Translate

Showing posts with label blackface. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blackface. Show all posts

Friday, 11 October 2019

There's Hypocrisy, and Then There's Scheer Hypocrisy

Andrew Scheer has dual citizenship.  So what?

When I heard the "breaking news" that Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, and potentially Canada's next Prime Minister in a couple of weeks from now, held dual citizenship, I thought, "big deal; so what?"  We're not like those Americans obsessed with national homogeneity:  obsessed with President Trump's (aka Drumpf) being German, or obsessed with President Obama's birth certificate and Kenyan father, or obsessed with presidential-hopeful Senator Ted Cruz being born in Canada.  We believe in the Canadian multicultural mosaic in contrast to the assimilation of the American melting pot.





Dual citizenship versus hypocrisy

I disagree with Andrew Coyne who finds dual citizenship--not the blatant hypocrisy--to be the essence of the problem.  I would go so far as to claim that dual citizens are a net gain for Canada, making us a hub of international networks beneficial to our national interests in an increasingly interlinked, globalized planet.  However, it does give me pause to think that a man who could, in two weeks from now, be the Prime Minister of Canada is an American citizen.  The greatest leadership challenge of our next Prime Minister will be walking the fine line between the USA and China in our trade and diplomatic relations.  It is hard not to laugh at Scheer's ludicrous, hollow bravado claiming that Canada needs to "get tough with China."  The Chinese already have reason to believe that Canada only exists as a lackey branch-plant kowtowing to American interests.  Electing an American citizen as Prime Minister will make it that much harder to convince them otherwise.


There's hypocrisy then there's Scheer hypocrisy 

In my previous post, on blackface, I wrote that "I have never found politicians calling one another hypocrites very convincing or meaningful."  There are degrees of hypocrisy.  Andrew Scheer seems out to prove himself the hypocrite of hypocrites, the stone-throwing king of glasshouses. The Scheer unmitigated hypocrisy of criticizing the dual citizenship of Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair--all the while holding dual citizenship himself--has been laid out in the mainstream media.


Dual American versus French citizenship

What has been less explicitly spelt out are the differences between Scheer's American citizenship and the French citizenship of Jean, Dion and Mulcair.  In the first place, as many of my dual-citizenship friends have pointed out, renouncing your American citizenship is much more difficult to do than you might imagine.  The USA is one of only two countries in the world which levy personal income tax on non-resident citizens.  This translates to the fact that Scheer would have had to file an American income tax statement every year.  Unlike most dual citizenships, where it is possible to be a dual citizen and rarely think about it, Scheer would have been reminded of his dual citizenship and decided to maintain it every year of his adult life.

Jean, Dion and Mulcair each explained clearly how and why they became dual citizens (always related to family issues) but Scheer has left the explanation murky by simply claiming his father was an American.  However, the fact that his father was an American living in Canada does not in itself explain how Scheer became an American.  Another step and process were necessary, and Scheer had to undertake the process and annually decided to maintain his American citizenship.  As we are stopping to consider how Scheer would do in negotiating with our US neighbours, while maintaining a Canadian identity and culture distinct from the American monolith, we might wonder at the fact that both his sisters are registered Republicans living in the USA.


Sarcasm is the lowest form of irony

Snippets of Scheer's 2005 blog criticizing Michaëlle Jean's dual French/Canadian citizenship have littered the media, but it is worthwhile to consider his entire text (6, 13 Aug. 2005) in context.  What dominates and characterizes Scheer's writing is sarcasm.  Sarcasm, as I've pointed out elsewhere, is the lowest form of irony.  Sarcasm transmits an attitude, usually of disdain, without any clear, explicit content.  It tends to be a dissembling, cowardly form of communication--pretending that you will be understood, but without taking responsibility for what you are saying.  It demands interpretation but escapes interpretation because with sarcasm the dissembler never explicitly says what he means and can always deny whatever interpretation is given to his words.





Scheer in his own words

In the blog, Scheer rhetorically questions Michaëlle Jean's dual citizenship (though Jean, unlike Scheer, renounced her dual citizenship before taking office), then goes on to mock her claim, that "Having a person like me as governor-general will mean a lot not only to Canadians. I think it will mean a lot for humanity."  Scheer replies snidely:
Right, all of humanity is very excited that you've become Governor-General. I can just hear a collective gasp of amazment and happiness from hundreds of millions of people all over the globe who are now inspired because you are the new GG.
All that, and she's modest too.
How can a man who would have us believe that "blackface" is an important issue in this election be self-satisfied mocking a black woman who quite rightly acknowledges that a  woman of colour being named Canada's Governor General is a gesture that will be celebrated around the world?  Didn't most Canadians relish the brilliance of  Michaëlle Jean as our GG and the sea change happening in the world as she greeted President Barack Obama on the tarmac at the Ottawa Airport?



