There’s a certain myopic moral indignation in the criticism of prominent public figures for having painted their faces, dressed inappropriately, or said or done things in the past that we find offensive today.
It’s understandable, for example, that many are offended and disappointed in the conduct of Justin Trudeau. These feelings are justified and important.
However, as a person of colour, I’m troubled by being grouped with anyone who claims that painting of faces is universally offensive to all of colour.
This groupthink compels feelings of forced consensus, or causes those of us who may not feel as strongly to keep quiet. Not all things we did, even if we should have known better, were meant to offend. Any judgment should be based on aggravating and mitigating facts, and some degree of compassion.
Those who now choose to assert their pride of colour on all of us are as wrong as those who discriminate on the basis of our colour.
Myself and many others don’t see the world in terms of colour. We see the world as a complex place of people where diversity is so normal that it loses its distinguishing influence.
It’s a world in which not every act of imitation is intended to offend, where in fact imitation can be a form of admiration. I don’t think every joke made by a friend with a different ancestry is intended to diminish or offend me. It can also be a form of endearing familiarity.
The answer is not in compartmentalizing of arbitrary shades of colours or any other characteristic. In fact, the notion of race itself is no longer valid and lacks basis in science.
I’m not naïve enough to believe the world is free of narrow-minded, ignorant individuals. We need to still guard against their hate-filled ideologies.
But I’m also certain that there are more good, well-intentioned and forward-thinking people than ever.
We should not assert a moral indignation at acts like face painting, done in the past without malicious intent. And implying that such acts define the person even decades later and perhaps forever is wrong. It implies that people can’t change; that education, experience, wisdom and maturity are meaningless. It suggests that those of us who were uninformed emotionally and intellectually, as youth, will remain so forever.
This is ludicrous, everyone made and still makes mistakes.
I’m also offended by people asking me how I feel about these incidents ‘as a person of colour.’ How about just asking how I feel about the incident or how I feel about the incident as a Canadian?
We have replaced one version of division with another.
We’re behaving as though absolutely nothing we do today will cause future generations to look back at us as backward, insensitive and brutish. To borrow from H.G. Wells, our moral indignation is simply a myopic self-righteousness with a halo.
It’s easy to be vocal and morally righteous when everyone else is too. But we were all accepting and complicit at if we did nothing about such behaviour at the time.
It’s also easy to criticize those who choose public life when we enjoy the benefits of their service.
It’s easy to knock John A. Macdonald with the advantages of all he gave root to. It’s easy to criticize, for example, when you don’t bear the burden of building a nation.
Ironically, while we enthusiastically criticize public figures, we also hide their shortcomings when it suits us. Abraham Lincoln made many comments that today would confirm his status as a racist, if read in isolation. Martin Luther, the architect of Reformation, wrote about his Jewish neighbours in terms that are beyond alarming and offensive. Ronald Reagan uttered racist remarks.
Would we rather have lived without the achievements of these leaders because we now find fault in their behaviour and beliefs?
The measure of a person must be more than their mistakes. It must be about a life in service to society, to the best expected given the times and conditions of their lives.
None of us is perfect, yet we still pursue unforgiving fault finding.
Anil Anand served as a police officer with a Canadian service for 29 years in a variety of roles, including being assigned to Interpol. He has a master of law degree, as well as an MBA, and has taught criminology and community policing courses. His book Mending Broken Fences Policing, looks at the role of contemporary policing in modern society.