When I was in Junior High School, I was a complete push over. I got bullied a fair amount, and I was called all manner of names, from racial slurs, accusations of being gay (because it was so ‘wrong’ to be gay), to my looks and physical features being laughed at and called out. Even my Mom was victim to all manner of “Yo’ Mama” jokes and insults (though whose wasn’t when you are that age). I used to get angry, and I would lash out and try to inflict similar harm with words as best I could, usually to no avail.
One day, while hanging out in the band room during lunch break (oh the coolness was oozing out of me), I started talking with a classmate. She noticed how often I was picked on, and she asked me why I took it all so personally. I didn’t think I was, but she reminded me of how angry I got, and how lost in anger I would become. I didn’t know what she meant, but it must’ve hit me then as I remember now how I was and continued to be after talking with her.
There was a young boy in my grade 8 year that went ballistic in his home room, tossing chairs and tables, and screaming with much anger. He was in such an uncontrollable rage that the entire class exited the room in a hurry to let him vent and continue his destruction, with some laughing at his pain and anger. He was also a subject of much abuse, and I would talk with him at times. Another boy in my homeroom would receive endless insults because he shat himself while in gym class while we were learning to wrestle. He too got angry and tried to attack students that abused him over the story, which happened because of his disability. I even remember a time when a friend turned bully was harassing this young techie a year older then us. The techie got so mad, as he got abused a lot too, that he rushed and went to strangle my friend. My “friend” punched him in the head a few times, which caused the techie to let go and run off crying. I felt awful for doing nothing.
I didn’t think my anger was noticeable, but I remembered a time when I started hitting a classmate on his side repeatedly with a tennis racket when he and his friends were harassing me. Or the time I flipped over a table in English class, screaming and getting angry at a student for saying words I cannot remember.
I suppose that classmate in the band room was right, I was taking it all quite personally, so much so that any sympathy I might’ve garnered was being lost in my own actions. She mentioned her experience with insults and bullying, and she told me to own whatever they were saying. Just go with it and see how far they will go. I never thought of it before, but she said to try it on her. So, I proceeded to call her all manner of things, “Cunt”, “Bitch”. You name it, I probably said it. She brushed it off and always responded with “Yup, you know it!” I found it funny, but I also saw how ineffective my words were on her. I was impressed, though I forgot this lesson many times over the years since.
Fast forward to 2020, and I never thought I would see the day that someone, a Canadian Party Leader for that matter, would be ousted from the House of Commons for calling another MP a racist.
The offense that Alain Therrien has implies what happened was inhumane, with the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) Leader Yves-Francois Blanchett, calling for an apology and a more severe punishment for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, the one that made the claim. This anger that the BQ is invoking is off to me, and it reminds me of the way I handled bullies prior to the intervention of my friend.
What is it about being called a racist that stokes anger and fury within those that have received the label? What is the reasoning behind the anger that boils over that causes resentment and hatred towards the one that is accusing the other? Well, if my story and interactions from those boys that received abuse are telling of anything, it is that the BQ are taking it personally.
I think the word has shifted far and away from the true meaning over the years, as now it is a way to recognize an action that is inconsiderate, ignorant or disrespectful. But because of what it meant, it cuts deep when someone is called a racist since actual racists continue to exist on this planet, which nobody wants to associate with. Our history on this continent has had many years of accepted racism as well. So, for some, it reminds them of a past they want to forget. For that reason, I think that is why some people find it unacceptable to even imply someone is a racist. When Singh called Therrien a racist, I think, despite his reasoning and experience with racism, he misused the word.
Therrien was the MP that dismissed the notion of looking into systemic racism in the RCMP, and according to Singh, Therrien made a gesture against the motion that said the motion was “…meaningless”. Should Singh of considered using a different handle when he felt that anger? Yes, most likely, and I think it would of been more productive to ask why the BQ denied the motion, but it isn’t so far a stretch to suggest Therrien was unaware of the implications of his actions and words. But the fact that what Therrien did is being dismissed, and is even justified is irresponsible. Even though many of the insults were untrue in my case, my actions when receiving them implied that they were true as they “touched a nerve” and gave cause to receiving more of the same insults.
The definition of racist if you type in the word on Google is:
“A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.”
Ok, so is Alain Therrien a racist? Well, based on the interactions that occurred at the House of Commons, I don’t think so. Does that mean Jagmeet Singh should apologize for saying Therrein is racist? Well, that depends. The word has devolved so much so that to be politically correct is racist.
“My Latin-American friend makes great pasta!”
“That was racist.”
I get it, racial tension is high right now, and I myself have gone the route of accusing others of being racist or showing racism when they weren’t. But Singh said it for a reason, and the relationship he has with the BQ should be something to consider when he said so. I also think the reaction of the BQ and Therrein is indictive of the power of the word on both sides of the coin, with those that say it, and those that are on the receiving end.
Frankly, I am not only disappointed by the actions of the House and saddened with how Jagmeet Singh chose to respond, but I am also embarrassed by the offence that the BQ took. If you think on it, to take it as some horrible insult implies this uplifted, righteous attitude of goodness, and to be called anything outside of that is outrageous.
In response to Singh’s interpretation of events, Blanchett asked,
“If somebody doesn’t see anything explicit, who is entitled to say ‘Oh, he moved his hand in such a way and this means that?’”
That is a good question, but I also think this includes the word, as like I said, it has devolved so much over the years. Did Singh mean it in such a defacing way? Did Singh mean it to publicly take down the BQ, and implying that they are a racist party? Was Singh calling Therrien a monster? I think something to remember is bad press is still press for these guys. Racism is still around, no doubt about it. I have heard many things that were racist, but ignorance is partly because of it. I think before we jump to conclusions and crucify someone, how about we give them the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty, right?
I think the word has grown a little out of control these days, but let’s not take it further by taking it as an insult, or a word equivalent to He-who-must-be-named, or letting it become the same as horrible racial slurs. If we want to return to using the word in the truest sense, then I think it not only falls on how we use the word, but how we take it when we hear it.