All Posts Tagged With: "racism"
We must engage the past even when it’s uncomfortable
Remember the end of the film Dead Poets Society? When the students all stand up on their desks and cry “O Captain, My Captain!” as a tribute to the wronged and noble teacher Mr. Keating?
The reference is, of course, to a famous poem by the American writer Walt Whitman. Whitman is one of the giants of American literature, and the poem is usually interpreted as an elegy to the recently assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, of course, was, much-hated in the South for, among other things, his opposition to slavery.
So it might have come as a surprise that the man who so eloquently eulogized the Great Emancipator is now at the centre of a controversy over racism. A graduate student at Northwestern University is, according to reports, willing to fail a class rather than perform a piece of music based on a Whitman work. The student insists that Whitman was an “historically racist” man, who denigrated African Americans and opposed their voting rights.
His teacher, reported as Dr. Nally, said that the student must perform the work assigned or fail.
Many will applaud the student. I applaud the professor.
Though standing up to racism is, in the most general terms, laudable, even the most basic sense of history makes it evident that, as Oscar Wilde said, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.” People live in a particular social context; their ways of thinking are not predetermined, but inevitably shaped by that context. Few, if any, can entirely rise above the values of their time, even when they try.
Case in point: have a look at this good summary of the poet’s views which traces Whitman’s “confused and contradictory” positions on race in his time.
So even if we accept that Whitman was, to some extent, a racist by modern standards, we must also admit that human history is in large part the history of deplorable attitudes. Rejecting anyone and anything that has any connection to immoral attitudes is to reject nearly all of history.
Of course, if you don’t care to read Whitman in your own time, that’s your business, but it is the role of a university professor to present a course of study that allows the student to gain an appreciation of the subject matter.
If all students were free to do as our grad student did, that fundamental duty would be impossible to carry out. Philosophy classes would be hobbled: have you read Aristotle’s defence of slavery? Goodnight sweet Shakespeare for his racism and sexism. No chance of getting to know Dickens’ Oliver Twist because of its anti-Semitism. The whole discipline of Anthropology has a pretty shady past, too, so there goes that.
If students can pick and choose what they are willing to read and engage with—and to toss out anything they find offensive or uncomfortable—they will be missing a crucial part of education: the process of coming to grips with the complex and often disturbing legacy of oppression, brutality, and stupidity that comprises a great deal of our collective past.
Let’s hope this is an isolated incident and not part of a larger trend. If it is, I may be packing my boxes one of these days.
Maybe my students will stand on their desks for me.
Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.
What students are talking about today (April 12th)
1. The city council of Kingston, Ont. has been accused of disregarding university students as it redraws electoral boundaries. Council voted that three of the 13 municipal electoral districts near Queen’s University will be merged into two, which means students will be represented by fewer councilors. This is despite a staff report that recommended taking into account the student population, which the city knows exists, even though they’re unlikely to be counted in official tallies that require voters to register themselves. Queen’s Alma Mater Society has expressed disappointment. “The AMS is dismayed by the attitudes that many of the Councillors expressed at the meeting, which reflected an aggressively anti-student attitude that is all too familiar—one which the AMS has been working for a decade to eradicate.”
2. A McGill University professor allegedly harassed a Muslim student from Cairo, an accusation that spread on social media and resulted in protesters chanting, “Hey, hey. Ho, Ho. Racist professors have to go,” outside of his lecture, reports the Gazette. The protest followed a Global News report that included an audio recording student Amr El-Orabi secretly made during a conversation with professor Gary Dunphy before El-Orabi quit school and returned to Egypt. In the recording, Dunphy accuses El-Orabi of cyber-stalking, refers to both the student’s God and his own God in unkind terms, and says, “don’t think for a minute that your culture is the be all and end all.” When El-Orabi asks,”is there anything else that you want from me now?,” Dunphy responds, “your death.”
