Look at these children that are sitting around here and also at the tents, who are just the image of my kindness. There are different kinds of grass growing here that is just like those sitting around here. There is no difference. Even from the American land they are here, but we love them all the same, and when the white skin comes here from far away I love him all the same. I am telling you what our love and kindness is. – O-ta-ha-o-man, “The Gambler,” Saulteaux leader, spoken during the negotiations prior to the signing of the Qu’Appelle Treaty, Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, September 12th, 18741
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. – King James Bible, Romans 10:12
If we look into the future, is it not a heritage we have to leave to posterity, that all the different races commingle and produce a civilization that perhaps the world has not yet seen? There are differences and misunderstandings, but I do believe, in the words of the sacred hymn, “We shall know each other better when the mists have rolled away.” – Mahatma Gandhi2
The Same, the Same: friend and foe are of one stuff; the ploughman, the plow and the furrow are of one stuff; and stuff is such and so much that the variations of form are unimportant….Men contemplate distinctions because they are stupified with ignorance….The nature of the Great Spirit is single, though its forms be manifold. -Ralph Waldo Emerson3
In May 1633, when Champlain came back to his settlement at Quebec…a large party of Montagnais arrived in their canoes to see him. Champlain gestured at the building works, including the fort, and said, “When that great house is built, our young men will marry your daughters, and henceforth we shall be one people.”4
According to seventeenth and eighteenth century European maps, Northern Ontario’s Spanish River was called many different names by the Indians and early French who traveled it: the Aouechissaton, the Estiaghicks, R. de Tortue, R. de Tortoise, R. des Montaignais, the Eskamanitigon and the Sagamuc. The makers of those maps called the Ojibwa groups who inhabited the Sault Ste. Marie- North Bay area during this era of first contact between Europeans and Eastern Canada’s Indians different names: Elsouataironon, Aouechissatonon, Saulteaux, Sauteurs, Estiaghicks, Outehipoues (“appelez Sauteurs, bons guerriers”), Mississauga, Messesagues, Nikikouet (Nockes), Amikwa (Amikoue), (Amicoue), Outaouas, Attikaniek, Cristinaux, Biserenis, Nipiciriniens, Nepiserini.5
The Spanish flows southward from the “height of land,” about 120 kilometers north of Sudbury, passing the Town of Espanola, where I was raised, and into Georgian Bay near the Town of Spanish.
Nobody calls the Spanish, or the Indian groups who inhabited the area around the time of first contact, by any of those names now. With the almost total loss by Indians of their ancient, pre-contact language and culture, their historical memory of place and group names like these was generally lost as well.
After examining countless early maps of the area, the first use of the name “Spanish” that I could find was on an 1827 map- Map of the British Possessions in North America Compiled from Documents in the Colonial Department To accompany the report of the Emigration Committee–6 and that’s what it has been called by everyone, including the local Indians, since about that time.
When I was growing up in Espanola there were (and still are today) numerous treaty reserves in the area: Birch Island, Spanish River, (now called Sagamok), Whitefish River, Serpent River and the reserves on Manitoulin Island. At Espanola High School, Indian students with those immediately recognizable names- Cywink, Southwind, Toulouse, Trudeau, Abbotosoway, Nahwegabow- were in our classes and on our sports teams.
We also had classmates whose parents had immigrated to Canada, mainly from Europe, before and after World War Two- Welyhorski, Sokoloski, Kratz, Palmquist, Dolcini, Ram, Podlatis. But the majority of students were of WASP and French-Canadian heritage, many of the latter living in that part of town innocently and matter-of-factly called “Frenchtown.”
In the cheerful, self-centered oblivion of our youth, in that relatively secure and prosperous place and time, ethnic and racial origins and differences just didn’t seem to matter much. They didn’t seem to significantly define who anyone was or affect greatly how they were viewed or treated. The only exception might have been whether or not you were Catholic or Protestant, which, strangely enough, took on a social significance at that time which in retrospect seems incomprehensible.
Despite the usual social divisions arising out of the inherently Darwinian nature of childhood and adolescence, there was a sense that old religious and ethnic prejudices were hollowing out and being overcome, and that increasing social unity and equality was happening.
