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“Go Back Where You Came From:” an Episode From Canada

An inuit family (1917) Photograph Source: George R. King – Public Domain

“… go back where you came from…” Not something one expects to hear from a head of state addressing his own citizens. When these taunts come from a man, a second generation American, whose entire pedigree as Captain America rests on having one natural born US citizen as an ancestor; it might be laughable, if it wasn’t so loathsome. But these are interesting times indeed.

The scene:

Vancouver BC, a busy street-lit intersection and sidewalk. A 64 year old, 6 foot tall, 190 pound, white male exits the stage door of the Playhouse Theatre (that’s me) and walks past a late twenties, 6 foot 3, 250 pound white male (that’s him.) Among the other pedestrians a couple, speaking some language other than English, walk by.

He to them: “Fucking immigrants; go fucking home.”

Me to him: “We all, including your family, were ‘fucking immigrants’ at some time.”

I turn away, to head back into the theatre, and the lights go out. Moments later I find myself on the sidewalk searching for my glasses and deeply confused. The following digressions, diversions and jump cuts lasted about an hour. It has taken months, and a little therapy, to distill them into something vaguely cohesive.

***

Part of me is stuck looping “What the fuck, was I just sucker-punched? At some level I knew I had been, and somewhere else I knew I knew, but I wasn’t quite sure if I knew I knew I knew. My central processor has lost contact with my sub-systems; the once interconnected matrices of grey matter were experiencing cascading system failures.

Part of me is oddly amused when I try to call 911. Video of Dr. Jill Bolte pops up, describing how she fumbled with her phone while having a stroke. With delightful scientific detail and humor she plots which bits of cortexes and lobes were failing to do what; which neurons have lost their paths and which synapses are just happily gimbling in the wabe. All I know is numbers are gibberish, and I do not have a vorpal sword.

Part of me is still precisely tracking the show clock. The show, after all, Must Go On and years of muscle memory direct me to the sound booth. The EMT, an immigrant, is still treating me as we go up, 45 seconds late. The horror!

Part of me imagined getting him on the ground and pounding his face into a bloody pulp. I would like to ascribe my violent reaction, at least in part, to some kind of instinctive preemptive defense doctrine, protecting others in the future. Or maybe it’s a teachable moment kind of thing, where he learns that he is a naughty, naughty boy. But that is all terribly flimsy after-the-fact revisionism. It’s so much simpler than that. The unleashed reptilian brain wants only to: Cause Pain and Feel Power.

Once I’m there, powerless and driven by raw fear; I have to sort of understand the guy. I get his position. He too feels powerless; faced with a world he cannot understand or control; and he feels like a loser. So: Cause Pain and Feel Power; it’s really all he has. The only difference between the two of us, in that moment, is that I will most likely not end up stuck there; as he appears to be.

Which leads us to him: This is a seriously damaged, and dangerous, human being.

What bad wiring or chemistry, what wretched life experiences turned him into him? Do we blame nature or nurture? Where did he learn and what? Who indoctrinated him? Maybe, given the theatre’s proximity to the nexus of Canada’s drug and mental health crises, he is schizophrenic or on poisoned heroin? Is his mother proud or mortified?

Officer Krupke, you’re really a square;
This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed
He’s psychologically disturbed!

Thankfully, humming bits of West Side Story helps further diffuse the blood lust. It forces the primal brain, which is now imagining just kneecapping the fucker, to acknowledge it’s no longer in control.

***

Assuming Everett is right, (and who can resist the image of infinitely spawning multiverses,) in another universe, my rage is more controlled. I just incapacitate the guy. Perhaps a Vulcan nerve pinch or some secret Shaolin technique. Once he’s down, conventional wisdom says call the cops and let the system do its thing. But the system is supposed to represent me and, in this version of my l’esprit d’escalier; I chose to represent myself.

I know that hitting people to stop people from hitting people is an idiotic downward spiral into more people hitting more people. So hitting him is out. And it is equally unproductive to yell at people, who are not listening, that they are not listening.

