Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stupid white people?

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Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson probably meant what he said when he complained about "the ignorance of do-good white people," but what he means precisely will likely remain a mystery unless he offers to expound at length on race relations in Canada, which isn't a bad idea.

The NDP minister's comments at a minimum are more evidence of a growing racial divide in Canada between aboriginals who feel they were screwed for 500 years, and some "white" people who believe they've had 500 years to adapt and succeed.

Critics who say his comments were racist are giving the subject shallow treatment, and ignoring the natural resentment that evolves in a persecuted group. A man who gets beaten over the head is usually forgiven for calling his attacker names.

"I think I'm entitled to say that because I experienced racism first-hand," Mr. Robinson said on the weekend.

African-Americans have referred to white Americans in disparaging ways, too, a reflection of centuries of abuse, discrimination and racism.

It's understandable, then, why Mr. Robinson clings to negative stereotypes, which is not to say it is acceptable, particularly from a minister for the Crown.

And even though he apologized, it was obviously for political reasons, and not because he thought his comments were wrong. "I've always spoken from my heart," he told the Aboriginal Peoples TV Network before issuing a bland written apology praising the work of Osborne House.

The women's shelter was the subject of his comments because it was holding a burlesque fundraiser he considered inappropriate.

In issuing his non-apology apology, however, Mr. Robinson stepped into the glue again by singling out the needs of aboriginal women "who are suffering from the generational effects of discrimination and exploitation."

It was another questionable racial observation that ignores the fact women's shelters serve the needs of all women, regardless of race. Immigrant women, in fact, currently make up the fastest growing cohort in need of protection from abusive men.

The Conservative Opposition is demanding Mr. Robinson resign, but it should focus its attention on why the minister's comments were redacted following a request for information under the province's freedom of information legislation.

The information was blacked out under a section of the law that permits, but does not compel, the government to withhold "advice, opinions, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for the public body or a minister."

Mr. Robinson's comments, however, were in response to a private email complaining about a private fundraiser the government didn't organize or endorse.

There was no justification for withholding the information, which only came to light because the minister's words were visible when the document was held up to the light.

It's possible someone made an honest mistake in redacting the information, but it was such a bad call that the Opposition should be demanding answers.

Mr. Robinson, meanwhile, could do everyone a favour by agreeing to expand on "the ignorance of do-good white people."

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2013 A8

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