She Speaks: Reverse racism and other local myths

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On Facebook, saying ‘men are scum’ can get you kicked off the platform for 30 days (affectionately known as ‘facebook jail’). This, because you are furious at the global treatment of women at the hands of men; this, even in the #metoo uprising where it seemed almost every woman on my timeline was sharing a story of violence or abuse at the hands of a man.

Facebook, in their attempts to engender ‘equality’ with no context, decided that this was hate speech and shut it down, even when it came from the mouths of comics, or poets. Women lost a powerful way of expressing their disdain, their distress, their despair. Women have, all too often, had the power of naming taken from us, and I saw this as yet another silencing, another snipping of our reclamation of language. Sure, we are still oppressed on a planet-wide scale―but at least we’d been able to talk about it, for a breath anyway. Facebook decided we could talk about ourselves but not who was causing this pain.

Racism is prejudice plus power. Without power, the prejudice has no teeth. Sexism is the same. Men saying ‘women are whores’ is sexism because men have personal and institutional power in our society (inarguably a patriarchy) that they use, in multiple avenues such as media, politics, the workplace, and the home. Women saying ‘men are scum’ could be considered a prejudice, but it isn’t sexism because sexism is prejudice plus power, and this is no matriarchy.

A white person saying, “You people […] can pay a couple bucks for a poppy” is racism because ‘you people’ is what’s considered a dogwhistle, a word or phrase that may be argued to be innocuous but in fact makes all racists nod in agreement while the rest of us are debating semantics. It groups all non-white people into the category of the dehumanized ‘other’ and demands a certain behaviour from them in order to receive respect. It says ‘I know who the others are and I want them to answer for something’, and when someone with power in our society (for better or worse) like Don Cherry says it, it creates a reckoning. Suddenly people are checking to make sure ‘those people’ (non-whites, whether confirmed immigrants or not) are behaving in the way this white man has dictated. Are we actually comfortable with people who never fought a war checking to see if those fleeing war are being properly ‘respectful’ in a way that someone else who’s never fought a war has dictated?

No one called me out on not wearing a poppy―no one ever has. Don Cherry and other racists suffer from, among other things, one of the sins of the scientific method: confirmation bias. He came up with a conclusion and looked around, internally counting whenever he saw a person of colour without a poppy, using this to build his case. Did he take a tally of all the white people versus people of colour not wearing the poppy, to make sure his assumption was accurate? Did he ask even one person, non-confrontationally, why they chose not to wear a poppy? Or did he have a racist opinion (something along the lines of ‘brown people should be grateful to be in MY country and should assimilate so I continue to feel as comfortable and unchallenged in my power as I always have’) which he declared with such authority on a trust platform that people took it as fact? Did he ever consider he is a settler on land not conceded?

As I watched in dismay as this debate devolved, I realized that many people do not understand the power component of racism or sexism or any other ‘isms’. It isn’t just about someone using an identifying category of your identity to hurt your feelings and shame you (see: OKAY boomer). The power component is a necessary factor in oppression. No one can oppress others without the power to do so. People can be unkind, rude, even cruel―but that’s not oppression. Taking a position of power, like Don Cherry had, to open a meaningful discussion on this subject would have been interesting, albeit somewhat questionable due to his history as an instigator. Posing a question to the public like, ‘do you wear a poppy? Why or why not?’ would have been a welcome upgrade to his accusatory rant. And maybe it would have saved me from seeing white men in my community flood all the comment sections with the rallying cry of reverse racism.

Our society is set up in an extraordinarily flawed way―multiple intersecting hierarchies. So a white man could easily have a shitty life―but it’s not shitty because he’s white, or a man. It’s probably shitty because he’s experiencing poverty (‘class’ is very much an axis of oppression). When a straight, white, rich man on a major network with a massive following starts dictating how Canadians should react to newcomers, who experience multiple intersections of oppression, I admit I get nervous. It seemed to give a lot of people permission to point fingers, to draw lines, to light torches.

Another straight, white, rich man, Mark Zuckerberg, dictated that women couldn’t express our feelings in the aftermath of #metoo because it was, apparently, just as sexist for women to call men scum as it was for men to assault women (of which he has been accused, so no conflict of interest there…). Women rebelled, as we do―we found other ways. But too many of us are still silenced, and the women disproportionately affected, as always, are the women who are also of colour, from global majority countries, disabled, poor, mentally ill, it goes on. As a white woman, I very much consider it my responsibility to uplift the voices of those oppressed in ways I’m not. In fact, I consider that an honour, and I try really hard to learn how to do it most effectively, most justly.