Maintaining his narrow-minded, short-sighted view, in his blog, Scheer goes on to mock the choice of Adrienne Clarkson, only the second woman, the first member of a visible minority and the first Chinese-Canadian ever to be named Governor General.  Scheer continues his mockery of  "Another CBC broadcaster."  Adding:  "If the Liberals aren't hiring journalists in the PMO or appointing them to the Senate, they're making them Governor-General."  (The Conservative Government in which Scheer was an MP would later appoint two journalists to the Senate:  Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy--both of whom had worked for the CBC and became embroiled in the Canadian Senate expenses scandal.)

When does hypocrisy become outright deceit?

There is a point at which hypocrisy becomes outright deceit.  Scheer has certainly played on that point with his campaign mantra that "Justin Trudeau cannot be trusted."  Whenever Scheer has been questioned about why he has failed to reveal his dual citizenship, his response has been "No one has ever asked me."  Scheer became a Conservative Member of Parliament in 2004.  In 2006, when the Conservative Party was provoking a scandal over Stephane Dion's dual citizenship, the CBC launched an inquiry to determine how many Canadian MPs held dual citizenship.  CBC.ca reported that


Dion was criticized this week because of his reluctance to give up his French citizenship. He was born in Canada but holds dual citizenship because his mother was born in France. 
The Parliament of Canada website shows that 41 of the 308 MPs sitting in the House of Commons were born in 28 countries other than Canada, ranging from Uganda and Malta to China and the United Kingdom. 
Many of these MPs qualify for dual citizenship. That puts them in the ranks of the 691,300 people living in Canada who hold dual citizenships, according to the 2001 census. 
CBC.ca called their offices to check on their current status and found that the following MPs hold dual citizenships:
  • Omar Alghabra (Ontario Liberal), with Syria.
  • Raymond Chan (British Columbia Liberal), with the United Kingdom.
  • Libby Davies (British Columbia NDP), with the United Kingdom.
  • Jim Karygiannis (Ontario Liberal), with Greece.
  • Wajid Khan (Ontario Liberal), with Pakistan.
  • Maka Kotto (Quebec Bloc Québécois), with France.
  • Pablo Rodriguez (Quebec Liberal), with Argentina.
  • Michael Savage (Nova Scotia Liberal), with the United Kingdom.
  • Mario Silva (Ontario Liberal), with Portugal.
  • Lui Temelkovski (Ontario Liberal), with Macedonia.
  • Myron Thompson (Alberta Conservative), with the United States.

Why isn't Andrew Scheer's name on this list?  Did the CBC only contact MPs born outside Canada?  Such a procedure wouldn't make much sense since Stephane Dion, whose case spurred the inquiry, was born in Canada and his dual citizenship would not be discovered if only MPs born outside Canada were questioned.  Could the CBC research have been this shoddy?  Should we believe Andrew Scheer's claim that he has never been asked about his dual citizenship?  Certainly, he had to be aware that the question was being asked about MPs with dual citizenship, and he decided not to come forward, and to maintain his dual citizenship.  Ultimately, the question is "Can Andrew Scheer be trusted?"


Thursday, 26 September 2019

"Blackface" and Best Evidence

Why is blackface wrong?

Blackface is wrong.  But it's not prima facia, at-face-value wrong.  (The pun is intended and meaningful.)  There is nothing inherently immoral about blackening your face.  It's not like theft or rape or murder.  It is wrong because of its historical context; specifically, within American history and culture, a white actor using the pseudonym Jim Crow performed in minstrel shows in the 1830s portraying "blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice."  That taint of racist intention has remained with the practice for almost two centuries.

Teaching American literature

When I taught American literature, I typically invited students to produce a "creative assignment" of their own choosing which reflected the content of the course.  In this context, one of my students--an intelligent, cooperative, engaged, well-intentioned student--surprised me and the class with a one-man performance of a minstrel show in blackface. I came down hard on him and, to some extent, the class as a whole for their gleeful reception of the performance, which I described as not only racist but potentially criminal.

Talking to the student who had performed in blackface afterward, he told me that as he was walking toward the classroom he crossed paths with a couple of African exchange students.  From the expressions on their faces, he understood immediately that he was making a terrible mistake.  A lesson was learned.  What's left to learn?

Is ignorance innocence?