Canadians at that time, with our own northern small-town world being a microcosm of the country as a whole, instinctively felt that we were melding together as a society and creating something better than the “old world” society of Europe, which, because of its obsessive embrace of the concept of racial, ethnic and national differences, and because it had so disastrously organized and conducted itself socially and politically along those obsessive and virulent lines, had been so tragically consumed by two great, murderous and suicidal wars. And had, according to Dutch author Cec Nooteboom, become for the survivors and their descendants, “a charnel house of memories, exhortations to mourning or contemplation.”7
We saw our fathers in their old military uniforms (and a few of our mothers) marching to the cenotaph every November, suddenly looking and projecting so differently, revealing past, serious lives richly lived. The faint suspicion dawned on us that perhaps we hadn’t always been the absolute celestial center of our parents’ universes.
We did hear at the supper table snippets of stories of our friends’ parents’ homelands, of their various, wondrous journeys from war and dislocation, through Displaced Person camps to, ultimately, (no doubt joyously and most wondrously to them), our Northern Ontario town, where for them, over time, an unexpected knock on the door no longer startled and started the heart racing.
The doorbell buzz strikes me in the temple and tears at my flesh.
(Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam, from his poem Leningrad, describing that fear and that sickening feeling. He died in transit to a Soviet labor camp in 1938. About living under totalitarianism, he also wrote: “the wolf-hound century leaps at my throat…and my mouth has been twisted by lies.” 8 Moral heroes like Mr. Mandelstam, by their sacrifice, and the resulting obligation that all free men owe to them, exhort and pressure us to strive to live and do right in our own society.)
It seemed so safe in that time and place. Prosperity was on a continuous, general rise. We instinctively thought- not here– not here the dread, death, destruction and dislocation that had so ravaged Europe and Asia. Not here the obsessing over surface human differences, of making them so legally, politically and socially central, as in Europe and Asia, that they became the cancerous basis of the internal and external state policies of so many countries there, thus becoming one of the fundamental reasons for and lessons of Remembrance Day itself! We instinctively felt that here … We don’t think like that…we’re newer and better… race and ethnicity are essentially irrelevant here…in Canada we’re all basically equal and becoming more so all the time.
As Richard Gwyn very recently wrote in Nation Maker – Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times,9 his two volume biography of Canada’s first Prime Minister, it was a time “…when Canadians came to realize and believe that a “new nationality” could be political rather than ethnic, or composed of values and attitudes, rather than race.”
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out… 10
It was a time:
When people defined themselves by philosophical commitments as much as partisan, sexual or ethical ones, a time when it was generally believed that if you didn’t throw yourself in some arduous way at the big questions of your moment, you’d live a meagre life, and would have to live and die with that awful knowledge. 11
That’s how my generation, including me, was hard-wired. It was a good way- the best way- to be hard-wired.
This book is a product of that hard-wiring.
Indians were generally quieter, less socially visible, much less a part of things- “different” in some ways. As typically self-centered young people, we were generally oblivious to the depths beneath the surface of such things. We didn’t give their quiet and different nature much thought. Did they feel the same way about Canada? In retrospect, they couldn’t have. They lived a benignly semi-segregated life on “reserves” after all- a profound and dividing social reality. That reality, the essentially tragic historical origins of it, and their different skin colour, would have had to have given rise to a very different kind of hard-wiring for them- a very different, inherited, inward narrative and sense of racial difference- that shaped the way they saw the world and today too much continues to do so.12
After great pain, a formal feeling comes… 13
Their general degree of separation from “the rest of us” at the time- their sense of racial difference- despite exceptions, was akin to the “double consciousness” always felt by minorities in a majority culture, (a universal phenomenon in a migrating world), described by the great American Black writer W.E.B. DuBois in 1903:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,-an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.14
Regardless, I think that if we or our parents had thought about it we would have assumed that we would work out our differences with Indians, just as all the disparate ethnicities in Canada thrown together by fate during those times were doing. We assumed we’d work it out, meld further together and eliminate over time whatever it was that was so fundamentally different between us. We assumed that somehow, some time, we’d all end up being equals in every respect. Everything would be governed by this “new world” humanist model of social and political being that we unconsciously thought was evolving and taking shape.