I guess my holiday wish (and yes, there will be a column on How the Social Justice Snowflakes Stole Christmas) would be that those who have power on any axis, whether whiteness, straightness, income, or other, would use that power to bring people closer together, to foster understanding and empathy, not division and disrespect. Checking for poppies feels like checking for papers. We are on a very slippery slope here, and we decide whether we help others find their footing, or kick their legs out from underneath them and watch them fall.

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Kathleen May (Photo: Kai Rannik)

Kathleen May (Photo: Kai Rannik)

Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.

17 Comments

  1. But seriously,l think Mr. Cherry should have stayed in the corner and coached about hockey. I don’t appreciate his veiled bigotry and self righteous indignation on issues that have nothing to do about his game. My Father went overseas to fight for our freedom during the second world war. If he were alive today l know he would disagree with Mr. Cherry. Freedom includes the right to wear a poppy or not. Well written article Ms May!

    • Gord your father also went to fight for the right of free speech and it looks like we have lost that right in this country just so we can be politically correct. And I think Don was right we all should wear a poppy just out of respect for every one who gave so much for this county nothing to do with right or wrong just plain respect but that is something else thats been lost.

      • He did not say we all should wear one. He said immigrants should wear one. That was where he went off the rails, He did not call me out, for example, on my choice not to wear one. I am a white male. My grandfather fought in World War 1, and was even somewhat famous in that context, if Google searches are to be believed. So why didn’t Don include people like me in his rant? Why did he single out only the newcomers to this country? We all know why. Hence, the outrage.

        • Maybe I missed it but I never heard the word immigrants all i heard was you people who come here. and that could mean most of us. Sorry but I agree we all should buy and wear one out of respect for all the brave men and women that have served and are serving our country now it’s the least we can do.

          • You keep telling yourself that. He could have said “we” instead of “you people”. I know I certainly did not feel included in the group he was painting with that rather broad brush.

    • Also I don’t wear poppies , and my dad was in world war two in England for the whole war. And I don’t think anyone has the right to tell me what to wear or when to wear it, Pretty much as the freedom of speech thing, but why didn’t he say about me not wearing one? Cause he’s showing his true colours perhaps?

      • Given that many forms of ‘war’ continue today in Countries, and of our human nature for its propensity, we, as Canadians, are truly ‘blessed’! It would be a greater remission not to give homage to those whose sacrifice sustained our Nation’s vision and freedom. If the history and traditions don’t continue to remind us, memory and respect are so easily lost. Whatever the individual’s perception and expression, isn’t that the reminder of this precious gift given of our ‘good’ country? May we, as Canadians, never forget and always be on guard against those ‘forms’ of war, including idealogical! After all, this is an important part of being Canadian!

  2. In my opinion I think that it is unfortunate that as a society we consider entertainers or athletes as important people.
    The words and opinions of entertainers should not create such a widespread reaction from the general public.
    His words are just not that important.

  3. Karen Wehrstein on

    The sexist & racist powers also use these prejudices to maintain power. It’s an old right-wing game. Blame increasing poverty on immigrants and working women and whomever else you can think of rather than the real reason — increasing income inequality due to greed — and turn the 99% against each other.
    .
    I disagree with you, though, that it’s okay to say “men are scum.” For sure some of them are, but not all. It’s a generalization, and racism and sexism are generalizations as well. If Facebook must answer it with a timeout, I agree with exemptions for satire and poetry. A computer program that just finds the three words is too broad a brush.

    Having said all that, what infuriates me about Facebook is that, at the same time they’re doing this, they’re exempting political ads from fact-checking. (https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-political-ads-fact-check-policy-explained-2019-11) The people whose utterances should MOST be fact-checked — because they are using them to influence voters to put them into positions of power — will not be. There is something very, very wrong there, as there was when Facebook was selling political ads that were being paid for in rubles. The huge social media platforms have immense power and therefore need to be tightly regulated, imho.
    .
    As for Don Cherry… he’s been dogwhistling since forever. If he went a little further than usual due to inspiration from south of the border, he won’t be the first person to find out that, no, crapping on immigrants of colour hasn’t suddenly become socially acceptable again, so kiss your job goodbye. I agree with Gord Danks that he should have stuck to hockey and crazy suits, because he’s brilliant at those things. Politics is over his head.