It is worth stopping to notice that "innocent" is a synonym for "ignorant".   There is a principle in law that "ignorance of the law is no excuse."   However, contrary to what I told my students in 2003, blackface is not a crime (unless it could be argued that it rises to the level of hate crime).  (Sometimes I get it wrong, or at least exaggerate.)  This week, in the midst of an election campaign, images of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a young man wearing blackface have been widely circulated and exhaustively discussed in the media.

An Apology gone too far

Well schooled in the principle of "getting out in front of a scandal," Trudeau has apologized profusely and repeatedly, saying "Darkening your face, regardless of the context or the circumstances, is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface."  "Regardless of the context and circumstances" goes too far.  Blackface is wrong because of the historical context and circumstances within which it emerged.    It is not an absolute evil unmitigated by the circumstances in which it occurs.  (Similarly, the swastika is not a symbol of evil, but it was made into one by the Nazis in the 1930s.)

What did Megyn Kelly say?

Oddly, I began writing this post almost a year ago when Megyn Kelly was fired by NBC from her job as host of Megan Kelly Today because of her "comments" on, "defense" of and "support" for blackface.  At the time, I was curious about what exactly she had said because reports on her transgression were so uniformly vague?  Were her comments so outlandishly racist that they could not be repeated?  Eventually I found this online article--Megyn Kelly doesn’t understand why blackface Halloween costumes are offensive--which included the video of her comments.

In the pandemonium of panel exchanges this is what Kelly said:

"What is racist . . . ?" [ . . . .]  You do get in trouble if you’re a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween or a black person who puts on white face for Halloween.  Back when I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as a character.” 
Subsequent articles on Kelly's "racist tendencies" cited as evidence her claim that "Santa Claus was white."    ( For my thoughts on Santa see "Mateus da Costa, the Very First, Original, Authentic, Pure Laine Québécois de Souche and the Real Santa Claus.")  


Best Evidence

"Best evidence" is a legal concept which, in its barest form, means that at trial the original document should be presented and not a copy.  In a more general sense, researchers in all fields understand that wherever possible you want to use authentic documents.  Unadulterated, first-hand evidence of what someone said, or did, or wrote is best evidence.   A second or third party's interpretation, paraphrase, quotation, re-contextualization, edited or doctored version is not.  Obviously, in the internet age, journalistic rigour tends to get lost as everyone is looking for the worst possible spin on the worst news of the day.  "Bad news," as the cliché goes, "is good news."  These days the worse, the more terrible, scandalous, outrageous and enraging the news, the more likely it is to go viral.

Consider:  CGP Grey's This Video Will Make You Angry 



"Every picture needs a thousand words."

My communications professor, John Buell, loved to counter the bromide that "a picture is worth a thousand words" by claiming that "every picture needs a thousand words." In his Introduction to Communication Studies, John Fiske outlines how a picture is a metonym (or synecdoche); that is, like the figure of speech where a part of something stands in for the whole.  Fiske's (and Buell's) point is that we have to "read" photographs and add the reality, the context, that is missing from the image we are looking at.  We may think we are looking at "reality," but we are simply looking at pigment or pixels and imagining a reality attached to those bits and pieces.

Reading the images of Justin Trudeau as a young man in blackface, what I interpret is his rapid ascendency, on the coattails of his father's fame, from ski instructor and high school teacher to Prime Minister. The images of a foolish young man are evidence of a steep learning curve.  Obviously, when he allowed himself to be photographed in blackface he wasn't thinking that he might someday be Prime Minister and called upon to explain himself.  He may have been insensitive and unthinking, or simply unaware of the implications and interpretations of his behaviour, as were my students in 2003.


When did blackface become verboten?

Blackface is a theatrical tradition which lasted for almost 200 years, from the mid 19th to the early 21st century.  Al Jolson, the American actor, comedian and singer, and the most popular performer of his day (1920s, 30s and 40s), was best known for his performances in blackface.  Orson Welles portrayed Othello in blackface in a film version of the play in 1951.  Actors on British and Quebec television performed in blackface as recently as 2003 and 2013 respectively.  As near as I can judge, the clear and general consensus in the USA that blackface was a social taboo only coalesced in the mid-1980s in the aftermath of the civil-rights movement, after Afro-Americans had taken on and defeated more blatant and injurious forms of racism. (Just as the swastika became a heinous symbol only after World War II and the facts of the Holocaust became generally known and understood.)