So re-education perhaps, can we ‘fix’ him? Can we get him to articulate his position; does he even know what he thinks? If he is gently and logically presented with the fallacies in his positions can we get him past his rage? Can he be coaxed or coerced into examining his life.

I still, somewhat desperately, cling to the fantasy that there are no irredeemable humans. That there was a route into his chronic malice, thus there must be one out. If he ever choses to rejoin the species; I wish him well.

***

My complaints sometimes just feel petty. (Survivor’s guilt I’m told.) I was not run over or shot. Nobody flew a plane into or bombed or shot up my office, church or club. I was punched, once. But I think, in my assailant’s mind, the motives and intent were as depraved and indifferent as any of the more ‘successful’ terrorists. I think; had I not gotten an arm out in time to protect my most of my head, and been left permanently brain damaged or dead, he would have remained unmoved.

***

I am reminded of my reaction to the Kent State shootings. I, along with the rest of the counter-culture was horrified. This hit way too close to home; they were shooting middle class white kids, (the largest cohort of the anti-war protestors and hippies.) Their target was, figuratively, me. At the time I was fortunate in meeting a black draft dodger who was prepared to gently chide me for my ignorance. They had been shooting, lynching and burning civil rights workers for decades. Atrocities were being committed around the globe to support western civilizations greed. And I was a beneficiary. Before the term white privilege was in common use I had it, and undoubtedly still do.

By accident of birth I can never be anything but large and white and male; well fed and educated and living in the land of my birth. I cannot pretend or presume to ever grok lives that are truly “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. I have never left my home in search of food; dreading that I might fail. I have never left my country or family fleeing war or famine. I have never been enslaved or tortured. I have never watched my children die. I have never been a “fucking immigrant”. (In all fairness there is a large population in The Americas who might rightly call me and my ancestors: fucking invaders, fucking colonists, and fucking settlers.)

So while the initial shock of being slammed feels perfectly natural, I have to wonder if, in the longer term, part of my sense of wrongness stems from that place of unconscious privilege. He hit ME.

***

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is right. Speaking their names aloud does invoke the Beetlejuice rather than Rumpelstiltskin effect. It gives them the fame and power they so desperately crave, it makes them feel real. But there is one, who has so clearly demonstrated his willingness, nay his eagerness, to be the poster boy for the deplorable; whose name we cannot avoid.

But we must still be careful. Thinking he is the source rather than a product and exploiter of these basest instincts of humanity is too easy. Blaming him for representing and emboldening these violent thugs is fair game. From his bully pulpit he champions irrational fear and the demonizing of the others; but such demagogues have existed throughout human history: always, forever and everywhere. He, Trump, is a mere symptom; just the currently most visible festering boil that reveals the underlying infestation.

***

Putting aside the academic discussion whether ‘race’: White, Black, Yellow, Red, and Brown, is just a transitory social construct. Race, as so defined, is only one of the many excuses used to rationalize despising others. Being of the wrong family, clan, or tribe; falling in thrall to the wrong king, being from the wrong country, supporting the wrong side; it doesn’t really matter. . Once you are ‘other’, for whatever reason, you are a target.

But as violent, hateful and xenophobic as they are, even most adamantly self-described racists don’t have a clue what race is. Their identity as Aryans (an Indo-Persian language group,) is founded on Nazi nonsense. Their bloodline purity is tainted by the one or two percent of their DNA which is Neanderthal; and all the rest cross culture fornication that begat their ancestors. They are genetic mongrels; just like the rest of us.

***

These are opportunistic vermin. In the right socio-economic climate they thrive and can spread uncontrollably. They have so much tied up in their cultish and delusional sense of cultural superiority that they will kill to maintain it. And they don’t have the honesty to say, as P. J. O’Rourke put it about apartheid South Africa, “Fuck you, we’re bigots.”

