Monday, April 26, 2010

scalping, racism and why i love anonymous online commentators


when i first saw the photograph that led to my front-page article in the herald yesterday, i thought it must have been done with a deliberately provocative intent. i mean, attractive young models dangling packets of human hair in front of the statue of a man notorious for issuing a scalping proclamation? the image seemed too perfectly composed to have been a mere accident.

so i went digging. it took about five minutes on the phone with kevin stanhope, the man who owns the business that ran the ad, to make me think otherwise. at first, he was unhappy to hear from me, and unhappy that his week had been taken over by responding to this ad (mi'kmaq people had been contacting him throughout the week). after he'd blown off steam, he explained how he'd gotten a break in the weather, closed the business, ran across the street to the park and got the models to line up on the statue because it had multiple levels. and he took the pic. he cursed the fates that had him take the picture this month, rather than last - last month, flat irons were on sale. nobody would have cared if the models had been holding flat irons.

he was upset that he'd done something so apparently grotesque and offered immediate and profuse apologies after his crash course in nova scotian history. even though i'm sure he's had no training, he offered a textbook example of how to respond to such a disaster: as the owner of the business, he owned the problem. he didn't pass the buck or defend himself as unknowning - he explained how it had happened and how he would make things right (by not running the ad again and by learning more about cornwallis).

besides, he made no effort to gain attention for the controversial side of the ad (it's been on the stands for a few weeks) and who is going to read my article and then think, 'i need to buy hair extensions - now i know where to get them!' ?

i've written about cornwallis before and it's no secret i think the statue is a disgrace to modern halifax. and, like before, i got a pile of emails and comments about the story. some along the lines of 'everybody did it', some kudos and, in the comments section, some thinly veiled racism.

i used to be against anonymous online commenting. i put my name and email on my stories - why shouldn't everybody else be as open? but i've grown to like anonymous commenting. first, it creates an interesting debate. people tend to correct ignorance and errors and defend their point of view.

some, like this commenter on my opinion piece, offer interesting additions:

"Statues in Halifax
Statues of Nova Scotia's history makers and shakers of this time such as Donald Marshall Jr and Rocky Jones, whether they would be in the South Street park or another prominant place in Halifax,would serve a great justice in honor to those who helped change the justice system. And shame on anyone in the history of this city and province, who left such deep scars of abuse and murder on the souls of their people's ancestors and still in their families today. Removing Cornwallis' statue is an issue for sure, morals & values of 1749 history vs. 2009 morals & values ....hmmm"

but i actually value them for the ones i strongly disagree with, for example:

"mra wrote:
history is history and can not be changed.like the blacks in the states certain words and things give them flashbacks.get over it it's history and can not be changed"

or poison_pen's "Do we all have to live in the past? Have we not and are we not still paying for the transgression of others in the past. I guess it is not nearly as profitable to move on lance the boil as it is to keep this thing going. Like it or not this appparently is history, learn from it and move on. All this does is perpetuate hate and keep willing captives victims."

and

CJCB41 wrote:
"Holy Crap! We've turned into a society of political correctness, walking on egg shells, handelling everything with kid gloves, just so we won't offend anyone because of something that happened decades ago!!! I'm getting tired of having to watch apologies being made for every mistake that was made against different cultures, different races, different people that happened 100's of years ago. It's time to get over it people, that was then, this is now. Believe it or not, the majority of people in today's society recognize what things...good and bad....happened in history. Stop trying to find fault and stop saying that everything that people do is done maliciously."

(you can read all of the comments here, at least until the herald scrubs the article)

why? because it gives you a glimpse at the real opinions some people have - the ones they usually keep to themselves. nova scotia has a deep racism problem. last week, in what surely must have been a first, the globe and mail ran two lead editorials about racism in nova scotia. one was about viola desmond and the other about the cross burning. in saturday's globe, that couple's decision to move landed on the consequential side of their weekly matrix of the world's news.

when online commentators air their most secret thoughts behind the protection of anonymity, it offers a valuable insight into their mindset - what's gone wrong, and how to make it right. that way, we can better educate the merely ignorant and leave the true, unreconstructed racists all by themselves.

this blog accepts anonymous comments - so go to it.
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