  4. TRAVIS MEDLAND on

    I am really glad I grew up in a time where the message of judging a person on their character and actions rather than their race, social status and gender was the mainstream. It seems like that message has been lost. Very sad and what a shame, everyone should be treated equally and saying “men are scum” is just as bad as saying “women are whores”

  5. Finally, a Canadian with the courage to stand against all the politically correct people afraid to offend those that need to be offended. The premise of Don’s comment was really not just about wearing a poppy but that remembering our veterans goes far beyond that.

    Don appeals to what he sees as a silent majority of hard-working, salt-of-the-earth Canadians forced to keep their mouth shut, be politically correct, accept the discrimination and racism increasingly levelled at white Canadians of Western Europe origin, discrimination at an even higher level if we’re Christian or Jewish. He is their guy. He stands for what they stand for and our country would have a much brighter future or rather, a future if complacency wasn’t regarded as a virtue.
    Currently Canada is dying, is in retreat- in politics, in the schools, in the courts, in the media, in the loud voices who somehow decide what can be said and what cannot be said.

    We’ve come a long way from the simpler days when our war heroes were celebrated, when patriotism was a virtue, when we respected and valued our military, when we honoured our warriors by refusing to let the freedoms that they gave us through their sacrifice, be taken from us. Remembrance Day does bring the hard truth home in a very personal way because it forces reflection on the very serious and worsening state of affairs in our country, the ever increasing threat of loss of democratic rights, and Canada’s erosion of status.

  6. Your experience with Facebook is not surprising. These internet services or apps are not automatically a civil right. When automobiles first became popular no one had insurance. It remained for time to hammer out thousands of rules for the road including liability insurance. The Web will evolve driven by comment like yours. In America Zuckerberg was called before the government over privacy so one can understand his caution. Do not feel centered out, Youtube does the same thing. Ouch!
    Since I did not wear-buy a poppy I am a member of that “you people”. Unlike you I was boned twice, three times if we count Don Cherry’s rant over no poppy.
    My family, like most Canadian families during the wars had dinner table members who fought in war or hung remembrance portraits for those who died. In shell shock victims or PTSD as we refer to it now, the entire family pays dearly by living their soldiers mental war that rages at night. PTSD is an open wound for life for having participated in the DEFENCE of the country. I ask my dad on a trip to visit his brother in Oklahoma, “Who was Harry?” , Harry being a name he called out in his nightmare. His response was “It is nothing Kenny. I am just glad you and your brother never had to go.”
    I grew up in Huntsville and can remember Vic Johnson, “Farmer Head” Hobos , often intoxicated, walking around town. ‘Those People’ or at least many of them fought in World War One , Two, or Korea and like many today, returning from the Middle East strife find a culture they can no longer join. Isolated by their own memories, when they close their eyes at night, the war returns. A chance glimpse out on the street of their hometown replays a bloody scene they experienced at war.
    After sacrificing their peace of mind for their country, they find they can no longer hold a job down. If the boss sees them as they relive a harsh moment he may see their internal horror being expressed on their face. In the era of mass killings they may error on the side of caution and weed them out. The soldier only longs for the calm peace of a frivolous day dream.
    It is absurd that a country as wealthy as Canada, should pay a minister of defence an upper middle class wage and retirement while allowing those who risked death to be homeless.
    I mentioned the post war hobos, when I was a young teenager the family rented what were known as terraces. The train tracks were behind the house and word came a hobo was hit by a train. We ran down to the site and I built a long term memory of the fellow laying beside the track, knocked out of the way. His bottle of wine was still standing on a tie. I do not know who he was but, he was free of his memories.
    I agree Mr Cherry was off the point. If you watch the clip where he walks out onto a sports field, there is a small group of soldiers as well as the crowd as a whole that give a sampling of the racial makeup of the country called Canada. Our elected people are engaged in a process to socially engineer racial tolerance. In my view the whole idea is divisive. TV adds mostly show the family as a racial mix, which many are, but not most. Newer TV dramas include same sex, even when it contributes little to the plot. To people appalled by same sex driven by their personal beliefs, this is divisive. Interpreting Don Cherry’s words as divisive is itself divisive. Such change is driven by acceptance not indoctrination. Every fan of Don Cherry was polarised by the NATIONAL broadcaster firing him. I purposely over used the word divisive mocking the CTV National new who used the word four or five times in one broadcast.
    Don Cherry may have more fans than any Canadian Prime Minister ever had votes yet our NATIONAL broadcaster kicked him to the curb in the name of political correctness, our new Charter of Rights – again divisive. The feminist tone of your comment is again divisive.

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