Tag Archives: racism

Blackface a Black Mark on Montreal

By Jason Menard

The world’s greatest city just got one heck of a black eye thanks to a bunch of allegedly smart kids parading around in blackface for the world to see.

The idea that a bunch of white kids would engage in this sort of activity in the first place is inane; the fact that they didn’t think that it would end up on YouTube for the world to see? That’s just mind-numbingly stupid. Continue reading

Finding the Right Steps in the White Guy Linguistic Jig

By Jason Menard

I’m all in favour of using appropriate language. I also strongly believe that the words we choose can harm – and that we should never be careless with our speech. Unfortunately, I hate the White Guy Linguistic Jig that it can sometimes create.

It’s not restricted to white guys, of course. But we’re just so darn good at it! Continue reading

Does Free-Market Reluctance Betray Fear of Who We Really Are?

By Jason Menard

As you’ve likely heard, McDain’s has drawn a line in the sandbox – tomorrow the Monroeville, PA restaurant will start enforcing its no-children-under-six policy. While many adults are stomping their feet, threatening to take their toys home, or calling in an adult (in this case, a lawyer), there’s one thing that people seem to be unwilling to explore.

That’s letting the market decide what the market wants. But are we too afraid to let the market speak for itself in case it eventually reveals something we don’t want to see.  Continue reading

Whitewashed Huck Finn a Lost Opportunity to Learn

By Jason Menard,

You all know how the road to Hell is paved, right? Well, a report in Publishers Weekly suggests that a pair of scholars is editing the book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to remove segments that have caused the book to be banned from some schools. By following this path, these scholars are steering our kids away from exactly the wrong thing – an opportunity to learn.

While the motive behind this action — exposing more kids to a classic piece of literature — is good, the devil is in the details. And those details are leading us down a slippery slope where ideas that run counter to the culture can be smoothed over, made more palatable – and, thereby, neutered.

At hand is Twain’s frequent use of the N-word. So while a literary giant like Little Wayne can “nigga” his way through life with impunity, because he’s not a modern-era rapper, Twain’s cultural output is going to get edited to make it more palatable for today’s readers.

Yes, I’m well aware that this edition is designed only for schools and that the original offensive-to-modern-sensibilities version will continue to exist. But isn’t school the best place to address these issues? Is it not in an environment where a qualified teacher is overseeing a group discussion examining not just the word, but how it got there a better way to deal with the past other than just whitewashing it?

I started this with reference to one adage, so why stop at one? You know what they say about those who forget history, correct? Slave, the preferred alternative, is not the same as the N-word. And if this squeaky-clean version exists, how many schools are going to stockpile that version over the original – just to avoid potential conflicts and complaints?

Instead of removing this word from the book, we should highlight it. Today’s youth has become desensitized to the power of the N-word through music and cultural assimilation of the term. They don’t understand what the word truly means.

It’s not just a rhyme for “trigga” – it’s a word that’s filled with generations of hate, ignorance, and the worst of human frailties. It’s a word that grew powerful upon the backs of men who were powerless. It’s a word that should be retired from the English language as a whole – not just in edited books targetted to a school-aged audience. But until that word’s been eradicated from our society, our society must be educated about its meaning.

Kids know it’s a bad word. But it’s not enough to know that it’s bad – one has to know why it’s bad. And that comes from understanding the societal forces that led from slavery, through Emancipation, to the equal rights and Black Power movements, to where we are today. If a kid questions why this word – so taboo in our modern culture – is so freely used throughout a classic piece of literature, then maybe that sparks a discussion about the way the world used to be. We can revisit our society’s horrors and our successes, and we can teach how to overcome ignorance – not just ignore it.

The Conspiracy Theorists will come out saying that this is just the start of a long path towards castrating our culture’s harshest critics. After all, some of our greatest social commentary has come from the realm of fiction. I don’t see this issue as the foundation upon which a 1984-esque totalitarian state will arise (although, very likely, in that case the government would be editing out parts of 1984, wouldn’t they?)

One of the scholars stated that it’s not about eliminating the question of race from the equation, but rather, “it’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.” The thing is, how we express that in the 21st century is directly attributed to the lessons we’ve learned leading up to 2011. If you remove the initial expression, does the lesson get learned in the future?

In the end, it is nothing more than our society’s reluctance to deal with the harsh things in life. It’s our society’s insistence of treating children like idiots. Just because they’re amused by Jersey Shore doesn’t mean the capacity for deeper thought doesn’t exist.

