by Jack Caldwell

The new U.S. attorney general is reported to have said this:

The U.S. is a “nation of cowards” that fears frank discussion of race, said Eric Holder, the first black attorney general.

For the country to make racial progress, people must feel comfortable discussing racial matters, Holder said today in Washington at a Justice Department event celebrating Black History Month.

Holder, 58, speaking to department employees and visitors, said an appreciation of black history will help lead to better understanding. He said there isn’t enough interaction between people of different races outside the workplace.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said. “We, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial.”

Thus challenged and thus emboldened, let me talk about race in mining.  I grew up in South Africa where racialism was a way of life and the very foundation of the mining industry.  I know what it is to be brought up an unconscious racialist.  I know what it is to eat at a Black nanny’s lap, who cleans the toilets but is not allowed to use them.  I know what it is to laugh at my father’s native picannin who carried his water bottle down the mine in the morning and cleaned the family car in the afternoon and who fled when the hooter (horn) went off due to a short, he claiming that it was the Tokolosh (evil spirit) who did not like natives touching white men’s cars.

I know what it is to flee the confines of a South African mine to go to University, there to come in contact with men of stature who abhorred racialism.  I recall my professor of civil engineering (Prof. Jennings) who went out of his way to help his servants and ranted at apartheid.  He taught me to try to live up to the basic definition of civil engineering as the control of the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.  He taught me to try to find cost-effective ways to build houses to house the Black population,  And he taught me to help the three Black student whom he managed to get admitted to the civil department at the University of the Witwatersrand when it was illegal for blacks to attend a white university.

Then I studied law.  And there I met Prof Duggard who tried to teach us that Roman Dutch law was not a basis of racilaism for the Romans were not racialists although they may have been class conscious.  He taught me that apartheid and racialism is ugly.  That teaching was reinforced by studies in archaeology under Prof Mason.  For he taught us that native civilizations had existed in southern Africa long before the coming of the whites.  He made us read about the races of pre-hominids, only one group of which survived to become us, homo sapiens sapiens.  He introduced me to Darwin, whom the school system had supressed. 

For if you study Darwin you cannot be a racialist.  He was British to the core, but recognized how local factors could induce subtle changes that are now branded races.  The differences are, so to speak, only skin deep. 

Then I came to Canada where I encountered the racialism of the whites versus the aboriginals.  And that racialism continues in full force today.  See the blog posting beneath this one for one ugly example.  For surely the fixed law of Canada is that equal nations signed treaties and we should abide by those laws if only because law is the only civilized way to interact. 

Then to America.  I carry an American passport and consider myself an American, if only because of the many children and grandchildren I have who are unquestionably Americans.  On behalf of the grandchildren I write this posting in the hopes that when they are adults the issue of racialism will no longer be.

In New Mexico I worked with the Hopi and the Navajos on the clean-up of old uranium mill tailings piles.  They were fine people characterized by all the qualities and variability that make one human.  But they too were and continue to be the victims of racialism in mining.   Their stories abound on the web.

Now we have a president who is called a Black.  This is rubbish.  In the good old South African racial classification system he is a Coloured, i.e., of mixed race.  And the Coloureds in South Africa were not at all like the Blacks.  Most of the Coloureds spoke Afrikaans.  Prof Andy Fourie told me proudly last I drank with him that he is a Coloured for his great-grandmother was a Bushman princess who fell in with a minister from Scotland.  The inverted racialism of all that!

Cuba is a racilistic nation.  For recall that the rulers who gather around Castro are from the Spanish who took over the island.  And now they rule viciously over the majority of the people who are Black.  And the Canadians love that as much as they love the nickel that comes from Cuban mines.

I have never encountered crass racialism in a mine either in Canada or in the United States.  Certainly nothing like was the norm in South Africa.  But then I have come across very few Black or Hispanic engineers in mining.  I am not sure if their absence is the result of racialism.  I have mingled freely and happily with Indians (from India),  Recall that in the South Africa in which I grew up, they too were an outcast race classified by law to the lower caste.  Not that India today is free of caste which is just another form of racialism. 

Mining is so integral a human activity that is is inevitable that the social practices of the community are reflected in the mines.  Just take a look at South America if you doubt me.  This is neither to condemn mining nor to exonerate it.  But I venture to suggest that there is no great need to address racialism in mining….though there is great need to address the concerns and needs of local populations of all colors affected by mines.  Only thus will mining make a valid contribution to the creation of a truly racial free society.

To further explore racialism in BC mining I went to lunch with the head of a failed junior mining company.  I asked him about his experiences with local (i.e., BC) First Nations folk in getting to meet with them and to mine on territory that is theirs or claimed to be theirs.  He told me that in the junior-mining industry the rule is that you won’t get to talk to the First Nations people easily.  The general experience is that you arrange a meeting, but it is cancelled.  You arrange another meeting and they do not come.  Then more appointments and more disappointments.  He told me his friends recommend keeping a record of all this so when you go to court you can document your attempts to consult.  And he told me that often the court agrees and you are off the hook.

This is a terrible story, a terrible practice, and scary when you put it in the context of the racial overtones of that is the way they negotiate. 

I challenged him and asked if this was a cultural thing, a racial thing, or simply smart negotiating.  We need not delay on his answer, except to say that after some heated words we agreed that it is a damn smart negotiating tactic.  Namely, keep ‘em on tenter-hooks until the last minute when they will be prepared to pay you more to keep the project going.  

Thus I am left wondering if there is any particular form of negotiating that is not universal.   I will have to seek out the handbooks on negotiating to see if this approach is included.  The danger is that if a particular form of negotiation is utilized too often it becomes associated with negative connotations.  Well maybe there is nothing wrong with that, if that is what you choose to do to win the negotiations. 

For surely the desire to win is universal.  There are good negotiators and bad negotiators everywhere.  I am convinced there are good men and bad men in every nation, state, group, tribe, caste, or race if you will.  The trick is to find the good men and to limit the damage wrought by the bad men.  Notice I purposely exclude the issue of good and bad women from this consideration.  One fight at a time, please.