Tag: racism

It’s not the policy, it’s the racism

Articles on people of colour and voting patterns in the recent US election don’t touch on the racist rhetoric that the right has used for years. People of colour are frequent recipients of racist actions against them and the right’s use of racist language is completely internalized into their discourse and worldview. Just look at what Bill O’Reilly said post election:

“Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things.”

The republican party thinks hispanics are not part of a traditional America. People of colour tend to notice these things. Obama has deported way more hispanic people than Bush ever did, and has not used his executive discretion to slow down enforcement till the DREAM act deferrals. But the democratic party has not been captured by the ugly racism that pervades  anti-immigrant rhetoric in the US.

So, change positions all you want, and help pass real immigration legislation that helps the millions of Americans living a difficult undocumented life get documented. But, the right needs more than that. It needs to convince its supporters that racism is unacceptable and to punish, not reward people for saying racist things and acting in racist ways.

The attorney general of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, a conservative Republican, said he was part of an “education campaign” to persuade Republican officials that “they need to reject the run-’em-out, deport-’em, enforcement-only approach that people think is the only voice of the Republican Party.”

Republicans Reconsider Positions on Immigration

Update: Mitt Romney’s post election statements where he labels everyone other than White people “special interest groups” are yet more evidence.

Photo courtesy Lorenzolambertino photostream used under a creative commons licence.

Jeffrey Simpson and Lazy Writing aka I wrote a letter to the editor

Jeffrey Simpson wrote an interesting article on the politics of tarsands pipelines that had some good insights:

  • Harper lecturing Obama on playing politics is a bit rich
  • The opposition is multi-faceted, not just based on the carbon footprint
  • The opposition is widespread, and opposition is not tarsands specific, but against expanding fossil fuel in a world poised to warm at an ever increasing rate
  • Tarsands oil is dirty oil, and no amount of lobbying can take that away
  • Alterate pipeline routes such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway are not going to be easy to construct given significant First Nations’ opposition

It was on the last point that Jeffrey Simpson’s otherwise useful Op-Ed degenerated into what can be charitably described (by a PR hack) as an “unwise choice of words”.

The route must traverse huge tracts of land claimed by aboriginals who, for a variety of reasons, don’t want a pipeline. Maybe they’re pigheaded. Maybe they don’t want to join modernity.

This is insulting and ignorant to begin with. Surely Jeffrey Simpson does basic research before he writes these columns, and google searches will reveal many many articles, including one in the newspaper that pays his salary that clearly explain the rational reasons behind First Nations’ concerns on pipelines. Simpson seems to have no trouble finding rational reasons to buttress other opposition claims. He says Nebraska’s opposition was due to the pipeline passing over environmentally sensitive areas. He also uses a Royal Society of Canada report judging Canada’s green house gas mitigation efforts as inadequate to make a larger point about the pollution caused by the tarsands and fossil fuels.

However, for First Nations’ concerns alone, he resorts to the irrational, tired and racist tropes of First Nations people being “pigheaded”, or “opposed to modernity”. What exactly is Mr Simpson trying to imply?

I was angry enough to dash a letter off to the Globe and Mail, which they promptly published, thanks folks.

Here’s what they published

Jeffrey Simpson’s column (Pipe-Altering Lessons – Nov. 16) offers some good insights into pipeline politics and government hypocrisy and states accurately that people are opposed to most fossil fuel expansion, not just the oil sands. However, his speculation on First Nations’ opposition to the Northern Gateway project as “pig headed” or not wanting “to join modernity” are offensive and misstate the valid concerns voiced by more than 60 indigenous communities. They are concerned about irreparable damage to the land and salmon migration routes and are well aware how little of the large profits made by energy companies accrues to the First Nations whose land these projects are frequently based on. Their reasons are well founded and well documented by many First Nations, including the Wet’suwet’en.

Here’s what I wrote.

