Home CommentaryOpinions We’ve come a long way, but not far enough

We’ve come a long way, but not far enough

by The Concordian October 22, 2011

The provincial government has planned to cut more than $180 million from the education sector by March, in order to keep the province on track for its zero-deficit target for 2013-14. That is on top of the $110 million already cut from education earlier this year.
Clearly Michelle Courchesne, president of the provincial treasury board, has not seen the news lately and fails to understand the correlation between education and racial harmony.
When Anthony Morgan, a McGill law student, witnessed approximately 15 HEC students decked in blackface last Wednesday, dancing and chanting without a care in the world, he ran straight into a situation emblematic of a bigger problem plaguing our society: a serious lack of education about other cultures.
Gil Troy, who teaches U.S. history at McGill, believes education is the key to moving forward.
“I am an educator, so I prefer to turn such fiascoes into teachable moments rather than legal actions,” he said. “What is intriguing about this incident is what seems to be the lack of intention to insult and the unthinking bigotry it reflects.”
Lack of intention aside, it is one thing to pay tribute to the world’s greatest sprinter, Usain Bolt, but it is another to mock people while stereotyping an entire country. Was the verbal typecasting (chanting “smoke more weed, mon”) and stuffed monkey necessary? I will tell you what; I was in Jamaica last Christmas and although the smell of marijuana was semi-pervasive, I never once heard anyone speak like that nor was it implied that the entire Jamaican population smokes marijuana. And it turns out that associating monkeys with black people has also been severely disparaged in Europe, where entire soccer teams have been reprimanded for their fans’ behaviours.
Unfortunately Jamaicans abroad are being heavily stigmatized based on these foolish misconceptions. I do not know what is more upsetting between the fact that the students thought they were not offending anyone or that the administration claims this was done “in the spirit of the Olympic Games.”
Sure, the Olympics. Remember in 1976 when Nadia Comăneci got her perfect 10 on the uneven bars, then quickly ran to the bathroom to wash her blackface off? Or at the Sydney 2000 games when Simon Whitfield won the triathlon disguised as an aboriginal. These HEC students were just celebrating a longstanding tradition, right?
Wrong. There was nothing noble about this positively asinine idea. Organizers had been planning this for weeks, it was revealed, yet how come no one raised a hand and said “Hey, guys, this might be a little offensive to everyone.”
Morgan was entirely right when he said “I think the bigger issue is how little we know about the history and historical contributions of Jamaicans.” These students should not be labelled as racists because they did not know they were offending anyone and it was not intended to provoke racial hatred.
Ignorant fools, however, would be a label I could comfortably use. They should have known that blackface is taboo in North America, similarly to the buck toothed caricatures of Japanese people or hook nosed portrayals of Jewish people. We live in a society that should be well aware of these standardizations. These are well-educated students, who go to a school where “established and future managers come to acquire much sought-after skills.” How is it that none of them knew about the ramifications of wearing blackface?
Last May, the Quebec Human Rights Commission released a report revealing that ethnic minorities in Quebec are subject to “police surveillance that is targeted and disproportionate.”
In all fairness, these students probably did not want to offend anyone but that does not absolve them because they chose to ridicule a stereotype based on race.
University students during frosh week tend to engage in moronic activities, as we all know. A human rights complaint may be warranted but would probably not remedy anything. The key is education and an apology from the students themselves, who we have not heard from yet.
Was it in poor taste? Sure. Hopefully these immature students will be emotionally scarred for the duration of their academic careers and the university can make an example out of them by educating their students about xenophobia.
“Rather than prosecuting these individuals and going legal, I would rather try to facilitate a conversation between the offended student, the offending students and the broader student community,” explained Troy.
What if Anthony Morgan, who is of Jamaican descent, had not been at Université de Montreal that day? Would anyone have complained? Think about it.

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