We’d never heard of O-ta-ha-o-man, “the Gambler” and his speech, as quoted above. But if we had and if we’d read or heard what he’d said at Fort Qu’Appelle – There is no difference- we’d have thought that that phrase, and the above words of the Bible , Mahatma Gandhi and Emerson well summarized the spirit of the way things were heading.
These humanist assumptions were ones that emanated from the confident, busy, prosperous people we were then. They seemed to be shared by everyone, right to the political and economic top of the country. They highlighted what a civilized, progressive, “ideals-in-action” society Canada was becoming.
Notwithstanding that old bigotries and prejudices were still very much evident in society then, they were slowly but steadily lessening in effect and melting away. Our better angels were winning and would triumph in this puzzling area of relations between Indian and non-Indian Canadians. Then Indians too, we assumed, would end up being equal members of the Canadian family. It was only a matter of time and of staying the course.
But our assumptions have turned out to be wrong. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Somewhere along the way our Canadian elites, including our Indian elites, forgot the lessons of those great and terrible wars. Somewhere along the way the formerly discredited “old world” model of political and social organization, based on the primitive overidentification with racial groups 15 -on race-thinking and racial apartness- was revived, dusted off and sent out into the Canadian world, to the continuing bewilderment and resentment of the majority of ordinary Canadians, to become the ideological basis for the improvement of the conditions affecting Indians in modern-day Canada- to be the ideological basis for the “reconciliation” of Indian and non-Indian Canadians.
Somewhere along the way liberal, humanist aspirations once common to our entire country have ceded to various forms of petty and chauvinistic ideological tribalisms, and, with respect to our Indian peoples, to actual, racial tribalism.
Ignoring the emerging humanist political consciousness described by Richard Gwyn and exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, our elites have decided that our Indian population’s Canadian experience will now and forever, in most retrograde fashion, be focused on and defined by race, rather than shared liberal, humanist, civic values and attitudes.
Seemingly forgotten has been the chilling, always-lurking, ultimate downside of the old ethnic and racial “in-groups and out-groups” old world models: discrimination and divisiveness at the very least, and at the worst, pogroms, expulsions, disenfranchisement, expropriations and violence on a massive scale.
Our new Canadians, a great many of whom have immigrated from South Asia where the odious caste system was and remains prevalent, must be upset and bewildered to see a major element of the caste system- special, hereditary rights possessed by one racial group to the exclusion of all others- becoming further entrenched in the Canadian legal and social fabric.
The worst consequences of these tribalistic old world phenomena would never occur in Canada. But the troubling fact is that the solution to the intractable problems being faced by Indians in Canada today is being governed by a race-based legal, political and social model, which is inherently crude, backward, divisive and illiberal, and which in the past has proven to lead to nothing but negativity and social and economic failure generally, now and in the future, can not and will not lead to “reconciliation.”
The fact that this “race society” concept16 -this big “Idea” of a separate, race-based “nation” within Canada, (as opposed to the simple, Canada-first pride of being of Indian heritage)- has substantially contributed to the twentieth century being regarded as the bloodiest, most barbaric century in recorded history, and which permits those worst consequences to be even notionally conceived as logical end-products, should automatically make that model a candidate for instant and complete rejection by all right-thinking persons.
Instead, our courts, our media and our elites generally, including our Indian elites, now seemingly ignorant of or indifferent to these basic lessons of history-especially and inexcusably historical events which have occurred in our own living memory and of which none of us can plead ignorance- are taking aspects of this old world model and enthusiastically making it part of the framework for the current and future betterment of the troubled situation of our Indian peoples, and in so doing, are almost wilfully exemplifying what Christian novelist and essayist Marilyn Robinson writes about mankind’s irrational tendency to continually repeat the mistakes of the past:
History has shown us a thousand variations that come with the temptations of tribalism, the excitements that stir when certain lines are seen as important because they can be rather clearly drawn. This is old humankind going about its mad business as if it simply cannot remember the harm it did itself yesterday.17
I believe that the vast majority of Canadians profoundly disagree with this top-down imposed trend towards further legal and social racial apartness between Indian and non-Indian Canadians. They want our humanist, civic values, with their emphasis on equality and the rights of the individual over the rights of any racial group, respected, maintained and promulgated in all areas of society. They just assume, and correctly so, that it is these values that should inform our approach to improving the situation of Indians in Canada today.
