Sunday, May 9, 2010

Over The Edge

I've watched with some degree of bemusement as racism seems to grow into a bigger and bigger issue on almost daily basis in the US. Or, perhaps I should not say so much a bigger and bigger issue as much as more and more the 'call of the day'. The only explanation for everything that happens.

After all, anyone who didn't vote for President Obama must have been a racist, right?

And we are know that the "tea baggers" are nothing but a bunch of racists ... even though the latest polls paint a slightly different picture, revealing that although they were slightly more likely to be employed, male and definitely more conservative, in several other respects, "their age, educational background, employment status, and race -- Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large."

But what do I know? I just find it strange is all.

Not that Canada is that much better.

As just one example, we have the complaints made on behalf of Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal to the Halifax Regional Police and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission about a 2008 cartoon in the Chronicle Herald. The police complaint was apparently made under under Section 318 of the Criminal Code, as "hate propaganda", more commonly known as a "hate crime".

Of course, whether you're default position is racism or some other form of discrimination, the result is really the same. Real racism and real discrimination do occur. But when we find it lurking under every rock or in every bizarre (uncaring, stupid, pick your word) comment someone makes, we are marginalizing the whole concept to the point of meaningless. And that is dangerous.

So why bring this up now?

Yesterday, I thought this story in the Chronicle Herald was a bit odd - two parents were more than a little upset about a comment made by Karen Hilchey, a substitute teacher, to their 12-year-old daughter. The teacher, who was filling in for a music class allegedly pointed at their daughter, who had been adopted from China, and said, "We are all white Christians here, except for you."

The child's mother not only wanted an apology from the school board, but had also contacted the RCMP and the provincial Education Department "seeking an investigation and a guarantee that the teacher will not be in the classroom again".

That was all of the story we had yesterday, no context to even try to explain the comment. Which, admittedly, struck me as more than a little strange and unusual for a teacher to make. What call would a music teacher have to even note such a thing? Yet alone point out the child in front of the whole class?

A stellar example of good teaching practice? Not so much.
Were the parents justified in seeking an explanation? Sure.

But racism?

The headline read "Racist Remark Sparks Outrage". The mother referred to never having experienced any racism before. And the police received a complaint and had visited the school as part of their investigation.

Today, we see the teacher scrambling madly to clarify the "misunderstanding" and give the comment some context. You can read her side of the story for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

I would think that an apology to the child and an explanation to the parents are no doubt in order. Perhaps even some sensitivity training in assisting the teacher with implementing her good intentions in the classroom. Or perhaps not.

But here is what I don't get.

Tait [the mother] said she’s still bewildered about the classroom address. She is pursuing the matter with the RCMP to see if the incident with her daughter can be considered an alleged hate crime.
A hate crime?

Lord, give me strength.

"Every one who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years." [sec. 318, Criminal Code]

Because a comment that everyone in a room "are all white Christians", with the exception of one student, while it may be more than a little stupid and insensitive for a teacher to make, doesn't quite qualify as "advocating or promoting genocide", does it?

Does it?

I mean you can all but visualize the teacher handing out swords to the other students so they could rid the classroom of this little invader, can't you? [That was sarcasm, by the way. For anyone out there who couldn't tell. Of which I'm thinking there are probably a few.]

So tell me, have we all lost our minds?

Or have I simply went down the rabbit hole? Again?

Update: As pointed out in comments, other potentially relevant Criminal Code sections include s. 319 (1) and (2) ["public incitement of hatred" and "wilful promotion of hatred"].

Although, in my opinion, the singling of a person out as being of a different religion or race, without more, does not qualify as either inciting or promoting hatred, I note that two of the available defences to a charge of willful promotion of hatred are (a) "if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true"; or (b) "if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada". Both of which, I submit, might well apply here assuming the teacher's version of events is true.

But my real point is that so many different things have now been alleged as racist or hate crimes in the media that many some people don't even know what these words mean any more. And that, to me, is scary.


Anonymous said...

I read both stories and think the mother totally overreacted. This could have been handled parent-to-teacher quite easily. The damage to this teacher's reputation is huge. Like you, the suggestion by the mother that it is a "hate crime" is where she completely lost me; Lord give us all strength!!!

Anonymous said...

The charge would be "Public incitement of hate" She was encouraging the other children to segregate my child. If this is not a criminal act, I would accept it.
The paper failed to report Ms. Hilchey was ordered to leave the school(by noon time)& blocked from the substitute job website, before I knew anything about it.
The Chronicle Herald reports were more "he said, she said" than the actual facts.

Sarah said...

I believe the mother over reacted for sure. Yes there are hate crimes out there but for this to be classified as such is ridiculous. I know that teachers in our school do not celebrate holidays and other things so that no one, two or several children are not singled out so her mistake was to single out this one child and point out her differences. Shame on her and yes it could have been handled between parent and teacher. If there was no resolution at that level then go to the school board. It appears that she does need some sensitivity training for sure. I can't stand it when so much attention is spend on such things when there are bigger issues that need to be addressed and resolved. I voted Michelle but not for Obama and not because of his race but his lack of ability to run this country as it should be. All that voted for him are getting what they deserve. November can't come soon enough for me.

MMC said...

Thank you for your comment at 10:05. I have updated the post to include the other Criminal Code sections.

I assume you are Ms. Tait? Just a a few words of unsolicited advice - might I suggest you tread carefully with any future public comments you make concerning Ms. Hilchey? I realize that you feel legitimately upset for your daughter but, as another commenter pointed out, the potential damage to the teacher's reputation is huge and I would hate for you to find yourself on the wrong end of a defamation lawsuit brought by Ms. Hilchey.

Best of luck with all this. It can a very tough job sometimes to protect our children from the darker side of the world.

Kris, in New England said...

Kids are more resilient than many parents think they are. Parents overreact and project their own opinions (or personal issues) onto their children.

It is far too easy these days for parents to cry racism over just about anything.

Which actually clouds the incidences of true racism that do sadly occur.

Like the boy who cried wolf, except these overreactionary parents are making things harder for those parents who have a legitimate concern or complaint.

The teacher in this incident could have handled things better - but taking her on with lawsuits and threats is just beyond inappropriate.

Whatever happened to dialog rather than mudslinging. Because the parents in this case have now made themselves no better than the teacher - by acting outside of common decency and courtesy.