The only thing worse than repeating the mistakes of the past are attempts to whitewash them away.
We are all descendants of racists, no matter how much we wish we weren’t. Human beings have been slaughtering each other since the first caveman clubbed a neighbour to oblivion for food or property.
The long list of nations that thirsted for world domination, the perpetrators of the Holocaust and, closer to home, settlers who forced residential schools on children to eradicate their Indigenous ways all preached a religion based on bigotry to varying degrees.
We’re all cut from the same fabric, and it’s always been stained with the same smug sense of superiority that’s wrapped in the banner of misbegotten gods or cultural creeds. Even some of the First Nations we revere for their spirituality and respect for the planet went to war with each other with regularity and engaged in slavery.
The current movement to change the names of streets and buildings or ban books from libraries and schools once considered classic literature is politically correct overkill at its most hypocritical. What do we gain by deciding that an acclaimed author or politician should now become the subjects of scorn because of behaviours and beliefs that were the norm at that particular juncture a century ago?
Our history is littered with disputes over religion, borders and beliefs, and the news on any given night is living proof that we haven’t been able to banish senseless conflicts as much as we would like to believe. The same root causes of war and conflict infect our lonely little planet and threaten the future of the universe.
Human rights are trampled every minute of every day. Children die, women are abused, and mothers and fathers bury sons and daughters and sisters and brothers in the name of peace and progress, Sadly, how affected we feel is frequently governed by whether the horror strikes close to home or unfolds thousands of miles away.
We need to concentrate our efforts into changing the world we live in at this moment to save the planet we will share in the future, instead of trying to rewrite the past. We must acknowledge and apologize for our transgressions and strive to better understand what caused us to wander off the righteous path of equality.
Trying to punish prejudice in Sir John A. MacDonald’s beliefs or deciding to now castigate Mark Twain and other previously acclaimed authors for what they wrote, however, is an exercise in futility. It’s no more than an attempt at posthumous reconciliation geared to placate our liberal conscience.
While we owe it to our children to teach them about the sins of the past, we are better served by focusing our furor on guiding future generations towards creating a world that doesn’t repeat them.
Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.