By George Patrick
In the little town in northern Scotland where I went to school fifty years ago there lived a man who had been a tea planter in India. He supplemented his income by boarding Indian boys who were the products of “mixed marriages” i.e. of British fathers and Indian women. The life of such people in Indian society, as you may know, was not an easy one. Rejected by Indians and looked down on by the snotty whites, these “Eurasians” lived in a twilight world of betwixt and between. Their schooldays in our town provided at least a few years of temporary relief from their (literally) outcaste world. It wasn’t perfect, for most Scots were racists then, as many are today. Scots, like all defeated and colonized peoples, have a huge chip on their collective shoulder, which they sometimes express in straight-from-the-shoulder racial epithets, starting with the English and working their way out around the globe. (On my last trip home, I was bemused by my family’s comments about “White Settlers.” It eventually dawned on me they were referring to English people who bought retirement homes in Scotland. As is often the case, behind the semi-jocular tone lurked something darker.)
Fifty years ago our town was lily white. The nearest to a non-white was my swarthy pal Lammy, who was part-Maori. To compound the error of his existence, Lammy was a (very bad) Catholic in a Calvinist community. As a result, he was something of an outsider, and I was the new boy in town who spoke with a funny accent, and was desperately shy. And so we gravitated towards each other, even though I knew that non-white people were inferior, with all kinds of deplorable moral defects that varied according to their precise ethnic origins. I knew this in the same way that I knew that “poofters” or “queers” were vile, that there was something wrong with Jews (although I had never actually met one and knew nothing about them), that divorced women were bad (but sexually “easy”), that a woman’s place was in the home, and that the male was inherently superior to the female. I held these truths to be self-evident. So although I liked Lammy a lot, I never quite forgot that he was not exactly, y’know, one of us.
The Anglo-Indian boys were very nice youngsters who seemed to mix well at school (much better than I) and appeared to be happy. Then Mr. MacTaggart, the retired tea planter, was persuaded by a Christian mission to take in two more boys. They were sea Dyaks from Sarawak who had been raised and educated by Christian missionaries. Now, I happen to believe that the human race would be much better off without all the god stuff and its multitude of absurd religions, but I must confess that if even a small fraction of Christians were as fine exemplars of their faith as those two young men I would be forced to re-examine my beliefs. I’ve never met any other people who gave off such an aura of sweetness, purity and goodness. I truly felt humbled in their presence. Strange to think that their own grandfathers had taken part in raids on other villages, killing the men, decapitating them and returning home to begin the long business of shrinking the heads to hang about their huts.
I’ve always considered Mr. (Pierre) Trudeau’s multicultural policy a classic example of murky Liberal thinking. It has that lovely warm fuzzy feeling that allows Liberals to think they really are, well, liberal! They get to hug themselves for being so gosh darn tolerant. And — most important — they get to mop up the ethnic vote during elections! The trouble is, the policy is hopelessly wrongheaded. Yes, in the great Canadian goulash of languages and cultures and religions, we should all be tolerant of each other. Few would argue with that. We’ve all learned from history that intolerance has killed more people than tuberculosis, malaria or bubonic plague. Live and let live makes very good sense.
However, encouraging tolerance towards other people and their way of life is one thing, propping up cultures with federal tax dollars is quite another thing. For the stark truth is, most, perhaps all of the cultures that have come down to us from the past are simply not worth preserving or sponsoring. Most of our cultures are rooted in, and many still reek of values that are abhorrent to us — racism, sexism, genocide, imperialism, and so on.
Which, for example, of the cultures from my youth do you think we should celebrate with federal tax dollars? Perhaps the Indian and British cultures that treated their own young as pariahs because they came of mixed races? What about the Dyak headhunting culture? Or maybe the culture that produced me — a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, vaguely anti-semitic young man? I suggest we should shrink from all of them in horror.
The Canadian society in which my children were raised remains, like all human endeavours, imperfect, but in its values it is superior to almost anything else one can find in the broad sweep of history. I am sometimes surprised, and encouraged, by the utter absence in most young Canadians of all the nasty little bigotries that made up the daily fabric of my early life. We are a fortunate people. I believe the past should be studied for insights into the human condition. I don’t believe the past should be venerated. Most of our cultures are steeped in bloodshed, cruelty and injustice, and imbued with ideas repugnant to all except stupid and ugly minds. They serve only to remind us of what a bunch of schmucks we humans can be. We should cherish the values of our (generally) tolerant, just and decent society — and say good riddance to all that ugly, silly, musty baggage from the past.