Gender transgression versus racial transgression

Ignorance of history is a feeble excuse, but it is, nonetheless, an excuse.  We should stop to notice that we are at a very unusual crossroads of history where transgender expression (See The Pronoun Wars) is being protected as a civil right.  Racial transgression, however, is still decried.  Michael Jackson was criticized for appearing white.  Rachel Dolezal, one-time president of the Washington chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was charged with fraud and perjury when it was revealed that both her parents were white. In 1961 John Howard Griffin underwent chemical treatments to blacken his skin and travelled the US southern states, eventually publishing an account of his experiences in Black Like Me.  In the 60s and 70s, Griffin was heralded as an anti-segregationist hero, but in contemporary times, it is argued that “Black Like Me” Is Blackface Too.




Blackface and saturnalia 

Megyn Kelly's attempted use of Halloween to justify blackface seemed only to make matters worse.  We are hostages of a racist history that has made blackface such a potent symbol that it, seemingly, cannot be mitigated by circumstances or intentions.  However, we still need to recognize that as a product of human history, it is a contingent evil, not an absolute, permanent, immutable, universal evil as some partisans would have us believe.  We need to take note of where we are in history.  We should look forward and hope that in a more tolerant, equalitarian society, future generations will have moved beyond the kind of problem that blackface emblematizes.  We also need to recognize that we live in a rational universe which is less and less likely to accept the irrational justifications of saturnalian ritual. 




Halloween Matters:  Why Do People Dress in Costumes?

Halloween is an ancient Celtic ritual to mark the end of the harvest season, which was adapted by the Romans and later by Christians.  The Greeks celebrated the festival of Dionysus, the god of wine and madness and tragedy, around the same time of the year.  For the Romans, Dionysus became Baccus and the festival the Bancannal.  The wearing of costumes was, in particular, common during the Saturnalian festivals, which Christians converted to the Christmas period, and is the underlying ritual of various carnival celebrations such as Mardi Gras and the Brazilian and Portuguese Carnivals.  What all these rituals have in common is the upsetting of the social order, a beggar could be named King, men dressed as women, for a temporary period social roles and taboos were suspended.  In a chaotic, cryptic discussion of Halloween, Megyn Kelly asked if the ritual tradition didn't suspend the taboo of blackface today as it did during her childhood.  The answer she received was a resounding "no." 



https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2019/03/brazil-carnival-2019-photos/584050/


In some cultures, Halloween is a celebration of the dead.  For Catholics it is "all souls day." Rituals, most typically, are designed to mark and to aid in the transition from one period to another.  We have rituals like christenings and baptisms to mark births, bar mitzvahs and confirmations to mark the entry into adulthood, weddings to begin married life, birthdays, anniversaries, parties of all sorts and ultimately funerals and memorials. Traditionally one of the most common forms, which today are an endless source of controversy,  are rituals of initiation.  As James Frazer's The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion established at the end of the 19th century, initiation rituals are widespread.  The typical pattern was of the death of a young man's youthful being and the taking on of an adult spirit--being, attitudes, life, or what you will--marked by an encounter with death and a first sexual experience.  World literature, in particular the war novel, is marked by the repetition of this pattern.  In the 21st century, it is possible to describe but impossible to rationally explain such rituals.  Hence outrage at hazing rituals of initiation in universities and sports teams, though the long history of initiations might explain visceral, irrational attachments to these rituals. 






The underlying purpose of all these rituals, these episodes of temporary madness thought to promote long-term stability, was social solidarity--even at the cost of attachments to individuality.  Rachel Dolezal, John Howard Griffen, Al Jolson and others have put on black faces claiming that the gesture was one of solitary.  Today, their claims are being rejected but, I think, we can at least hesitate to brand them as racists.  And what of Justin Trudeau?






Racism, hypocrisy or something else? 

Trudeau's juvenile antics in blackface have been described as "disturbing" and "disappointing," yet his policies and demeanour as Prime Minister have garnered the consensus that he is definitely not a racist. Partizan Conservatives have downgraded the accusation from racism to "hypocrisy." I have never found politicians calling one another hypocrites very convincing or meaningful.  The question which comes to my mind is:  How is it that these images, which have existed for decades, have only appeared in the midst of an election campaign?  As a follow-up: If it is sincerely believed that these images are unacceptable, disturbing and demeaning for racialized Canadians, why are they being promulgated and displayed in public--by exactly the same people who decry their existence?   Far from any semblance of sincerity, we are witnessing political gamesmanship and dirty tricks.  In this context, claims of "hypocrisy" ring hollow.

Personally, the brouhaha only adds to my sense of self-assurance as I head to the polls with the intention of voting for the party headed by a man who wears a turban and a local candidate who just happens to be black.

Is "Typhoid Mary" Back Among Us?

  Mary Mallon (1869-1938) Mary Mallon , aka " Typhoid Mary ,"  was an Irish-born cook and asymptomatic carrier of the typhoid viru...