What students are talking about today (April 4th)
1. Queen’s University instructed security officers to rip down a free speech wall in a student centre because it “allegedly included language that constituted hate speech,” according to an official press release. A video of a blonde-haired officer removing the banner has been widely-viewed on YouTube. The wall, little more than paper with words scribbled on it, was encouraged by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and erected by the local group Queen’s Students for Liberty. What exactly was so offensive is unclear, but it was bad enough that the administration chose to act. “Queen’s recognizes the right of free speech, but appreciates too the limits on free speech. Hate speech and racial slurs have no place on our campus,” wrote Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) in the statement. The Alma Mater Society, which owns the space, put out a statement too. “Queen’s Students for Liberty was given an opportunity to remove these two denigrating comments, and return the space to one of inclusive, free dialogue for all,” wrote president Doug Johnson. “When the club failed to act, the offensive material was removed.” A free speech wall erected at Carleton University in January was torn down by a student who claimed it was anti-gay.
2. Speaking of free speech and hate speech, students at Towson University in Maryland are fighting back against a white supremacist group’s declaration that it will start “night patrols” on campus. At a student-organized rally, the university’s president praised efforts to peacefully oppose the White Student Union. Matt Heimbach, spokesman of white group, told ABC News he believes multiculturalism is being forced on America. Yes, this is really happening in 2013.
3. Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, annouced Wednesday that he will step down in 2014 and then he gave an interview to The Ubyssey student newspaper. Heather Munroe-Blum, principal of the equally well-respected McGill University, who is also stepping down, did an exit interview of sorts with campus media too. The differences between the questions student reporters asked are a reminder of the contrast between generally sunny UBC students and the almost endlessly antagonistic McGill crowd. McGill student reporters asked questions like, “How can McGill say that it’s part of Quebec, and, at the same time, call tuition fees sacred?” and “Do you think [the police] could have had different tactics?” Meanwhile, at UBC, The Ubyssey reporter asked Toope questions like, “Do you think raising UBC to a global level is one of your core achievements?” For the record, I think it’s obvious that both Toope and Munroe-Blum have been strong leaders.
4. Bill Clinton told reporters ahead of a meeting with student leaders that he sees the cost of college as a major problem. “We can’t continue to see the cost of education go up every decade when wages are flat,” he told Inside Higher Education. “I think the only sustainable answer is to find a less expensive delivery system,” he added, saying the next step is, “for someone to certify what you need to know and then figure out some way of validating the merits of these online courses.”
5. The University of Calgary Dinos sports teams have unveiled a new logo, which is, obviously, a dinosaur. More interesting is that Calgary also announced a five-year partnership that will put Nike swooshes on uniforms. Speaking of corporate sponsorship deals, the Petro Canada Hall at Memorial University in Newfoundland has been renamed for Suncor Energy, which donated $50,000, reports The Muse student newspaper. There once was a time when there would be major outcries against corporate sponsorship deals on campus. Apparently that’s no longer the case.
How can this campus group claim to fight oppression?
A friend and I went to a movie night one Friday evening in January hosted by the Students of Colour Collective (SOCC), a campus group at the University of Victoria, where I am on a transfer from the University of Manitoba completing a double major in Criminology and Psychology.
It was a spur of the moment decision to go, but we were excited to get out and have a fun night. The movie being presented was Precious Knowledge, a film about the struggle of the Mexican American Studies Program to continue after it was banned by a school board in Arizona.
We arrived, sat down and waited for the movie to begin. My friend asked if he could help himself to a glass of the juice that was set out on the table. The host replied that the beverages were for movie night attendees. She then informed us that the event was for community building and not open to the public. We were specifically addressed in front of the room of people. There was no announcement that it was a closed event.
Jack Buckby is the younger face of the far right
He’s an unlikely far-right trailblazer: neither old, nor angry, nor square. Jack Buckby, the 20-year-old founder of the National Culturists—a Tea Party-inspired youth movement that aims to reinvigorate Britain’s flagging far right—pairs John Lennon glasses with modish ties and ironic facial hair. He’s well-spoken. He blogs. He’s already a darling of the radical British National Party (BNP), which campaigns on the premise that immigration has put British culture in peril, and has plans to spread the word to campuses nationwide.
His political awakening occurred, he says, after realizing that “if you disagree with multiculturalism, you are deemed a racist.” Frustrated, Buckby came across the work of John Press, founder of the Brooklyn Tea Party. Press argues that “traditional majority culture” should be promoted over diversity, which, he feels, embraces “practices such as female genital mutilation and drug-running gangster culture.” In 2011, Buckby, who is partway through a political science degree at the University of Liverpool, founded the National Culturists. “We don’t have aspirations to be a street movement,” he says. “We want to be an academic organization.”
