Tag Archives: caricature

Not so Nice After All: 4 Examples of Racist Canadian History That You May Never Have Heard Of

Canadians like to think that we’re a pretty nice bunch.

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Especially now, as Drumpf’s presidential candidacy reveals the racist underbelly of our neighbours to the South, we Canadians pride ourselves on being nothing like the States. We happily disassociate ourselves from the violence and xenophobia that seems to crop up at every Drumpf rally.

It’s just so incredibly convenient to revel in our not-Americanness, as though that in itself makes us not racist. We try to pretend that same kind of racism doesn’t exist here, even though the same fear-baiting tactic was used in our recent election. We try to ignore the recent hateful attack on Syrian refugees, newly arrived in Canada. We try to forget that our country was built upon the exploitation of people of colour.

In case you aren’t sure what I’m referring to, I’ve included a couple examples below.

1. Canada had Legal Slavery

In elementary school the only time I learned about slavery and Canada was when we studied the Underground Railway. Through these stories of escape and hope I, like many Canadians, was led to believe that Canada had offered an escape for Black men and women who were trapped as slaves in the United States.

What I never knew (until recently) was that Canada was not always the beacon of hope that it appeared. As historian Natasha Henry highlights in her article about Slavery in Canada,

“African slavery existed in the colonies of New France and British North America for over 200 years, yet there remains a profound silence in classrooms and teaching resources about Canada’s involvement in the African slave trade. According to available historical documents, least 4,000 Africans were held in bondage for two centuries in the early colonial settlements of New France (Quebec), New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Upper Canada (Ontario).”

Luckily, novelists have begun to draw attention to the stories that our history books have overlooked. Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angélique, for example, tells the true story of Canadian slave Marie-Joseph Angélique. Meanwhile, Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negros, reminds us that many escaped slaves were actually shipped back to the States by Canadian authorities. He also explores the extreme racism that drove some black Canadians to move to Sierra Leone. Continue reading

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This Is Not Who I Am

According to Wikipedia, reddit is “a social news website where the registered users submit content, which could either be links or a text ‘self’ post.” Since  I am aware of the severely addictive consequences of being a member [and have enough sites I already visit, thank you very much], I mostly browse reddit through a site called imgur.23

With that in mind [assuming you read the footnotes], there are times when I come across an image that lacks context, where even the caption [the title of the original thread] reveals little. Yesterday was not one of these times.

The image on the right was accompanied by the caption “Stop the butt hurt. That costume is hilarious, regardless of your culture.” Clicking on the image should bring you to the original thread where it was posted.

Just to be clear, Urban Dictionary defines “butt hurt” as: “[someone] who doesnt know how to take a joke, and they take the joke like they just took it to the ass.”

The reactions of redditors to this was unsurprising [to me, at least]. Members were, for the most part, unsympathetic to the ad, and more than a few took the opportunity to mock it in the thread, leading to images like this, and this. Countless more variations were spawned, fictional characters unhappily holding up Halloween costumes depicting them.

The thread contained waves upon waves of people lashing out against political correctness. Many made sure to point out that the costume was very funny, and that those offended were being overly sensitive.

One user, lindseycat, asked what the difference between this and  dirndl (German Oktoberfest dress) is. Would wearing the latter be offensive, since, in a way, it acts as a cultural stereotype? No. It wouldn’t. There are distinct differences. The most obvious of which is the caricaturization present in the costume, the enormous moustache, the donkey, etc.

The ad campaign was started by young people at Ohio University, members of the student organization STARS [Students Teaching About Racism in Society]. Through conducting its own report on the campaign, CNN revealed that the comments on reddit mirror opinions many others hold, the costumes are simply funny, and at most ironic. Jelani Cobb, professor of Africana studies at Rutgers University, told the news network, “”I think it’s almost impossible to be ironic while being racist, so irony is lost.”4

While I admit that some of the variations on the ad are actually pretty funny [this one in particular], the issue remains a serious one. Someone should not be considered overly sensitive [or “butt hurt”] for being offended by a racial caricature. Nor should these costumes continue to be produced, sold, and used.

White people may not be offended if an Asian or black person dresses up as one of them. Their not being offended doesn’t validate their decision to do the same in return. As far as the reddit thread goes, it saddens me that the original poster probably feels exactly like this.

1. That’s at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reddit, in case you were wondering.

2. It’s an image hosting site where the vast majority of the pictures posted to reddit can be seen.

3. According to the FAQ, the site is pronounced “image-er.” I respectfully disagree.

4. CNN’s coverage here: http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/26/living/halloween-ethnic-costumes