White Self-Government?

By Austin-Smith, Brenda | Canadian Dimension, September 1992 | Go to article overview

White Self-Government?


Austin-Smith, Brenda, Canadian Dimension


Why has no major newspaper or magazine carried this as its headline, when a multitude of events and attitudes suggest that white culture, judged by the standard s it applies to other racial or ethnic groups, is unable to get its ducks in a row? This thought occurred to me while reading about and watching the war in Eastern Europe, and wondering why no one was calling it "white on white violence". Funny, it looks like that to me.

The various public forums in which discussion and debate on the topic of self-government or self-determination take place have as their unspoken assumptions that in order to be worthy of self government, autonomy, or perhaps even civil rights, disenfranchised or marginalized groups must satisfy certain requirements, none of which the dominant culture itself can fulfil.

Let's take, for example, the issue of violence. As noted above, the war now tearing Hercegovina and Bosnia to shreds could easily be called tribal, even barbaric, since the violations of the oxymoronic "rules or war" occurring there have outraged all observers. But these terms have never been commonly applied to members of white ethnic groups at war, and no one has suggested that the people now shooting each other's children cannot be trusted to cast an intelligent ballot or run for public office. Yet this is the rhetoric that dominates portrayals of struggle in South Africa.

And for all the move toward s sanctions of different kinds in Eastern Europe, no country has used these same violations of human rights as justification for its armed intervention, as was the case in iraq. Perhaps it's too bad in a way that Serbia's leader wasn't hand-picked by the US, for then it would be forced to publicly turn its racist face away. It's always easier to start bombing the former ally if he is not white.

Another point to ponder is the necessity of marginalized groups "knowing what they want." Arguments against giving First Nations people control over their own land, and the power to disburse the funds owing to them from the government often end with the tag "They don't even know what they want" More sophisticated versions of this attitude drift by in headlines that suggest "a lack of unity" between or among Aboriginal groups or spokespersons, that of course makes constitutionally enshrined self-government a dicey number. …

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