Floyd, Dickens and me

Andru McCracken, EDITOR


Let’s not smirk as we look south to the chaos raging over racism and police brutality in the United States after the death of George Floyd on May 25.

Cruelty and stupidity, I’m finding, is ageless.

If you want to get a particularly horrible image of it, I encourage you to read Charles Dickens… just to kind of remind yourself of the amazing variety of awful things humans do to each other.

In Dickens, it’s inoffensive because it’s from a long long time ago (except for the striking antisemitism of the author which is harrowing). If you have some sort of e-reader or a computer or a phone you can save yourself several pence and download Dickens’ books for nothing. They are now in the public domain.

If you read, say, Oliver Twist you’ll come across the story of a poor boy who is used and abused by authorities paid to protect him. Dickens lived close to the Cleveland Street Workhouse and he would have known kids living in the poor house and worked alonside them when his family was in financial trouble.

I read a bunch of Dickens last winter, and was pulled into a horrifying age. I was mortified at the cruel picture that Dickens painted of the era. Kids forced to labour without enough food under the auspices of sadistic, opportunistic authorities. I’m mostly glad Dickens didn’t focus more on girls in the era; it would have been worse.

Reading that compelling account of cruelty of that age filled me with a certain smug sense: I’m glad I don’t live in those times. I’m glad that we are now, on the whole, humane to each other. And I’m glad that Canada doesn’t share that vicious history.

My reflections then hold a similar shape to comments I hear in response to the chaotic riots in the US.

“I’m glad I don’t live there, that place is messed up.”

Rest assured, you live in an equally twisted place with a recent history of cruelty and debasement that matches the tenure of idiotic violence and oppression in the south, and compares quite capably to the cruelty of Dickens’ time.

When I cracked open ‘Unsettling Canada: A National Wake Up Call’ it didn’t take long to find a common thread with Dicken’s and Twist. In it, the author talks about his realization that the food in his residential school was worse, much worse than what he was fed in prison. He learned this after being incarcerated for hopping box cars as a young man. It’s a good story.

I haven’t finished reading Unsettling Canada, but our shameful treatment of Indigenous people as less than human and the systematic approach to crushing their culture and violating agreements with them…

Well, I think I will withhold judgement on the U.S. and cast about for something constructive to do.

Arthur Manuel (1951 – 2017), a former Chief of Neskonlith Indian Band, chair of Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, and spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade is the main author of ‘Unsettling Canada.’

While international bestselling shit disturber Naomi Klein wrote the forward for his book, Manuel is the better writer. The story of his family and his call to activism and resistance is compelling. The backstory, it turns out, is important.

Arthur Manuel is the father of Kanahus Manuel, the leader of the Tiny House Warriors currently protesting the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion in Blue River and more recently calling for the closure of the Blue River

Campground given concerns about COVID-19. For many of us, the Tiny House Warriors have been an enigma, impossible to understand, their actions consistently breaking every community standard we have… I doubt Arthur

Manuel’s book will explain the tactics of the Warriors, but it is doing a pretty good job of setting up the rage.

If you are looking south and wondering what a person can do to help the world move past this… it might not be a bad investment to check ‘Unsettling Canada’ out of your local library.

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