No, they try to claim that their gods directed them; that their victims themselves are to blame; that they are redressing some vague imagined historical wrong, or preventing a future one. “The other guy hit me back first,” has been used as an excuse for atrocities since time immemorial. Dehumanizing others is their most commonly used tool. “Those guys from the other valley; they eat babies!” (Or rip them from incubators in Kuwait.)

Whether they are chanting “Death to America” or “Make America Great Again” it sounds pretty much the same from outside the stadiums; where the vast majority of us live. And it is very scary indeed.

***

Complacency is not an option!

Martin Niemoller’s words still deeply matter: “First they came for the socialists”…

Martin Luther meant: “Here I speak, I cannot do otherwise.”

David Crosby was right: “Speak out against the madness. Speak your mind, if you dare.”

So in the same circumstances, given the same situation, I will do the same thing. I will not tolerate the intolerant. I will judge others by the content of their character. I will neither fight nor flee nor turn the other cheek. I will stand my ground. But, not being entirely incapable of learning; I sincerely promise: I WILL NOT TURN MY BACK AGAIN! (That, evidently, is just stupid.)

Epilogue:

The “fucking immigrants” who were the innocent triggers of the whole incident, are last seen on the security video walking away, apparently completely unaware of mess unfolding behind them. I suspect that they had not understood a single invective that Mr. White Power had hurled at them. As Bugs Bunny would say “What a maroon”

Epilogue deux: Canadian edition

Up here in Canada our delusional version of exceptionalism is that we are just so damn nice and polite; so smug in our self-deprecation; so much holier than thou. We would never… oh right, never mind.

We have our share of white supremacists: Proud Boys and Soldiers of Odin and Western Heritage and the Klan. We have holocaust deniers, anti-Muslims and anti-Semites, anti-gays and anti-intelligentsia. We have wife beaters and sexually predatory priests. We have all the same scum of the earth as the rest of the earth.

We have a history rife with injustices directed at just about every sub-group of humanity you can think of. We had two hundred years of sanctioned slavery, both black and native. We killed off the entire first nations Beothuk population of Newfoundland. We placed head taxes on the Chinese, and when that was insufficient to keep them out, excluded them. We interned the Japanese during WWII. We razed the 150 year old black community of Africville after we turned it into an un-serviced and unlivable shithole.

Our past leaders can speak for themselves.

John A MacDonald, Canada’s Founding Father and first Prime Minister, 1882: “The executions of the Indians … ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs,”… “I have reason to believe that the agents as a whole … are doing all they can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.” (Indian Act, Residential School System: Hundreds of thousands abused or dead. Tens of thousands of children still suffer in abject poverty.)

The Komagata Maru Incident, 1914; H. H Stevens, Member, British Columbia Legislative Assembly: “I challenge any man living to bring out a single instance in the whole history of the (India) Indian nation to show that their civilization has done anything at all to uplift the other races of the world. I say their civilization is unproductive of good to the human race as a whole.” (Ship refused entry, returned to India, dozens confirmed dead)

The Voyage of the Damned, 1939; Frederick Blair, Canadian Director of Immigration: “Canada, in accordance with generally accepted practice, places greater emphasis on race than upon citizenship”. (Ship refused entry, returned to Europe, hundreds confirmed dead)

J. V. Clyne retired British Columbia Supreme Court Judge, Chancellor of the University of British Columbia, 1987: “I’d not want to see us cease to be a white country … We should maintain our generations, our heritage.” (My godfather… You gotta own your shit.)

Successive Canadian governments’ have apologized for these past ‘mistakes’. “Oops, we: kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed your children; silly us.” Well of course we had clear evidence that they were being returned to a sure death but, there ya go, shit happens.” Mistakes… fuck off. They were policies.

That a cowardly piece of shit bully-boy will lash out in anger and punch someone for questioning him is what it is; we can expect no different. That ‘learned’ men can sit and deliberate and arrive at conclusions which condemn innocents to agony, starvation and death; is manifest evil.

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