Saturday, April 24, 2010

How do you do?

My friends - have you ever been altered by popular culture? Has it struck you in a surprising way, hit something of very personal importance? Brought you to tears?

I have had the pleasure of being transformed by popular culture very rarely, but I feel like tonight may have just made that happen again. Tonight, I watched Avatar again - this time without the impressive three-dimensional figures weaving in and out of the theatre. Instead, I was sitting at home, on the couches that my family has had for more than 30 years, and I was able to focus on the events rather than the action of the story.

I'm curious, how is it that I
can live in a
post-Avatar world?

I live in Canada, a land once inhabited by the First Nations of the Americas. Treaty 4 is the treaty that allowed for the white people of Europe to settle here and slowly accept that the barren plains of the West could become a home to them. And yet, it was already the home to many - thousands of people that had been ravaged, murdered, and relocated.

My Canada and its history is deeply rooted in this atrocity against humanity.

And we are told little about this history and, somehow we pretend that this history exists in the past rather than creates the present and determines our future.

So, my friends, how do I live in a post-Avatar world when the story presented by James Cameron's lense, minus the last 40 minutes, is the story of my nation's creation and expansion. When the land upon which my European-style home and European-style life exists was once the land of another culture that grudgingly offered it to us in negotiations that were not understood. How can I pretend that my European power, my whiteness, is not the reason that I have had numerous opportunities in my life? That my family has a considerable amount of money? That we never have to worry about putting food on my plates?

Why is it that I have power in my society? Why is it that I have the power the choose whether or not I have power?

How does the past inform my present action?

These are questions that bring me a great deal of shame, because they force me to realize that the life I lead is less-than honourable or ideal. I am not good at articulating this sensation at all...


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for this article-- yet again. Here are a few things I want to share with you and would like to know what you think (now, or later, as things sink in and you think them through).

    1- Do you think that this sensation that you are not good at articulating is what is often called "white guilt"?

    2- Having a "sensation" is one thing but I always like to ask-- what do we do about it? Do we feel haunted (the sensation that we cannot articulate is a bit like being haunted-- something uncanny and not very articulable either) by a past that we didn't even live, and do we feel the need to act upon inarticulable sensations to redeem this past, for the sake of the present and the future?

    3- Did you read this article on White Guilt and Avatar?

    4- Here is an interesting reaction to this article in a different setting, but interesting nonetheless:


  2. Just stopped by to say hello as it has been many months since I made any comment. Glad to see that you are still healthy and attempting to figure out life.

  3. Hey Mud Rake! Good to see you again! You're comments are always welcome here - even if they are months apart.

    Kama - great comment. Interesting to say the least. Let me attempt to respond.

    I've considered whether or not what I have is this "white guilt" many times in the past, and have come up uncertain. Because, while I can see my ancestors and their behaviour towards other ethnicities and groups to be quite disgusting, I far too frequently see myself as a perpetrator of the power relationships that they created. I have not only been granted a higher position in social hierarchy because of my whiteness, but I continually reaffirm it. Not merely by being white, but as a result of my daily actions.

    As a historian, I struggle with ever saying that we don't live the history that we read about in our textbooks. I think the value of history only comes in understanding its consequences - both positive and negative.

    Moreover, as a gay man - as a man with Jewish background - as a (former?) gay Christian - as a person of non-Anglo Saxon descent - I am remotely familiar with what it feels like to be in a helpless scenario. To feel entirely alone, and incapable of making change happen. I have been the person without power and hated it, and I am also -quite frequently - the person who uses his power to remind others of this.

    It isn't only my whiteness, but my maleness, my ability to hide my sexuality, my economic strength, and my social class. All of these contribute to me being powerful (and, at other times, powerless). In my personal pursuit of a more just and loving world, where community matters more than persons and where power relationships are morphed into real relationships, I must be prepared to give up some of my power on a daily basis so that others can be more regularly affirmed in their personal worth by the rest of the public.

    I'm going to read your articles though. Haven't gotten a chance, but I will in the coming week.