What students are talking about today (February 11th)
1. After Drake won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album on Sunday night he released a video for his new single, Started From the Bottom. Much of the video was filmed at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Binbrook, Ont, according to the Hamilton Spectator, and it also features his mom standing outside his childhood home in Toronto, reports Canada.com. Why do we care? My guess is because Canadians love to see Canadian things in videos they think Americans will watch. For more Grammy coverage see Macleans.ca.
2. City of Toronto inspectors have found what they say is an illegal rooming house near U of T Scarborough and Centennial College. Officials told the Toronto Star it was probably full of foreign students. Eleven people were living in rooms in the majorly renovated house. Real estate agent Yixuan (Jessica) Wang has been accused of arranging the leases. The city says there are 120 active files stemming from complaints over suspected illegal properties in Scarborough where there is just one 765-bed student residence (at UTSC) for nearly 15,000 post-secondary students.
What students are talking about today (February 7th)
1. About 1,000 people spoiled their ballots in the recent Carleton University Students’ Association elections, chief electoral officer Sunny Cohen told The Charlatan. Most of the ballots were disqualified because people wrote in more than one place, but more than 100 had penises drawn on them. A “Phallus Your Ballot” Facebook page and instructional video had proposed this act of protest. “If we’re going to elect dicks, we might as well get to draw them,” read the page. Third-year student Sam Corey told The Charlatan he voted for two candidates but drew a phallus on the rest of his ballots because CUSA is too concerned with issues like “safe space.”
2. A fraternity at Duke University threw an Asian-themed party on Friday. The Asian Student Association fought back on Wednesday with a protest after seeing photos of party goers in Japanese kimonos and dressed as sumo-wrestlers. The ASA released the photos but was kind enough to blur faces. Although kimonos and sumo costumes aren’t offensive on their own, The Duke Chronicle reports the party was advertised in an e-mail that started off “Herro Nice Duke Peopre,” a dig at some Asian accents. The frat has apologized.
Artist Deanna Bowen says work is meant to be provocative
Three Ku Klux Klan banners prominently displayed in the vitrines overlooking York University’s Accolade East colonnade are causing people who pass by everyday to literally trip over themselves.
These pieces are part of a daring art exhibition at the Art Gallery of York University entitled Invisible Empires, which presents a collection of archival material that shows how the violent white supremacist organization had a role in 20th century Canadian history—not just American history as many Canadians likely believe.
Hanging such banners on campus seemed likely to cause an uproar among people of colour, and some were indeed initially upset. However, it seems to have sparked a conversation.
“They’re not put up to be harmful,” says Deanna Bowen, the black Toronto artist behind the exhibit. The banners are “meant to get you inside to hear more about this history.”
What students are talking about on December 20th
1. For the first time in 15 years, Miss USA has been crowned Miss Universe. This, as Gawker points out, on what some believe is right before the universe ends. Olivia Culpo, a 20-year-old from Boston University, has a rags to riches story: she wore a $25 rented dress with a hole in it to her first pageant last year. Before you dismiss her as another one of those backward American pageant girls (remember this one?) consider that she supports transgender rights and plans to use her title to champion HIV/AIDS prevention.
2. Brian Pallister, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative opposition leader is denouncing racist comments from the party’s former youth president, but says he will not apologize. Braydon Mazurkiewich resigned after posting comments on Facebook that referred to “freeloading Indians.”
Spencer Fernando: We are more than the colour of our skin.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union may add a representative for racialized students. Spencer Fernando, a man of mixed heritage, explained his opposition to the idea in this piece for The Manitoban, where is the comment editor. Agree? Disagree? Leave your comment below.
At the outset of this piece, I feel it’s important for me to state clearly that I believe those who favor the creation of the racialized rep. have good intentions. They are making a sincere effort to make the world a better place. My disagreement is not with their intentions, but the method they have chosen.
As we consider this issue, let’s ask ourselves a few questions: First, should there be an UMSU rep. elected on the basis of their skin colour? Second, is it fair to create a position that could exclude white students and discourage them from running or voting for it? Third, should every non-white student be grouped into one category and represented by one person? My answer to these questions is no.
