One of the chief arguments pressed into service in defence of so-called “casual” racism – that is, racism that occurs as part of popular culture without any awareness of racist content on the part of the majority – is that in the absence of intent, acts are not racist. While we here know this to be largely a fiction born of self-flattery, it is surprisingly persuasive and popular. It’s not exactly a difficult puzzle to solve – if you have not had to deal with the consequences of racism in your own life, you’re unlikely to have much appreciation for the myriad ways in which it manifests itself and exerts its influence.
The close cousin of the intent argument is the “well that’s not what it means to me” argument. When someone uses racist imagery in this same “casual” way, either out of apathy or ignorance, the typical response is for the person to say that ze simply doesn’t see it as being racist. This is often the case for things like blackface or cultural appropriation from First Nations – it’s not racist, it’s like, totally meant as a compliment! Or it’s completely blind to the culture from which it’s taken. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.
What I do know is that some explanations are more bafflingly clueless and indefensible than others: … Continue Reading
Those of you who have either been reading this blog for several years or who regularly follow my Twitter feed and have caught one of my unhinged rants on the subject, I am decidedly not a fan of Canada’s Sun News Network. While (full disclosure) I would not be a fan of any ‘right wing’ news outlet, there are gradations of obnoxiousness and professionalism that allows me a wide level of tolerance for ideas that do not necessarily reflect my own (Margaret Wente, columnist for The Globe and Mail sits just on the periphery of what I can stand before I begin cursing at my computer monitor). I recognize (and laud) that a commitment to freedom of speech specifically licenses views that I disagree with, and I recognize the importance of heterodoxy in a modern democratic state.
The need for divergent views, however, must be balanced with a respect for truth and a commitment to scrupulous standards of fairness. There is no value in claiming validity for positions that are based in distortions of fact or outright lies. In news circles, this ethos is known as “journalistic integrity” – the idea that news outlets have a duty to provide readers with analysis that as closely approximates objective truth as possible. Now I am nowhere near so naive that I fail to recognize that different outlets have editorial biases – that’s media criticism 101. However, there are standards of good reporting that require all editors to suppress their own personal beliefs in service of giving their audience proper information. … Continue Reading
One of the staples of black history month is legions of white people generating faux outrage in an ever-expanding variety of media wondering why there isn’t a “white history month”. There’s a black history month, the argument goes. Isn’t the goal for everyone to be equal? Why can’t we celebrate white history? Is it because you’re racist? I think it is!
The rejoinder that I and many others usually give (at this point it’s nearly perfunctory) is that the very existence of black history was denied for generations. Either by omission or by naked assertion, the possibility that blacks had contributed not only to American history but indeed to world history was precluded from contemplation, let alone taken seriously as scholarly pursuits. It is only very recently that this area has been considered worthy of academic exploration. As a result, we have a hole in our cultural understanding, requiring a special effort to acknowledge the role that a previously-excluded group of people played in our heritage.
The same cannot be said for white people, which is why there isn’t a “White History Month”. … Continue Reading
Because I was raised Catholic, I sometimes feel the call to do penance for my sins. If I have done something mildly naughty, I say a few ‘Hail Mary’s. If I’ve done something particularly bad, I might wear a hair-shirt for a couple of days. But if I have sinned so egregiously that nothing but the most severe punishment will do, I read the things people write about Ophelia Benson. The level of brain-exfoliating stupidity evinced by her committed claque of ‘enemies’ is usually painful enough to ensure that I will never transgress so profoundly again.
Today’s bit of mental self-flagellation comes courtesy of a podcast host by the name of Reap Paden: … Continue Reading
A little while ago I got into a silly fight with someone who I used to (before this fight) think was a pretty decent person. Ze had posted a comic that poked fun at people who misrepresent themselves on social media. Because it was the internet, a lot of the panels made fun of fat people. I pointed out that while the overall premise of the joke was funny, it could have made the same point equally as effectively without mocking people for their body size/shape. After all, surely they got enough of that just being out in public?
The discussion quickly devolved (with the help of one of her friends) into accusations of me grandstanding for attention because I was a blogger – a charge that even if it were true would be completely orthogonal to whether or not I was right. One of the recurring themes in the conversation – indeed, in any conversation in which a person is asked to consider the harm their comments make – is that I should somehow forgive the comic because it’s “just a joke”, as though the fact that someone finds it funny somehow makes it not harmful. As though nobody has ever been hurt by being the butt of a cruel joke before.
The very premise itself seems silly, but it’s a depressingly common refrain. And it seems there is no level of depravity in which it will not be pressed into service: … Continue Reading
Race is a social construct. It sounds like a pretty easy idea to wrap your head around, once you understand the meaning of what you’re saying. It’s the idea that the very concept of race itself isn’t genetically determined and isn’t quite as linear a relationship as simply contingent upon the colour of one’s skin (although this no doubt plays a significant role in racism and related constructs). Race as a social construct is a sort of discourse we pick up on, both consciously and unconsciously, throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes it’s literally hurled at us, and sometimes it’s very quietly and gradually written into (or out of) our day-to-day experiences. Race isn’t a Thing you can point at, reach out and take a sample of, and examine under a stereoscope. In my life, currently nothing is making this more clear than the public sphere of cyber activism in the Idle No More movement. The battlefields here are social media services like Twitter and YouTube, the comments section on online news articles, and blog posts. The battles being waged include re-education, de-bunking myths and stereotypes (watch for the Twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat for a brilliant demonstration of de-bunking by inversion), and working towards inspiring others to start the work of decolonization from within. It can be and often is equally as exhausting as standing in the rain for four hours in the flesh, and it is an equally important tool in the greater repertoire of established tactics to counter racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.
