Sunday, 17 December 2017

Sunday December 24, 2017 The Heart of the Community

In his remarkable autobiographical account of growing up in Westfort, The Closer We are to Dying, Joe Fiorito tells a story about his grandmother and the nearby Fort William First Nation:

‘My grandmother was terrified of them. She awoke one morning to find that someone had come in the night, silent as a shadow. A flitch of bacon was missing from the hook where it hung in the cold cellar. She had a vision of a throat cut in the night, and thanked God whoever it was had been hungry and not thirsty for her blood and the blood of her children.
A few nights later, the thief came again, but this time he did not come to steal. He left a hindquarter of deer, fresh and bloody, hanging from the hook where the bacon had hung. It was a message of some kind.
They are like us, she thought. We do not share colour or culture; we are of the same class.’

We are of the same class. This is a profound statement which suggests that class is not only more significant than race, but that it can bring different races together via a shared set of values.
Thomas Dunk reaches a similar conclusion in It’s a Working Man’s Town: male working class culture when he says that multiculturalism in Canada ‘does not recognize the structural basis of social inequality rooted in class relations.’ In his exploration of the nature of contemporary working class culture, Dunk examines the ordinary weekend pursuits of a group of young working class men (The Boys) in Thunder Bay. He shows that the function and meaning of gender, ethnicity, popular leisure activities, and common sense knowledge are intimately linked with the way an individual’s experience is structured by class.

Dunk discovers that The Boys do not have a developed theory of white superiority. Their prejudices are not the product of formalized justifications for white dominance over Indigenous people. They do not perceive themselves as dominant over anyone, but rather as the victims of a system which has mis-identified the true sources of social inequality. Their racism is rooted in the immediate experience of their everyday lives and in the prejudices and practices which are widely present in the culture of the Anglo Saxon world. They hold their views about Indigenous people because of a conflict over access to the resources of the state, because of a long tradition in which Indigenous people are employed as a symbol of otherness, and because, by holding such views, they demarcate themselves from the dominant social group.

For the Boys, what one thinks about Indigenous people is a sign of what side one is on in the struggle to assert one’s own moral and intellectual worth. In the Boy’s ideas about Indigenous people the dominant social group and ethnicity are important symbols because they relate to forms of knowledge and representation which are cultural expressions of class experience. 

The vision of Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) is to ‘become the heart of the community – a welcoming and inclusive centre of social innovation and change.’ For this to happen TBPL must be relevant to the needs of everyone who lives, works or studies in Thunder Bay. The demographics of the city – both in terms of class and ethnicity – demand that TBPL becomes a community led and needs based Community Hub where relationships can be developed, values can be shared, and common needs can be understood.   

John Pateman

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