Trump is mad, pot is legal & U. Manitoba’s “racialized rep.”
1. Barack Obama got a second chance, winning the presidency for another four years with 50 per cent of the popular vote to Mitt Romney’s 48 per cent plus victory in battleground states like Ohio. From Obama’s victory speech: “Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.” Full text here.
2. Upon hearing the election results, Donald Trump threw a tantrum on Twitter and threatened to “March on Washington,” the site of this democratic “travesty.”
3. Washington and Colorado passed ballot initiatives during Tuesday’s election that legalize marijuana for recreational use. But pot-heads shouldn’t pack their bags for Denver or Seattle just yet. Legalization may lead to a Supreme Court challenge from the federal government.
No Doubt apologizes, plus Glen Murray & Dawgfather PhD
1. The band No Doubt has pulled its music video for a new song called “Looking Hot” after Native Americans called it racist due to the Wild West theme that includes front-woman Gwen Stefani dressed up in native-inspired attire. In response to the outcry, the band apologized on their website: “Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologize to the Native American community.”
2. Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party voted at their convention on Saturday to support lowering the drinking age from 19 to 18. It’s not a certainty yet, however. “We take resolutions at the convention very seriously, Wall told CBC, adding, “Before we consider any sort of change, we’re going to have to consult.”
3. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois received $58,000 in donations from more than 1,700 people to fight his contempt of court conviction. The former head of CLASSE, who led the anti-tuition movement with its nightly marches and shutdown of Quebec universities earlier this year, was recently found guilty of encouraging people to ignore a court injunction that allowed a Laval student to return to classes.
Voyeur arrested, three-year degrees & pipeline politics
1. Canada added 52,100 jobs in September, which is not bad at all. The unemployment rate edged up to 7.4 per cent, but only because more people were looking for work. The job gains were concentrated in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Men, whose prospects had diminished most during the 2009 recession, did well too. Also good news: the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 per cent after 114,000 jobs were added in September.
2. Police in London, Ont. have arrested Bradley Priestap, 47, who they suspect committed a series of crimes near Western University. The suspect has a history of other convictions. He faces 17 counts, including trespassing and breaking and entering to commit voyeurism.
3. The Ontario government is considering an overhaul in post-secondary education and one of the ideas floated is three-year degrees. Many observers were quick to oppose the idea, but Ontario’s colleges say they would be happy to provide them. See their argument here.
Queen’s professor was unfairly relieved of his duties
Recently the Canadian Association of University Teachers came down hard on Queen’s University for their handling of the case of Michael Mason, a professor who was, effectively, ousted from the course he had come out of retirement to teach.
I don’t always side with CAUT, but they seem to be right on this one.
Reports indicated that Mason used terms like “japs” and “towelhead” in his class on the history of imperialism. Having been around the university world for a long time, I’m always skeptical of reports of profs saying indefensible things in class because, as far as I can tell, it generally doesn’t happen. Professors are typically a civilized lot and usually highly aware of the nuances of the language.
What has been happening lately, though, is that professors’ comments are being taken wildly out of context; then follows misguided outrage, and then, in turn, the normal interactions of shit and fans.
Guns on campus, a Bar Mitzvah video, teacher’s college…
1. The University of Colorado Boulder announced it will require students who live in undergraduate residence halls to forgo bringing handguns to campus. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a bold step for Boulder in light of a Colorado Supreme Court decision in March that affirmed students’ rights to handguns on campus. The rule does not apply to graduate students. Let it be noted that James Holmes, the man who killed 12 and wounded 58 others at The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado in July, was a graduate student.
2. A new $100 bank note with an Asian-looking woman peering into a microscope was deemed too controversial by a focus groups. Instead of simply rolling their eyes, the Bank of Canada purged the note in favour of a “neutral” Caucasian-looking figure. To quote from the report received by The Canadian Press: “Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology… Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes.”
3. Research In Motion is laying off so many people right now that it isn’t even bothering to meet with all of them in person. The BlackBerry maker dumped 100 workers in Halifax this week by herding them into a room and then showing them a teleconference link with someone at Waterloo, Ont. headquarters. One worker called it “inhumane,” because she couldn’t even ask questions.