Jeffrey Simpson’s Opinion, Pipeline-altering lessons offers some good insights into oilsands pipeline politics, government hypocrisy and states accurately that people are opposed to most fossil fuel expansion, not just the oilsands . However, Simpson’s speculation on First Nations’ opposition to the Northern Gateway project as “pig
headed”, or “not wanting to join modernity” are offensive and misstate the valid concerns voiced by more than 60 indigenous communities. They are concerned about irreparable damage to their land, and salmon migration routes. They are well aware that little/none of the large profits made by Enbridge and other oil companies accrue to the First Nations whose land these projects are frequently based on. Their reasons for opposing are well founded, and well documented by many First Nations including the Wet’suwet’en.

If Mr Simpson were a little less “pig headed”, or “more willing to join modernity”, he would fire up that marvellous modern invention, the web browser and look up wetsuweten.com. His unnecessary slurs take away from what is a otherwise a sensible and well written article.

They did leave out my rather snarky last paragraph 🙂

Pig picture from jm999uk’s flickr stream used under a creative commons licence.

Fluent English – Racism in Mainstream Reporting

From Canada’s paper of record…

Speaking fluent English, he described the gruelling 42-day high-seas journey and talked of the deteriorating living conditions in his homeland. He also described his dismay at arriving in Canada only to be branded a potential terrorist and jailed for nearly three months.

Ah, the old “compliment”, “you speak such good English”, code for “I am so culturally and racially ignorant that the act of any non-white non Anglo-Saxon speaking English surprises and amazes me, and I am clueless enough to think of this statement as a compliment”. If the statement is made by a lay-person, I view it as an opportunity to educate. This represents the culmination of a long journey growing up in privileged middle class India and slowly accepting myself as a person of colour (different and yet to be written blog post). But, for a reporter specifically assigned to write about immigration and refugee claims, this is inexcusable, especially because the language of his testimony has no relevance to his story. It’s almost as if the reporter thinks that this person would be more deserving of Canadian sympathy if she lets us know that he speaks “fluent English” just like us!

The rest of the story is not too bad, it uses neutral language to chronicle the story of a heroic person’s struggle to first help the people around him, then finally make a risky journey across the world in search of a better life.

But wait, there’s more! The headline writer seems to have his or her own agenda as well (not captured in the website article, but see the Page One headline (captured on cellphone camera!):

Not bad, ” Tamil Migrant Sought Relief from Homeland Threats” – neutral, descriptive and to the point.

Now see the headline for the continuation:

Wow, “Militant Claims No Ties to Tamil Tigers”. Hello, what happened? When did migrant become militant, when did his statement become a “claim”, and what relevance do the Tamil Tigers have to this man’s refugee status? Is every Tamil a Tiger? (true story, playing pickup at the gym the other day, this guy asked me what my ethnicity was, then called me a Tiger, then got very defensive when I yelled at him!).

A writer’s bias becomes very evident in the choice of words used to frame statements. I always look for “said”, “asserted”, “claimed” as short forms for “we are reporting this statement, but here’s what we really think”.

This is not the first time headlines have made me scratch my head. This happens especially often in the world of science, as this blog post very ably documents. I once got into a brief email discussion with a reporter at the Raleigh News and Observer who was writing articles about undocumented workers. She would use “undocumented immigrant” (Good), “illegal immigrant” (Bad) and occasionally, “illegal alien” (Alien??) interchangeably. However, the headline would always contain the very pejorative one word “Illegals”. I asked her about it and her one line dismissal was that “she did not write the headlines”, which is a nice and casual shirking of responsibility! Since most people only see headlines anyway, the words stick. So, Tamil = Tiger, immigrant = illegal, etc.

It made me a little sad to see the story of good things (he survived and will have his refugee claim heard) happening to a good man reduced to a disgusting innuendo filled headline. For more on the Tamil refugee story, see this article. The Canadian government is using secret evidence to decide who gets to go free and who is detained. While some of the people on board this ship could possibly be linked to violence, secret trials and innuendo do not help anyone involved. The Canadian government should know this, given that its dealings with immigrants using the security certificate program have been criticized before. I understand and fully sympathize with the Canadian government’s position that this is a complex situation and each person needs to be dealt with carefully on a case by case basis, but secrecy is not necessary here.