And then there was the sad sign that a young woman working at a Tim Hortons in Lethbridge, Alberta, taped to the drive-through window in 2007. It read, “No Drunk Natives.”
Accusations of racism erupted, Tim Hortons assured everyone that their coffee shops were not centres for bigotry, but what was most interesting was the public response. For as many people who called in to radio shows or wrote letters to the Lethbridge Herald to voice their outrage over the sign, there were almost as many who expressed their support for the sentiment. The young woman who posted the sign said it had just been a joke.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that drunks are a problem. But I lived in Lethbridge for ten years, and I can tell you with as much neutrality as I can muster that there were many more White drunks stumbling out of the bars on Friday and Saturday nights than there were Native drunks. It’s just that in North America, White drunks tend to be invisible, whereas people of colour who drink to excess are not.
Actually, White drunks are not just invisible, they can also be amusing. Remember how much fun it was to watch Dean Martin, Red Skelton, W. C. Fields, John Wayne, John Barrymore, Ernie Kovacs, James Stewart, and Marilyn Monroe play drunks on the screen and sometimes in real life? Or Jodie Marsh, Paris Hilton, Cheryl Tweedy, Britney Spears, and the late Anna Nicole Smith, just to mention a few from my daughter’s generation. And let’s not forget some of our politicians and persons of power who control the fates of nations: Winston Churchill, John A. Macdonald, Boris Yeltsin, George Bush, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Hard drinkers, every one.
The somewhat uncomfortable point I’m making is that we don’t seem to mind our White drunks.
They’re no big deal so long as they’re not driving. But if they are driving drunk, as have Canada’s coffee king Tim Horton, the ex-premier of Alberta Ralph Klein, actors Kiefer Sutherland and Mel Gibson, Super Bowl star Lawyer Milloy, or the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mark Bell, we just hope that they don’t hurt themselves. Or others.
More to the point, they get to make their mistakes as individuals and not as representatives of an entire race.
Thomas King (The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America)