14 May 2009

Must be a slow news day

I was reading the local newspaper, which I don't do often and should do less, and I was inclined to be well disposed towards it, but for one thing. Now, first, the reason why I was to be well disposed towards it was they had an article on the Pope's visit to the Holy Land which wasn't too bad, considering the source. They also had a review of Angels and Demons, which they panned. An added nugget: they quoted L'Osservatore Romano, which claimed the movie was "harmless entertainment" and "a bit of fun". I applaud the Vatican for taking this stance. A condemnation of the movie would only be free advertising. However, the reviewer turns this line against the Vatican by the end of the review. The movie was terrible, and he wondered where was the entertainment and bit of fun of which the Vatican spoke. His conclusion: Those guys in the Vatican need to get out more. Well, you can't win them all.

But the one thing that removes any kind disposition I have to the newspaper is the headline:"Racism in Canada: The darker your skin... the less you fit in." What a headline! It rhymes, like a rap song. The guts of the article is that a study reveals that the people whose skin is of the darkest colour are the ones least likely to feel they fit into Canadian society. Note the verb there, "feel". That is the word chosen by the paper and the study itself.

On the one hand, their feelings are an established scientific fact. The study shows that this is how people "feel". But the feelings themselves may or may not be based on any reality. There is a difference between "perception" and "reality". This study is of the reality of their perception, not their perception of reality.

As I've mentioned before in other posts, there was a time when I was a teaching assistant at a University at a time when political correctness was running amok. At one of my orientation meetings, a meeting on the subject of race relations and sexual harassment, the presenters said they wanted to stamp out racism and sexism in order to provide a learning environment in which all people would feel welcome. They wanted to avoid what they referred to as "chilly" classrooms. They handed out a sheet which we were supposed to go over with our classes, which outlined the signs that there could be evidence of "chilliness" in a class. The questions were all based on the perceptions and feelings of the students. Do you feel your teacher pays more attention to one group than another? Do you feel your teacher makes remarks which are inappropriate? Do you feel...? and so on. The teacher's thoughts, the teacher's intentions, made no difference whatsoever.

On the one hand, you could see why this is so. For years the professors could get off for saying hateful and outrageous things by simply saying "I didn't mean it that way." So now it was up to the students and their interpretations. If they felt something was inappropriate, or racist, or sexist, then it was, and the teacher's intentions be damned.

If the students were a uniform group of well intentioned, mature, rational and reasonably thick skinned, this system would work well. But they aren't, and it doesn't. The students are often irrational, and many of them are looking for a reason, any reason, to be offended.

I do not know the total of the reasons behind their feelings. The article interviews one woman who came from Kenya who claimed her children were called the "n-word" several times at school. The article also states that she was sent to English as a second language classes despite the fact that English was her first language. To the first I say: most schools have tough policies in place. The kids who called her child that probably got punished, and rightly so. I have no tolerance for that sort of garbage. To the second I say: This may not be particularly racist. As incorrect as it sounds, many immigrant, even those who speak English as a first language, come here with thick accents, and are often quite difficult to understand. Making her take the classes may not have been welcoming, but it could b understandable.

I do not know what this article hopes to achieve. First of all, there is every possible anti-discrimination law already in place in Canada. What new law can we put in now? Secondly, the last time the paper tried ran a similar article in an attempt to stir up something based on race, the subject was racial profiling, based on a study of traffic tickets. The study claimed that blacks were more likely to get speeding tickets than other races. One of the immediate effects of this was a police officer was beaten up short after that series of articles came out after he pulled over two black men for speeding. The men beat the officer, saying they read the paper and knew the 'real' reason he was pulling them over was because they were black.

That series of articles failed to mention one point: Were the people pulled over for speeding, black or white, actually speeding? What is the reality behind the perception? People's feelings are real, but what is the reality behind the feelings? Are they discriminated against, or do they only feel that they are?

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