Ordinary Canadians, including me, are puzzled and perplexed about where our elites are pushing us.
What are they thinking? Why are they so seemingly smug and self-satisfied to be going against our hard-wiring- going against the grain of human rights history- by expanding and further entrenching the reserve system?
Why this rejection of 200 years of enlightenment thinking?
With all the new money and rights being afforded to it- mere gilding of dross metal- mere powdering over the pox- it’s still a fundamentally dysfunctional, harmful, segregationist, apartheid-like, caste-like stain on Canada’s civic and moral landscape- still fundamentally very harmful for ordinary, powerless, vulnerable Canadian Indians.
Consider that since the modern age began in the late eighteenth century, every social justice movement that has advanced the state of humanity has been characterized by a demand that some offensive barrier to human equality be removed so as to make persons more equal under the law.
The campaign to abolish the slave trade, and then slavery itself, the fight for women’s rights and universal suffrage, the trade union movement, socialism, the desegregation battles in America, the boycott of South Africa, Gandhi’s struggles against the caste system in India, the movements for gender equality and gay liberation- all of these progressive, enlightened, beneficial causes and campaigns that have advanced the state of humanity have all been characterized by the noble, supremely civilized desire to make everyone more equal under the law.
These campaigns, causes, movements and struggles- where, initially in each, the often brave and lonely advocates for change were frequently derided, persecuted and marginalized by the prevailing forces of the status quo- when the change had finally been effected, ultimately unified Canadians- bound them together more.
So instead of our elites binding us together more on this profound national issue, why are they so relentlessly binding us apart?18
I argue below, in Great Britain- A Conqueror With a Conscience, and elsewhere in this essay, that our British-Canadian forefathers were, for their time, despite their faults, quite enlightened. Yet ironically, in retrospect, with all their relatively decent and fair-minded decisions to, amongst other things, invent legal rights for Indians, treat with them as they did, set up Indian reserves as they did, and do everything else that has now, down the historical line, resulted in our present-day dysfunctional and harmful status quo, it can be fairly and ruefully said that, with the best of intentions but the worst of effects, they invented the separate but equal, benignly racist situation that constitutes that status quo today. They too could not overcome the character of their times and their own too-human natures.)
Again, why, in this profoundly important area of Canadian life, are our elites “binding us apart”- pushing us into a state of greater inequality under the law?
Ordinary Canadians, including me, in addition to being puzzled and perplexed, are afraid and worried about what our courts, governments and other elites are now doing in this area of Canadian life.
We feel that, despite their good intentions, these people are making what was already a national disgrace and a tragedy, much, much worse, thus justifying Marilynne Robinson’s caustic take on “elites” of all kind, including our Indian elites:
Our elites are simply, one way or another, advantaged. Those of us who have shared advantage know how little it assures, or that it assures nothing, or that it is a positive threat to one’s moral soundness, attended as it is with so many encouragements to complacency and insensitivity…When the impact of scientific and industrial and political elites finally becomes clear-and it has been devastating on every part of the world-it will become clear that people picked at random off the street would probably have made better decisions.19
I am not an expert in anything bearing on this field. However, when I see my fellow Indian-Canadians continuing to suffer and be further marginalized under what is becoming a more and more deeply flawed and oppressive situation, when I see Indian and non-Indian Canadians becoming more and more like strangers to one another in this ever-increasingly race-based situation, I feel compelled 20 to exercise my right and duty of free speech-an expert or not- to speak out– to express my reasons for my fears and worries.