And that’s right about where any demarcations you may have previously believed exist very rapidly become ambiguous and murky. Race/ethnicity and (anti-)racism is complicated as all fuck.
… Continue Reading
One of the things that blogging has moved me to do more often is to learn about history. I am somewhat ashamed to say that between, let’s say, grade 10 history class (which was in 2000) and the founding of this blog (in 2010), I was not exactly what you might call ‘a student of history’. Sure, I picked up things in fits and snatches from newspaper articles and what I gleaned from just generally being a person who was paying attention to the world, but it would be a rare occurrence indeed for you to catch me studying history for its own sake. I have since learned the critical role that understanding history should play in our daily lives.
I think history is kinder to liberals than it is to conservatives (although these labels break down once you reach more than 30 years back). While there have been, and technically continue to be good conservative arguments to make about things, the political ‘left’ has moved to more or less occupy what was once the centre, while the right (particularly in America) has steadily moved to the extreme. As a result, American conservatives lionize Ronald Reagan – a man who was a terrible President and a terrible influence on the world – a man whose policies they would demonize as Satanic socialism were he living today. They don’t really have many other icons to boast about, nor major policy positions they can hang their hats on. They have become the less-clever Statler and Waldorf of policy – having nothing substantive to contribute, but always lobbing criticisms.
And it is a combination of their own lack of laudable history, and the same failure to learn actual history that I have been guilty of, that leads them to accept shockingly ahistorical statements like this: … Continue Reading
I am not one easily given to conspiracy theories. I usually assume that any major injustice or monumental political shift is due to an accumulation of human stupidity, rather than the genius machinations of a secret cabal. After all, as Karl Rove has taught us, most of the people who are rumoured to be political ‘geniuses’ are usually just lucky and have good PR. It’s usually safer to assume that the snake has no head, given how spectacularly bad human beings are at keeping secrets.
I do make two pet exceptions though. The first is for H1N1, which I think was seen as an opportunity to test our public health readiness infrastructure. We knew pretty early on that the disease wasn’t particularly fatal, but it was a good chance for us to see what would happen when a serious flu (like H5N1, for example) breaks out, in a natural experiment. This isn’t a nefarious conspiracy – I don’t think government labs ‘cooked up’ a fake disease or any nonsense like that – but I think they held back on telling the public that there really wasn’t anything to worry about.
The second conspiracy theory that’s been cooking in the back of my mind is that conservatives are secretly brilliant. That they’ve been playing at being buffoons as part of a trans-generational practical joke on liberals, who are just too slow/outraged to get the joke. How else do you explain the fact that Michelle Bachmann is sitting on the House Intelligence Committee? That kind of irony doesn’t just happen by accident – that’s satire on a grand scale.
The problem is that liberals still haven’t clued in after all these years, and they’re having to get more and more obvious in the hopes that we will catch on. For a recent example, we can turn to (where else?) Fox ‘News’: … Continue Reading
There was a piece in The Atlantic that caught my eye yesterday about the phenomenon of Nice Guys™ – men who attribute their lack of appeal to the opposite sex to a cognitive flaw in women that makes them claim that they want a nice, respectful partner, but then go on to date jerks who treat them like shit. More broadly, this is part of the “nice guys finish last” complex of memes that defines attractive masculinity in terms of emotional indifference and machismo, against which sensitive and caring men cannot hope to prevail.
There has been, over the years, a concerted backlash against this idea, as described in the article:
The notion that self-proclaimed “nice guys” might not be as nice as they think they are isn’t new. The Nice Guy™, as the figure is oftenreferred to, has been an object of sustained feminist critique over the past decade: for his less-than-flattering depiction of the women he claims to treat so well, for his passive-aggressive approach to picking up women, and for his underlying assumption that sex is an exchange—that if you’re a “good guy,” the women you’re good to should fall in love with and have sex with you…if not out of desire, then out of pity or obligation.
The author of the article then goes on to express a modicum of sympathy for men who buy into the “Nice Guy” mythplex, because there is real pain and frustration going on, and the popular critique does nothing to address it. If you’re not familiar with the Nice Guy™ phenomenon, or the feminist critiques thereof, I suggest you read the article before continuing (and definitely before commenting). I have to confess that when I first came upon the phenomenon thus named, and the way it was described by feminists (mostly women), I was strongly off-put. But there’s a reason for that…
One of the most fascinating case studies to consider when trying to underline the point that race is socially constructed (rather than an emergent property of biology) is the gradually-shifting definition of ‘whiteness’. ‘White’ was a label that has seen many redefinitions over the years in North America, as people who were previously forcibly excluded (e.g., Italians, Irish, Jews) were gradually and begrudgingly included under that privileged umbrella. It is an open question as to what extent political expediency versus demographics versus socioeconomic power played in this reclassification, but one cannot ignore the fact that it happened.
Canada is not immune from this reclassification pattern either. While the original political power in the nation of Canada was divided between those of English and French descent, the threat of American expansion and the promise of abundant resources forced the government of Canada to open its doors to large numbers of immigrants. As that (mostly and intentionally white) immigration happened, the definition of ‘white’ faced some serious pressures, both political and economical, prompting a shift that matches the one happening in the USA.
It is this history that makes the following story worth a brief comment: … Continue Reading