Free­dom of ex­pres­sion ver­sus white fragility

‘Write what­ever you like, but you’re not free from crit­i­cism’

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - NOELLE ALLEN Noelle Allen is the pub­lisher of Wol­sak and Wynn, a small lit­er­ary press based in Hamil­ton.

Judg­ing from some of the com­men­tary com­ing from var­i­ous news­pa­pers and pun­dits in the past week, we have a se­ri­ous prob­lem with free­dom of speech and the press in Canada. I hap­pen to agree, but per­haps for dif­fer­ent rea­sons than most. On Tues­day, Hamil­ton po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rested two jour­nal­ists who were cov­er­ing an ac­ci­dent scene. The Cana­dian Jour­nal­ists for Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion stated that “Mul­ti­ple eye­wit­ness re­ports ref­er­ence an ex­treme use of force by po­lice in tack­ling (David) Ritchie and (Jeremy) Cohn to the ground.” The Hamil­ton po­lice chief is cur­rently re­view­ing the ar­rests.

In Que­bec an in­quiry has been struck to look at po­lice sur­veil­lance after rev­e­la­tions that Mon­treal po­lice and Que­bec provin­cial po­lice ob­tained war­rants to col­lect data from the smart­phones of sev­eral prom­i­nent jour­nal­ists. Per­haps it’s not sur­pris­ing that Canada slipped out of the Top 20 coun­tries in the Free­dom In­dex in the past year. Po­lice spy­ing, de­mands for re­porters to hand over back­ground ma­te­rial, as well as ar­rests, were all men­tioned in the Re­porters With­out Bor­ders 2017 World Press Free­dom In­dex re­port as causes for con­cern.

But this isn’t what some opin­ion writ­ers are up in arms about right now. It’s that three edi­tors lost their po­si­tions over com­ments made on­line and in print that were deemed cul­tur­ally, and racially, in­ap­pro­pri­ate by many. This is where I’d like to bring up white fragility. Dr. Robin DiAn­gelo, who cre­ated the phase, states “White peo­ple in North Amer­ica live in a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment that pro­tects and in­su­lates them from race­based stress. This in­su­lated en­vi­ron­ment of racial pro­tec­tion builds white ex­pec­ta­tions for racial com­fort while at the same time low­er­ing the abil­ity to tol­er­ate racial stress, lead­ing to what I re­fer to as white fragility. White fragility is a state in which even a min­i­mum amount of racial stress be­comes in­tol­er­a­ble, trig­ger­ing a range of de­fen­sive moves.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing to see white fragility come into play around the cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion prize idea that re­sulted in Hal Niedzviecki step­ping down as the edi­tor of Write, the mag­a­zine of The Writer’s Union of Canada, though he’s still pub­lisher at Bro­ken Pen­cil; in Jonathan Kay step­ping down from the Wal­rus, though Kay has been em­broiled in much con­tro­versy at the Wal­rus and stated him­self this was just the last thing; and Steve Ladu­ran­taye be­ing re­moved from his po­si­tion as edi­tor at “The Na­tional” and re­as­signed within the CBC. It gives us ar­ti­cles like An­drew Dreschel’s who rushes to the de­fence of these poor fel­lows who’ve lost their po­si­tions be­cause they wrote ed­i­to­ri­als or tweeted ideas that dam­aged the po­si­tion of their pub­li­ca­tions. If you had a staff per­son tweet­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments and a mem­ber of the public asked “Do you re­mem­ber who you rep­re­sent?” and their an­swer was “Thanks, I got this,” would you leave them in charge of any­thing?

But these fel­lows’ com­ments were about cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, which is racially charged and the public de­mand for ac­count­abil­ity has made many white com­men­ta­tors pan­icky. They leap to ab­surd lengths in the de­fence of these peo­ple. Christie Blatch­ford, who can be counted on for hy­per­bole if noth­ing else, wrote “Ladu­ran­taye, hav­ing been through a “strug­gle ses­sion” straight out of Mao’s China, is now off to re-ed­u­ca­tion camp.” Looks like the poor fel­low has to go through di­ver­sity train­ing. This is white fragility for you. It fo­cuses on the white per­son in the dis­cus­sion. Clearly their rights are be­ing tram­pled. Now they can’t ever write about that black les­bian char­ac­ter they dreamed up — when peo­ple point out the lack of con­nec­tion be­tween these ideas the de­fend­ers of free­dom switch de­fen­sive moves.

They de­mand in­dige­nous peo­ple ex­plain over and over why cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion mat­ters or what it is, ig­nor­ing all the ar­ti­cles al­ready writ­ten on the topic, claim­ing they don’t un­der­stand. Toni Mor­ri­son wrote about this ap­proach to racism “The func­tion, the very se­ri­ous func­tion, of racism, is dis­trac­tion. It keeps you from do­ing your work. It keeps you ex­plain­ing, over and over again your rea­son for be­ing.”

These three men did not lose their jobs over free­dom of ex­pres­sion, they were found to not have the thought­ful­ness nec­es­sary of some­one in their po­si­tion. They were held ac­count­able for their words, which is an as­pect of free­dom of speech, not an in­fringe­ment. Write what­ever you like, but you’re not free from crit­i­cism.

Now, those re­porters be­ing bun­dled into the back of the po­lice car? Those who had their cell­phone con­ver­sa­tions mon­i­tored in Que­bec? They’re see­ing our real free­doms slip away.


Au­thor Toni Mor­ri­son on racism: “The func­tion, the very se­ri­ous func­tion, of racism, is dis­trac­tion. It keeps you from do­ing your work. It keeps you ex­plain­ing, over and over again your rea­son for be­ing.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.