Yes, it may be harder to have a discussion about this particular word, but the benefits of that discussion will be far more valuable to students than going through life ignorant of the past.

We haven’t always been a good people. We, as a white culture, have done a lot of bad things to a lot of different races. And future generations have to know about our collective mistakes so that they can learn from them and prevent them from occurring in the future.

Anything less and we’re just whitewashing the past.

Sad Commentary

By Jason Menard

It’s too bad that so many people use the term free speech when it’s clear that they have absolutely no understanding that it isn’t, in fact, free — it’s paid for through responsibility.

Not to vilify the Internet, but the anonymity it provides gives people a sense of invincibility — emboldening them to say things they would never, ever say in public, with their faces and names attached to their commentary. Continue reading

Not So Black and White

By Jason Menard

I’ve always considered myself colourblind when it comes to issues of race – but maybe my vision’s not as pure as I think.

Oddly enough, this revelation came from watching an episode of Lost. Without getting too involved in the plot, an older black woman has been expressing her certainty that her husband was still alive, despite being in the back of the plane when it tore apart. Recently we met new characters, survivors from the back, and one – a slightly older black man, I assumed was her husband.

In fact, it was an older white man who turned out to be her husband. And I never even considered the possibility.

Was I outraged at the depiction of an interracial marriage on TV? No. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I honestly believe we’re all the same on the inside, and the exterior doesn’t matter. But what bothers me is that I assumed that the black male would be the black woman’s husband – never entertaining the possibility of a mixed-race union.

Why is it that I can pass thousands of same-colour couples, both black and white, and not notice them, while I notice the mixed-race couples? I don’t judge, don’t discriminate – and really don’t care about these people and I go on my merry way. But why do I notice them – not the others?

You know who I blame? Spike Lee. Well, not just Spike Lee, but I blame those who consistently reinforce the negative aspects of our society and continue to hold up race as a divisive issue.

I understand that, for some people, race is an issue and there are deep-rooted discriminatory beliefs that need to be address and eradicated. But the flip side of this is that this sort of activism plants a seed in the minds of those whose thoughts aren’t infested by this insidious racism. Because the mirror has been held up to society so long, we’re noticing the reflections as aberrations, as opposed to the natural unions and co-existence they should be.

So how do we balance the need to educate those who continue to hold on tightly to the reins of ignorance and steer them to enlightenment, with the damaging effects that shining a spotlight on these issues can have for those of us who don’t consider colour and race an issue? Are activists, who rightly strive for a day when race and religion are not an issue, compromising their ideals and dreams by making race and religion something to be noticed – an issue, however benign, in the minds of those who previously wouldn’t even factor them in our day-to-day life?

I wasn’t brought up to discriminate and I can say I have a collection of friends that span a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. It’s not something of which I boast, or which I’m proud, simply because it’s just what it is. It’s not something I think about. Nor is race or religion a determining factor in how I develop my social relationships. There are so many other reasons not to like someone that using the colour of their skin, the God they choose (or choose not) to worship, or their country of origin, just seems so petty. They are my friends, and I’m proud to have them as friends – independent of their country of origin.

In discussing this issue with others, I spoke of how in my life I’ve had a number of friends of various ethnicities. But as I thought further, I remembered even more that came from different countries and religions. I didn’t think of them as my black friend, or my Bengali friend – they were just friends. Their colour and creed weren’t an issue, nor were they of interest to me, except as an opportunity to explore and learn about another culture. But these are ancillary benefits – the main benefit was, and is, friendship.

I hate the fact that people will say, “Oh, I’m blessed to have good black friends like…” or “I have a lot of Hispanic friends…” in their conversation. I’m blessed to have these people as friends first and foremost. Their ethnicities are ancillary to our friendship. Of course, when it comes to dinner, I appreciate their backgrounds more – I’m not going to say no to a good Lebanese or Greek meal.

I look no further than my daughter, who will soon be turning four. She has had a friend for a couple of years now, who happens to be black. But instead of remarking on the colour of her skin, what impressed upon my daughter was that she had curly hair. To this day, her skin colour has never come up – it just is what it is.

And that’s the way it should be. And that’s the way it can be. As a writer, I love adjectives, but not when it comes to describing people. The best description I can give to anyone — whether black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, or Christian – is friend — and friend alone.

But the mirror to our society as a whole has been held up — and I don’t like how it’s affected me. Like a funhouse mirror, we’ve created aberrations where, for many, only a clear reflection would normally appear.

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