Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seriously? Racism isn't that hard to spot.

So, on Friday, the Saskatchewan Party candidate in Yorkton issued an apology for remarks made at an all candidates meeting some days previously.  According to his own account:

"I don't remember my exact words, but I said something like, 'What I have been told by some of my First Nations friends is that sometimes when there are handouts or the money comes free and easy, it can be used for alcohol and drugs'."

Now, to his credit, it was actually Greg Ottenbreit's apology that broke the story.  In other words, it wasn't a media storm that sparked the apology.  Ottenbreit (perhaps with some help) managed to conclude on his own that his comments were mind-numbingly stupid and had no place in the public discourse.

He shouldn't have said them in the first place, of course.  But in the end, he did the right thing without having the media force him into it.
Conservative MP David Anderson, however, not so much.  The anti-Canadian Wheat Board hardliner produced one of those "do it yourself" videos of a supposed encounter between a Saskatchewan grain farmer and a CWB official.  Unlike the majority of prairie grain farmers (ie, those who hold permit books, unlike the CWB's would be executioner Gerry Ritz) both Anderson and his fictional farmer want to rid themselves of the benefits of orderly marketing.  In the course of the video, the fictional farmer / Anderson stand-in uses the phrase "talking Eskimo" to suggest that the Wheat Board official is not making sense.

Now, I've never heard the phrase "talking Eskimo" used in this way in all of my 50 years.  It isn't one of those dated but offensive phrases one might go back to without thinking.  Other than references to my least favourite professional football team, the word "Eskimo" has long since fallen out of use.  The people it referred to prefer to be known as Inuit - a word from their own language.

But even if the word "Eskimo" weren't offensive in itself, the way it is used in the video is simply offensive - implying that "Eskimos" are incapable of sensible thought.

Instead of apologizing for spewing racist tripe, David Anderson has simply taken down the offending video and, apparently, gone into hiding from the Ottawa press gallery.

Neither Ottenbreit nor Anderson have covered themselves in glory, but Ottenbreit, at least, has manned up.


Tim Chesterton said...

Just as a matter of interest, from my personal experience working in the Diocese of the Arctic, not all Inuit find the word 'Eskimo' offensive. When I worked in the central Arctic I discovered that those who spoke the language (Inuinaktun) used 'Inuinait' when they were speaking their own language and 'Eskimo' when they were speaking English.

Of course 'Inuit' is confusing sometimes because it means 'people', so when the gospels says that Jesus fed 5000 people there is no other word to use! It's also confusing for non-Inuktitut speakers who don't realise that the word is plural and who say things like 'Johnny is an Inuit' (the singular is 'Inuk').

Your trivia helping for the day!

Malcolm+ said...

Interesting, Tim. (Though I actually did know that "Inuit" was plural and "Inuk" singular.) The exact status of "Eskimo" is under some dispute, and the idea it meant "raw meat eater" in Algonkian is disputed.

I think, though, that the greater problem was the way the video used "talking Eskimo," not in the sense of "all Greek to me," but rather as a means of saying "talking jibberish."

BTW, congrats on your recent anniversaries - both marital and ordinal.

Tim Chesterton said...

Yes, it's a bit like the old 'selling a refrigerator to an Eskimo' saying (every Inuk I knew in Holman had a fridge!).