friends, and the average political movement tends to be dominated by some coven of people who have known each other since high-school, and who just barely tolerate the presence of anyone who they don’t trust on the basis of this kind of shared background, traced back to childhood. Despite much more repressive political conditions, I think I can say that there’s more legitimate dissent in an average Chinese karaoke parlor than there is in Canada’s (self styled) dissident factions.

      WIth all that having been said, why do so many people read âpihtawikosisân’s blog? I think it is partly because of the contrast to this milieu (that I’ve been lamenting above). There are a lot of issues dealt with here in a “safe” space that are very difficult to ever discuss verbally in Canada, and, as the author of the blog has complained, they’re even difficult to discuss elsewhere on the internet (I think the comments section of the National Post is her preferred bête Noire?).

      • The odd thing from my perspective, is that I feel at least the “No offense but…” article was even less confrontational than much of my previous stuff.

      • Lynda Vanhorne says:

        to Emo
        You explained this “no affence but…..” is an affence to me for some reason,probably because when someone says that to me, It means your wrong and what I have to say is right and fighting words. I understand that this is a place to vent feelings in a safe place but it wasn`t meant for me to vent what i felt. I had better not say any more on this blog.

        I want to thank you for explaining why i felt the way I did and putting it into words explaining much much better then I ever could. I consider myself a native of Canada I was born here and lived all my life here. Thanks again!!

  15. Catherine says:

    Hi there – fantastic post, thank you. Just a quick comment: in a post about fighting bigotry, I reckon it’s probably not best to use the word ‘spazz’. I’m sure it was just a slip up, but ableist slurs aren’t helping anyone 🙂

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