Reader's view: Good intentions don’t excuse hurtful comments
St. Louis County Commissioner Steve Raukar has done what is so easily done by those of us in dominant groups. He has assumed, initially unconsciously, that his worldview and understanding of history is accurate and universally shared.
It was almost textbook how predictably the story unfolded. Raukar whitewashed an element of history by remembering how “great” immigration was for “all those involved,” forgetting that the upside for white Europeans was at the expense of the Native peoples whose land, lifestyle and lives were lost (“Comment at County Board meeting draws Native American rebuke,” July 1).
When confronted on his inaccuracy and insensitivity, he did what predictably follows. He retreated to focus on his intent and ignored and discounted the impact of his ill-thought-out statement. Gaffs such as his are all too common and derive from a dominant-group, self-centric worldview reinforced by a distorted teaching of history.
That Raukar was unable or unwilling to acknowledge his error demonstrated how fiercely those of us in dominant groups can hold to intent as a justification for harmful actions. As if not meaning to do harm in any way lessens its impact on those injured by the action. I am disappointed in him and am saddened for the generations of Native Americans whose history was discounted and whose suffering was rekindled by his actions.
What those of us in dominant groups must learn and truly accept is that offenses that align with historic and systemic oppression are bigger than the offense would be without that tie to historic oppression. Just as threatening “jokes” by a perpetrator of domestic violence are more than what they seem at face value, so, too, are comments that dominant-group members may see as harmless. We can begin by becoming aware of the untold parts of our history and reflecting that more pluralistic view in our language.