I am not saying that the 1950’s and early 1960’s were halcyon times that I or other ordinary Canadians want or should want to go back to. Bigotry then, in all its forms, while waning, was still very much in evidence and still socially acceptable.
But I do argue that, however unconscious and crude may have been the path Indian and non –Indian Canadians were then on towards ultimate equalization and reconciliation, it was the right path. And it was a great deal better and more civilized, civically safe and healthy than the negative, unproductive, divisive and potentially very dangerous path our higher courts, governments and elites generally have recently set us upon in this crucial and profound area of Canadian life.
I write this, with immeasurable and humbling inspiration and assistance from numerous brilliant writers and thinkers whom I have encountered in my lifelong reading journey, 21 as a form of plea for us all to take the Gambler’s and Gandhi’s words to heart -to regard us all as equal human beings in the eyes of the law and the divine (in all the latter’s multi-cultural manifestations)- and to start steering us back towards that former, better path.
For intellectual (and moral) support, I liberally quote these great writers and thinkers in this essay. So:
Forgive this abundance of quotations, it is not pedantry- simply, the fact is that for the last fifteen years I have been frequenting books more than people; furthermore, why should we attempt clumsily to reinvent what good writers have better said before us?22
Great literature- and the great thoughts and emotions within it- timelessly reflects life as humans have always lived it. It will always inform, guide and comfort us. It will always make us think better- more critically- and on present day issues, and on life generally, make better judgments. We are foolish not to look to it for partial answers to today’s political, philosophical and social problems.
Like Emerson, I do not fear excessive influence by such writings. I need it and welcome it. In so borrowing, I “serve the great.”23
I write this- compelled by my hard-wiring- by my conscience- by my wish not to die with the “awful knowledge” (referred to above) that I didn’t speak up – as a call to ordinary Canadians, including Indian Canadians, to overcome their natural fears and speak up more on this crucial issue and, as much or more for the best interests of Indian-Canadians, to start demanding that this occur.
To me, now that Canada has had its eyes opened by two world wars, to the evil and folly of granting race or ethnicity any legal or political status whatsoever, and given that we are all reminded of this every day by what we read in the newspapers and see on television, it’s shocking and wrong that we are increasingly and in a more entrenched fashion than ever before doing just that with respect to the situation of Indians.
Also alarming to me are the attacks on the concepts of legitimate government sovereignty and the rule of law which are ever more regularly occurring in this area of Canadian life, which I see as having serious, profound and adverse consequences for us all.
Indians have always had special race-based legal status. But surely, having regard to our highest and best civic values, we must now realize that what happened in our increasingly distant past with respect to our fellow Indian citizens was a mere product of those very different times and should not constitute an unchangeable template for the indefinite future.
And surely, given what we now know from experience about where Gandhi’s “mists”–religion and race-based thinking and constructs- can lead, we should now be changing that old template by adopting new frameworks and solutions that accord with our current knowledge and values and that, deliberately, over time, point us all towards a common, shared, “one people”, race-free, legal, political and social destination.
Ordinary Canadians know that this is the best way forward for all of us. The old world model being forced upon us by our courts and governments is offensive to our humanist values and traditions. It’s counter-intuitive to our still intact, (although admittedly, under some stress these days), 1950’s-emergent liberal, humanist hard-wiring, which focuses on individual rights and downplays group rights, especially group rights based on race, religion or ethnicity.
We need to challenge our governments and elites on this issue. Ordinary, powerless Indians, the ones so heavily suffering from the present, worsening situation in this very critical area of Canadian social life- at least those who are able to- need to challenge their own power elites as well.
The brilliant and distinguished political theorist, Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France,24 expressed this duty to challenge elitist, undemocratic, too-abrupt, country-altering behavior as follows:
The sense of mankind authorizes us to examine into the mode of acquiring new power, and to criticize on the use that is made of it with less awe and reverence than is usually conceded to a settled and recognized authority.
We need to restore to its former primacy our Western Enlightenment theory of natural and equal rights- our humanist legal, social and political model- as the only ones to be governed and guided by in the task of carrying out our duty to improve the situation of Canadian Indians.
