Oh Ms. Beyak,
It’s been about ten days since I wrote to you. I’m willing to bet you were hoping it would just all go away, in fact, your comments (where you consistently refer to yourself in the third person) to the CBC in this article suggest that you have nothing more to say on the matter and labelled reaction to your comments “fake news and exaggeration”. As one commentor told me, and I quote, “You’ve gone Full Trump.”
Seriously though, come on now, most of those who spoke out have done their own research, as you so dismissively suggested and others continue to educate themselves and learn about this nasty part of Canadian history. Many still have lived the experiences that you minimized with your original statements about the residential school experience. And so many never survived to tell their stories. Those speaking out against your comments are very well informed. Nothing about what happened to the aboriginal communities is fake news. Nothing in their reaction is fake news or exaggeration. Nothing. Your attempts to paint this coverage as “fake news and exaggeration” is just another sign of the lengths you will go to minimize, dismiss and ignore the people you were appointed to serve and the lengths you will go to protect your privilege.
You continue to ignore the calls for an apology and recognition of the error that you’ve made (which frankly is the absolute minimum you could do). You continue to ignore the calls for you to step down from the Senate’s Aboriginal People’s Committee (for example, by Ms. Dyck). You continue to ignore the calls for you to resign from the senate (for example, from Mr. Saganash among hundreds of others). You continue to ignore the voices of aboriginal people who have called you to task. Members of the Conservative Party, from which you received your powerful appointment, can’t distance themselves from you far enough or fast enough and you ignore that. And in doing all of that, you are becoming the poster child for why Canada needs, at a minimum, serious Senate reform.
You have, according to this article, agreed to meet with the Sioux Lookout Reconciliation Committee at some date in the coming several months. I truly hope you make that meeting, that you treat it seriously and that you do it as soon as it can be accomplished. If you are not willing to jump on that opportunity to learn, an opportunity for dialogue, then really – step down.
Also, while we’re here… “I have friends who are aboriginal…” and “The people I talked to are Christians…” Really? Seriously? While that may be true, and I really shouldn’t have to point this out, you don’t sit in the Senate to serve your friends. You are serving Canada, more than 35 million of us. I also shouldn’t have to point out the similarity between you saying “I have friends who are aboriginal…” and any other “passive” racist who begins a sentence with “I have friends who are black…” or “I grew up next door to an Indian boy…” do I? “Passive” is in quotes because, really, racism is always aggression.
Maybe you’d like to hear what some Christian leaders have to say about your comments. I woke to a beautiful letter this morning. A beautiful piece of reconciliation, education, ownership and love. If it hasn’t made it to you yet, maybe you should take a read. Letter to Lynn Beyak from the Anglican Church.
Stop ignoring the backlash, Senator Beyak. As uncomfortable as it is, as much as you might want to shut this down, it is not going away. You chose public office and that comes with public remonstration when you screw up. Accept it, apologize, educate yourself, engage with those who have invited you to meet with them, and apologize again. There’s not a damned thing wrong with learning and growing and owning our behaviour.
And Ms. Beyak, I’ve just received news of remarks you’ve made affecting the LGBTQ community. So… yeah, I can see we’re going to have more to talk about.
And for everyone else,
At the very least the backlash over the senator’s insensitive, ill-informed remarks have brought even more coverage to the ongoing discussions around reconciliation after what was done and the deep impact residential schools have had on aboriginal communities. Along with messages (and rightly so) of frustration, disappointment and anger, there are also many messages of ownership, acknowledgement, hope, love, diversity and unity. For me, personally, those messages restore my faith in humanity on a daily basis. This is the way forward. We can’t let this one senator get in the way of that.
For anyone who is interested, some more reading, more education, more suggestions and lots and lots of wisdom (in addition to the link provided in previous posts):
And for those who have claimed that my original letter is fake, because I am a man from India… yeah. Not so much. That suggestion is in fact, “fake news”. Look me up on Facebook or look at my avatar here on WordPress, previous posts… Not that it matters in any way because it negates nothing that I’ve said, but I am Canadian, and I am a white, Sikh woman. Please don’t let these sorts of things distract from the message.
Finally, for the white folks – peeps. Seriously. Stop being so defensive when people talk about white privilege. No. Breath. Sit back in that chair of yours and have a listen.
Having discussions with some folks about privilege and racism … damned near impossible. Here’s the thing folks (those who get defensive or think privilege doesn’t exist) and please just try to read through to the end hearing the words, without the impulse to respond, just please listen for a minute – white privilege and racism still exist just like male privilege still exists. Even though we’ve passed all manner of laws, it still exists. Laws help but the law is not a magic wand that you wave and *poof* problem gone.
There’s no need to get all defensive about it. If you are white, you have white privilege. Even if you are poor. Even if you have been homeless. No matter the hardships you’ve experienced personally.
It’s not something you can give back, no matter how much you might want to. You cannot give it back because we live in a society which was designed by primarily white males. The systems that were designed for our society were designed by those white males to suit their needs.
It has always been easiest for white men to navigate those systems because, again, they were designed for them and by them. That is why women have had to fight for the right to vote, for maternity leave, for pay equity, for an end to being chattel. They’ve been fighting against male privilege. People tend to understand the woman’s movement and women’s issues more and are more willing to discuss those issues than issues around racial equity. They don’t become nearly as defensive – why is that?
Pointing out your privilege is not the same thing as calling you a racist, asking to apologize for your skin colour or telling you that your life has been easy breezy, it is pointing out your privilege and asking you to reflect on it and to understand that people of colour have a very different experience in their day to day lives than members of the majority do.
Pointing out your privilege is not creating divisions. Those divisions already exist because real equity still does not exist. Not yet. Pretending they don’t, pretending to be colourblind, doesn’t make those actual differences go away. In fact, it only adds to the problem by ignoring it and chews away at the progress we’ve already made. You can try to pretend the elephant isn’t in the room but it’s there.
Pointing out your privilege isn’t the same as asking you to take personal responsibility for all the garbage that white folks have done throughout history. It is asking you to recognize that those things were in fact done and that white society generally has benefited from those things. For example, if you live in the Americas and you’re white – the land you live on was taken away from the aboriginal people who inhabited it before Columbus and the pilgrims arrived. No one is accusing you personally of taking the land but you do benefit from the fact that it was, in fact, taken. Pointing out your privilege is asking you to take note of your privilege and to ensure that you do not use it in ways that cause harm to other folk.
Pointing out your privilege doesn’t mean that people aren’t empathizing with whatever challenges you have faced in life either. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a good ally, an agent for change, that you can’t do your part to reach the ideal of equity across the board for everyone.
So just quit being defensive about it, quit protecting it by pretending it doesn’t exist, quit trying to give it back because you can’t. Just reflect on it, recognize it and use that reflection to make things better or, at a minimum, not make things worse.
Peace and love all,