Dismissed entire discipline as “victimization clap-trap”
Race is such a potent issue, it can even make the Chronicle of Higher Education seem exciting. In May, Naomi Scharfer Riley, a paid blogger for the magazine, wrote a post calling for the end of black studies programs and concluded that the whole program consists of “a collection of left-wing victimization clap-trap.” The 500-word post not only got Riley dropped from the Chronicle; it’s reignited old arguments over academic issues and political correctness. Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson, an associate professor of art history at McGill University and editor of the book Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada, says that after Riley’s post came out, “my academic friends, especially black ones, were sending it to each other, because it’s so disturbing to us.”
Riley, who tells Maclean’s that many university fields “have become political causes rather than academic disciplines,” set her sights on an article about black studies up-and-comers at Northwestern University, saying that they offer “solutions that begin and end with ‘blame the white man.’ ” Her method of demonstrating this was to mock the titles of some of their dissertations—including “So I could be easeful: Black women’s authoritative knowledge on childbirth,” and, “Race for profit: Black housing and the urban crisis of the 1970s”—dissertations which, she admitted in a follow-up post, she hadn’t read: “There are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery.”
“She didn’t even pretend to be interested enough to provide real arguments about why they’re problematic,” Nelson says, explaining why the post got so many people upset. “She dismissed it because it’s black studies.” “My view is that she’s entitled to her opinion,” adds Pablo Idahosa, who coordinates the African studies program at York University. “But like anything else, you have to substantiate these opinions. If you draw from a sample of academic writing, why do you pick on those?” That was the take on Riley’s post that predominated in over 1,500 comments, and in a petition for her dismissal that attracted over 6,500 signatures. In a response, three of the authors of the dissertations decried “smug attacks by lazy bloggers” who “resort to racial caricature in a pitiful attempt to drum up controversy and interest in an otherwise underwhelming and pedestrian career.”
It’s redundant, it’s unfair, and coercion causes resentment
A third-year student from First Nations University wants to force all students at the nearby University of Regina—and eventually everywhere—to take mandatory Indigenous Studies courses.
The idea is gaining steam more quickly than Julianne Beaudin-Herney, 20, had imagined.
More than 1,000 people have signed her petition entitled Students Initiative to Change On-Campus Systemic Racism. Administrators have offered support, student union presidents across the country have fallen over themselves to sign. NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton added her name.
The only people who have dared to publicly question the proposal are a few U of R engineering students. They don’t want to lose the single humanities course they get out of 45 classes in 4.5 years. Engineering undergrads are already so busy that only 64 per cent of them finish in six years.
Black-Jew Dialogues couldn’t use poster
Ahead of a recent show in Toronto, The Black-Jew Dialogues, a two-man comedy that tries to break down racial stereotypes, was told it could not use the same poster that they’ve used for six years.
The University of Toronto’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, which co-sponsored the event, censored the poster that shows the two comedians, a white guy wearing an afro and a black guy in a yarmulke who’s giving a thumbs-up.
Ron Jones, who appears in the yarmulke, joked to The Globe and Mail that he was going to the Anti-Racism Office to “give them a little bit of the old USA.” But then he explained his interpretation for the decision: “I think the Office was concerned that the logo could be misinterpreted. They didn’t want the message to be warped or put out there without a chance for discussion.”
Jewish student objected
Students at the famous London School of Economics are facing discipline after a Jewish student objected to a Nazi-themed drinking game during a school ski trip and received a broken nose.
A video of the drinking game, which took place in early December in France, was uploaded to YouTube, shared of Facebook and then removed, according to The Beaver student newspaper.
The game, called “Nazi Ring of Fire,” involved arranging cards on a table in the shape of a Swastika. The game compelled players to commit antisemitic acts including “saluting the Fuhrer.”
And it’s a haven for racist, sexist trolls
Facebook. Twitter. MSN. Google Plus. There’s no shortage of places for students to chat, opine, or procrastinate during finals. Yet there’s a new digital obsession spreading across Canadian campuses. It’s called OMG and it’s simple. Students submit short “Oh My Gods” about anything. Then, they’re posted to the site.
As a Waterloo student who found myself distracted by OMGUW far too often in December, I got thinking about what makes it so hard to look away. I wanted to know what makes it so enticing that it has spread from Waterloo to Guelph, Saskatchewan and Toronto, with tens of thousands of views.