Only by doing so will they, as one of the founding peoples of Canada, be put on the shared path of meaningful progress towards true equality and social justice.
The task seems hopeless, but there’s something in our makeup that, despite so much evidence to the contrary, compels us towards optimism. The brilliant novelist/essayist Stefan Zweig, the European John Updike of his early 20th century era, wrote in his autobiography, The World of Yesterday:
What a man has taken into his bloodstream in childhood from the air of that time stays with him. And despite all that is dinned into my ears daily…I cannot quite deny the belief of my youth that in spite of everything, events will take a turn for the better…I look up again and again to the ancient constellations that shone on my childhood, comforting myself with the inherited confidence that, some day, this relapse will appear only an interval in the eternal rhythm of progress onward and upward.25
Mr. Zweig, whose “world of yesterday”: cosmopolitan, pre-World War One Europe, was destroyed by the forces of hatred and prejudice unleashed after and because of that war, 26 was ultimately driven into exile and suicide by those same forces. He was a singular example of the extreme trauma of change and cultural loss experienced in some degree by most human beings throughout history, (a theme of this book), but probably never on such a massive, negative, “industrial” scale and manner as in the twentieth century. (See The Violence and Dispossession Caused by Migrating Peoples, below.)
So inextricably woven into Canada’s laws, economy and culture is the increasingly harmful status quo in this area of our national life, that, as stated, it seems impossible to change it. Nonetheless, we may be comforted by the thought that, as it applies to this subject anyway, despite the “prejudice of presentism”-the careless assumption that bedevils us all that what is happening now will always keep on happening- 27 nothing stays the same- that “History continues, in both nature and mankind”28 – that whatever is happening now sooner or later is going to stop happening, and be replaced by something happening… next.
The unripe grape, the ripe, and the dried. All things are changes, not into nothing, but into that which is not at present. 29
And, as exemplified by Stefan Zweig, we are nothing if not “tomorrow’s another day” hopers and dreamers.
We endure because we can speak tomorrow. 30
So I write a book, and we hope and pray that “that which is not at present”- that what eventually happens next here- is something “one people” better.
We should take inspiration from the “one people” vision from a tall mountain of Black Elk, of the Lakota people, who, in his vision, “was able to see the past and future of his own people, and also the ways in which Indian lives would meet and mix with the American future:”
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy. 31
- Alexander Morris. The Treaties of Canada with the Indians. Toronto: Coles Publishing Company, 1979.
- From Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India- Joseph Lelyveld, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
- From his essay Plato; Or, The Philosopher, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, (“Emerson” elsewhere in this essay), Modern Library, New York, 2000
- Margaret MacMillan, History’s People, Anansi Press Inc. 2015
- Most of the early names of the Spanish River, and the names of the Ojibwa groups who inhabited the North Shore of Georgian Bay area, around the time of first contact, can be found in The Historical Atlas of Canada, From the Beginning to 1800, (University of Toronto Press, 1987), La Mesure d’un Continent, Atlas Historique de l’Amerique du Nord, Septentrion Publishers, 2015, A Country So Interesting, The Hudson Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping, 1670-1870, McGill Queen’s University Press, 1991, and A River By Any Other Name, Peter Best, Espanola Mid-North Monitor, November 26th, 1997.
- Located in the Toronto Public Library, Reference Department, also housing many of the seventeenth and eighteenth century maps showing many of the above earlier names of the Spanish being used.
- Colin Thubron. Mesmerized by Germany, The New York Review of Books, 19 Dec 2013
- From Osip Mandelstam: 50 Poems- Persea Books, New York, 1977
- Richard J. Gwyn. Nation Maker Sir John A. MacDonald: His Life, Our Times. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2011.
- From Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, by W.B. Yeats
- David Brooks, The Beauty of Big Books, The New York Times, October 14th, 2016
- The latter phraseology from At This Memorial the Monuments Bleed, by Jesse Wegman, The New York Times, April 25, 2018, referring to the similar feelings of Blacks in America, described by a Black Alabaman as “like smog…it’s just in the air-anyone living in this country has inherited a narrative of racial difference that shapes the way we see the world.”
