“That’s mighty white of you.”
I had never heard the phrase before I started my first full-time media job, but my newsroom colleague at the time was fond of saying it on a regular basis to news contacts that had given him a particularly helpful piece of information for a story.
For the few of you now trying to connect the dots, I should point out that this person was not my employer and did not live in the Strait area after leaving his post less than a year later. But that’s beside the point.
I’m bringing this up because recent events have hurtled me back a quarter-century, back to my co-worker’s repeated use of the phrase “that’s mighty white of you” – a comment that I’ve heard other people, including one family member, tossing off recently as this past winter.
The recent events in question: Convictions and sentencing for two of the three people convicted in a conspiracy to carry out mass killings at a Halifax mall’s food court (with the third committing suicide on the night the attacks were foiled), last week’s horrific use of a van to maim and kill pedestrians on a Toronto street, and the two highest-profile mass shootings in recent U.S. history, occurring last October in Las Vegas and this past February in Parkland, Florida.
I don’t think I have to tell you the common denominator between everybody responsible for these crimes, but for those of you not paying attention to the headlines, I’ll cut to the chase:
They were all white.
They were all born and raised in North America.
None of them were acting on the orders of a terrorist organization on the other side of the world. Guided by some combination of racism, misogyny, blood lust and/or mental illness, they woke up one morning and decided to take innocent lives.
Some even did so with the intent to take their own lives as soon as they carried out their sickening deeds. Stephen Paddock, who opened fire on a country music festival from the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, was found dead in his hotel room an hour after the carnage began.
Similarly, the trio planning to shoot, stab and throw Molotov cocktails at anybody they saw in the Halifax Shopping Centre on Valentine’s Day, 2015 had entered a suicide pact. They were all enamoured with the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, and they held a sickening mutual obsession with the idea of being forever linked to a similarly-violent event.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Lisa Stuart, speaking to CBC Radio last week in the aftermath of a life sentence for Chicago-area resident Lindsay Souvannarath and a 10-year sentence for HRM teenager Randall Shepherd, said “Halifax would’ve never been the same” had the pair – and their late accomplice, James Gamble – pulled their plan together.
I shudder to think of it, partly because I already know what it’s like to have my perception of my home province shaken by gun violence.
In the spring of 1993, just as I was hearing the phrase “that’s mighty white of you” for the first time, court proceedings were continuing for the three men implicated in the shootings at a McDonald’s outlet in Sydney River a year earlier.
At the time, I was just a year older than Derek Wood and Darren Muise, two of the leaders of a robbery gone horribly wrong. I was also just a few years younger than Donna Warren, one of three lives lost on that awful night in May 1992, and Arlene MacNeil, the lone survivor, left permanently disabled by the evening’s events.
I felt like everything I knew and loved about Cape Breton was destroyed that night. My blood ran cold as I listened to media reports of the evidence that led to lengthy sentences for Wood, Muise and Freeman MacNeil. I can’t even imagine the horror felt by those living in the Sydney area, especially those who worked at that McDonald’s restaurant or the families and friends of the victims and the perpetrators.
Again: All white men. All born and raised in Nova Scotia. All responsible for a tragedy that has left a permanent scar on Cape Breton and on Nova Scotia in general.
All of this, however, is helpful as I try to deal with the remaining pockets of blind racism on my social media feeds, in our communities, and even in the White House.
The truth that many of these people don’t want to hear: We hold no moral high ground, because we’re as capable – perhaps exponentially more capable – of launching senseless violence on ourselves as anybody we might welcome into our countries.
And that’s mighty wrong of us.