The Ontario elementary school teachers’ federation has voted to ask the provincial government to remove the name of Sir John. A. Macdonald from Ontario schools. According to the teachers’ union (sorry, that should be ‘federation’), Macdonald is the architect of the “genocide” of Canada’s Aboriginal people.
Yes, it has come to this. Wiping out the name of the first prime minister of Canada – ‘The Man Who Made Us’ to quote from the title of the biography of Macdonald by Richard Gwynn – to satisfy our 21st century guilt.
Let’s look at the whole history hysteria for a moment.
Was Macdonald’s attitude towards Indians (the term at the time) racist? In the House of Commons, Macdonald suggested the government should withhold food from the starving Cree “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation to reduce the expense.” His government also started the much-reviled residential schools system. On the other side of the spectrum, he was in favour of giving Indians the vote, as long as they owned land, just like white folk.
Today, Macdonald wouldn’t last a second in Canadian politics. Just like virtually all historical figures. But at the time, the kind of racist stuff Macdonald said was no doubt acceptable to a great number of Canadians. Racism was as commonplace as smallpox back in Macdonald’s day. The superiority of the white race was simply a given back then, and for a great many decades after. Sir Wilfred Laurier, a revered Liberal prime minister, thought it was perfectly OK to take lands from “savage nations”, as long as they were paid for their trouble.
Let us cast our net wider. No less a personage than Winston Churchill once said, in reference to the fate of Aboriginal people: “I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” Whoa. Tear down that Churchill statue in Churchill Square! And rename the square … as long as it’s not renamed Macdonald.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, arguably the greatest American president, locked up Japanese-American citizens during WWII. He was also worried about“the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood.” Mackenzie King did the same thing here.
And how about Emily Murphy, the hero of Canadian feminists? She fought for the right for women to be legally recognized as “persons”. Great, right? Oh, but she wrote a work of fiction in 1922, called The Black Candle, about an international conspiracy of non-whites who had banded together to corrupt the “purity” of the white race with the help of drugs, turning them into sex slaves and drug addicts. She was by today’s standards a racist (and maybe of her time as well). And to top it all off, she believed in eugenics; she wrote that “race suicide” happened when the poor and mentally and socially “inferior” reproduced at a much faster rate than what she deemed the “human thoroughbreds.” Oh, my. Rename Emily Murphy Park! Take down her statues!
Or let us consider D.W. Griffith, the father of American cinema. One of the most important and innovative pioneers of the early days of film, his epic The Birth of a Nation from 1915 was widely hailed at the greatest achievement in the history of film (history being rather short at the time). Woodrow Wilson saw the film in the White House. Whites loved the film, blacks hated it, and with good cause. Despite its technical virtuosity, it is shockingly racist. Seriously, if you watch this film, prepare to have your mind blown. But in 1915, it was just rousing entertainment. Should all of the accomplishments of Griffiths be expunged because of his one, spectacularly racist film?
Clearly, it’s not particularly difficult to find actions and words by historical figures that are repulsive to our ears today. There are two things the history police have to take into consideration: context, and the big picture.
In the days of Macdonald and Murphy and even up to Roosevelt and Churchill, white people were widely considered to be the superior race. Times change, opinions change, even what is considered to be the truth changes. If Macdonald had racist views, they simply reflected the views of the population at large.
More importantly, however, we have to look at the big picture.
We can’t cherry pick what we want from our historical figures. Overall, Macdonald was a giant of Canadian history. Did he do and say some things that we would find abhorrent? Yes. But the totality of his accomplishments far outweigh his worst moments. Hey, I’m all for discussion of the good and the bad of historical figures. But the new breed of historical revisionists look only at the bad, and ignore the good. If, upon further examination, the good outweighs the bad, then leave the statues and schools alone. I’m all for anything that gets Canadians talking about our history, but the new revisionists are looking at history through a microscope, and only selecting things that suit their 21st century world view.
If we keep this up, the only statues left in Canada will be of Terry Fox.
Sports farce of the century
P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. He was correct, and clearly there are a lot more suckers around today, with a lot more money.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a sports spectacle quite as disgusting as the fight between boxer Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor. Mayweather was undefeated (and retired), while McGregor is the top draw in mixed martial arts. (Confession: I may be wrong about this. I pay no attention to MMA.) Somebody came up with the great idea of putting the two together in the same ring, and see who wins. Since they were only allowed to box, and not kick and gouge and whatever else they do in mixed martial arts, the outcome was assured. Still, the Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out became a big deal. Reports vary, but Mayweather is expected to net at least $100 million, and possibly up to four times that amount. Poor McGregor will have to setting for anywhere from $30 million to $75 million, depending on the report.
No championship belt was on the line. No title. No nothing. It was a gimmick, pure and simple, and lots of people fell for it. Within 24 hours, the whole spectacle will be forgotten.
Oh, as if it matters, Mayweather won.
Jerry Lewis, 91, one of the most popular, and often critically reviled comics in film history. Lewis began in vaudeville, and reached dizzying heights of stardom when he teamed with Dean Martin. The popularity of Martin and Lewis at their peak was rock-star like, but in time the partnership blew up. Lewis went on to make many smash hits and the public loved him for it. Although it sounds like an urban legend, the French really did love Jerry Lewis, showering him with honours. His best films, like The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Stooge, Cinderfella, are considered comedy classics. But then again, lots of people can watch a Jerry Lewis movie completely stone faced … Tobe Hooper, 74, director of the seminal horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and later Poltergeist.