- Emily Dickinson, the first line of her poem of the same name.
- Quoted in Reckless Daughter, (the biography of Joni Mitchell), Harper-Collins Publishers Ltd, Toronto,2017
- This phrase and concept from historian Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century, (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), in which he writes of the “primitive overidentification with a group”, characteristic of the “group-mind, with equivalent hostility to other groups.”
- This chilling phrase from the brilliant and profound Hannah Arendt’s The Origin of Totalitarianism, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 1976. Referring to South Africa and the 19th century European, imperialist governance model for Africa and Asia she refers to “Lord Selbourne’s early insight that a race society as a way of life was unprecedented.”
- From her essay Awakening, in The Givenness of Things, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. 2015
- (From the title of the book, Bind us Apart, by Nicholas Guyatt, (Basic Books, 2016), on how “enlightened” Americans- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and many others- while opposed to slavery and other forms of racial apartness that characterized the new United States of America, for various reasons rooted in the character of their times and in their own too-human natures, could not accept negroes and Native Americans as social and political equals, resulting in the slavery and then “separate but equal” regimes that defined (and continues to profoundly effect today) race relations in America for most of its history.
- From her essay Puritans and Prigs, in The Death of Adam, St. Martin’s Press, (Picador) 2005.
- In regards to this natural human compulsion to speak out against injustice, Nelson Mandela said:
Men, I think, are not capable of doing nothing, of saying nothing, of not reacting to injustice, of not protesting against oppression, of not striving for the good society and the good life in the ways they see it.
(From his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Little, Brown and Company, 1994)
- “Why write, why read, if not to offer, to find, a larger image of life, an image of man as deep as the problems that make up his greatness?”- Soviet dissident Victor Serge, in Unforgiving Years, New York Review Book, 2008, and, “We turn to literature to enlarge our experience of the world, to go beyond what our own daily horizons make available to us. One kind of literature accomplishes this by infusing new significance into our own habits, thoughts, feelings and relations with others. Another kind takes us to places and events we have never experienced, and in some cases would never wish to experience.” Benjamin Nathans, To Hell and Back, New York Review of Books, December 6, 2018
- Simon Leys, from his essay The Truth of Simenon (contained in The Hall of Uselessness- Collected Essays, New York Review of Books Classics, 2013)
- We need not fear excessive influence. A more generous trust is permitted. Serve the great.-Emerson, from his essay, Representative Men, quoted in Harold Bloom’s Genius- A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, Warner Books, 2002
- Penguin Books, London, 1968
- From The World of Yesterday. University of Nebraska Press, 2013
- “Everything was so secure. Every stone lay in its place. The streets of life were well-paved. Secure roofs rested on the walls of the houses…A lot of peoples might exist but no nations…But today, Herr District Captain, the stones on the street lie askew and confused in dangerous heaps, and the roofs have holes, and the rain falls into the houses, and everyone has to know on his own which street he is taking and what kind of house he is moving into.” (italics added) -Joseph Roth, The Radetsky March, this brilliant, melancholy writer’s farce, tragedy and angst-ridden novel, written in 1932, the eve of Hitler’s rise to power; the beginning of chapter two of the saga of Europe’s twentieth century murder-suicide; (chapter one being World War One), describing the poignant and despairing end days of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Stefan Zweig’s formative reality.
- From Adam Gopnik, The Illiberal Imagination- Are liberals on the wrong side of history?- The New Yorker, March 20, 2017. Also, this from 19th century novelist George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss:
And the present time was like the level plain where men lose their belief in volcanoes and earthquakes, thinking tomorrow will be as yesterday, and the giant forces that used to shake the earth are for ever laid to sleep.
- Rudiger Safranski, Goethe-Life As A Work of Art, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017, a biography of the German cultural genius, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, quoted in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda.
- Intellectual George Steiner, from Original Minds-Conversations with CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel, Harper Perennial Canada, 2003
- From the essay 2020 Vision, by Northern Minnesota Ojibwe David Treuer, quoting from his 2019 book, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, in Harper’s Magazine, January, 2019.