In “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead, I call this horse “Blacky.” That was not his real name. He was actually called (brace yourself) “Nigger.” He was the second “Nigger” my grandparents owned (they also owned a black horse called Darkey). So why did I change his name for the story?
It was a very different world 100 or even 50 years ago. Political correctness did not exist. Attitudes and words that today are considered reprehensible and racist were then so commonplace as to be unremarkable. The Renaissance philosophy of The Great Chain Of Being still dominated people’s understanding of the proper order of the world. Northern Europeans considered themselves superior to eastern and southern Europeans (“Bohunks” and “Wops,” respectively), the English to other northern Europeans (especially the French – a centuries-old enmity), the Protestants to the Catholics (the RCs as my grandmother called them), and Presbyterians to other Protestant denominations. These attitudes were still prominent when I was growing up in the 1950s.
The Loyal Orange Lodge, of which my grandfather was a proud member, marched as regularly in Canada as it did in Ireland. According to the Lodge’s 1901 Constitution, it disclaimed “an intolerant spirit;” nevertheless, its goals were “the overthrow of the most oppressive bigotry [i.e., Catholicism], and the restoration of pure religion [i.e., Protestantism].” (To be fair to the Lodge, it is no longer militantly Protestant.) The Ku Klux Klan played on these anti-French and anti-Catholic sentiments to gain a strong foothold in the prairies, particularly Saskatchewan, during the late 1920s and into the 1930s.
Asians and Africans were barely on the scale. They were tolerated because, like livestock, they performed useful functions – building a railroad or running cafes and laundries. “Chinaman” was one of the kinder words used when speaking of Asians. In 1918, the Meyronne Hotel proudly advertised “All white help employed.” When Ring-Necked Pheasants were introduced into western Canada in 1929, the Meyronne Independent reported that “the ancient Yellow Peril seems more imminent.” Saskatchewan passed legislation preventing Chinese business owners from hiring “white” employees. Indigenous people were shuttered on reserves and residential schools and left to the devices of government, churches and Indian agents. And, yes, black horses were regularly called the “N”-word. That’s just the way it was back then.
That horse’s name presented a dilemma when I started to write the chapter “More Adventures with Livestock.” Should I remain true to my grandfather’s diary entries, or should I change its name so as not to offend readers?
I discussed this with members of the Airdrie writing group and with some historian friends who read the first draft. The reaction was mixed. Some were uncomfortable with the horse’s real name and recommended I change it; others had no problem with it. The former said changing the name wouldn’t change the story or the horse’s character; the latter said it was historically accurate so I should keep it. In the end, I changed it.
Should I have changed the horse’s name? I don’t know. Perhaps I did cave in to political correctness. However, I did not moderate other attitudes and words, not because I agree with them but because that would not have been an accurate portrayal of the world in which my grandparents lived.
(Read how religious discrimination played a prominent role in the Saskatchewan provincial election of 1929 (Chapter 30) in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead)
#discrimination #prejudice #HomesteadEra #FamilyHistory #HistoricalFiction #RedCoatTrail #MeyronneSaskatchewan #PoliticalCorrectness