Recently I was listening to a popular, long-running arts and culture show on CBC Radio One and the host was interviewing a celebrity bartender. Who knew that celebrity bartenders exist, let alone have become so fascinating, but in any case, this fellow was being interviewed about all things rum. At one point, he told the host that African slaves were sold in order to buy the molasses required for making rum. This information made me feel sick to my stomach but more disturbing was the host’s reaction. In the sweet, modulated voice for which she’s known, she completely ignored the information. Instead, she sailed past, wowing about rum minutiae, asking a syrupy question, sounding impressed and being oh-so delighted with everything the celebrity bartender had to say.
Her disregard had to be challenged. I sent a brief email explaining my objection. I first acknowledged that normally I find her show to have the highest of standards but how could she miss commenting on the fact that human beings were once traded for molasses so people could drink rum. I ended with, “sometimes white people are so blithely ignorant of their racist blind spots.” This prompted a chain of emails. Her first defense was to deny, claiming that I had heard wrong. When I persisted, she defended her behaviour by saying that delving into the history of slavery wouldn’t fit the mandate of her show. I concurred but stuck to my assertion that ignoring that kind of information sets a dangerous tone, she could have made a brief,appropriate comment.
In one email she accused me of rudeness and took the nice person high road; she was on a campaign to raise email and online standards, if we met in the street I wouldn’t talk to her that way. Though I didn’t say so, the fact is, if we met in the street, I would have talked to her in exactly the same way.
And why? Because I see people walking around in silent passivity. I see pervasive social isolation. I see a cloak of civility keeping all relevant social discourse invisible. This trend is so serious that I’ve ceased being concerned whether I’m liked or not. What matters most is that we stop the glaring, chronic not-giving-a-shit avoidance.
Culture is alive, it’s biological. You stop drawing attention to racism and what happens, unarmed black boys get shot by cops in the street. Stop challenging ignorance, eventually everyone becomes dumb. Stop hating hatred and eventually there is genocide. It’s time we shift gears and actively co-create a healthy society, stop hiding behind untrue myths that Canadians are so nice. When something is wrong, say what has to be said, be direct and succinct, be as respectful as you can manage, then move along. Nobody is saying, raise your angry voice or jab your finger in the air. Nobody wants to sow major discord or elicit aggression, but I am here to tell you that unless you exhibit some clear, obvious displeasure with what someone is saying or doing, the message will not get through. A wise woman with whom I used to keep counsel once told me, what matters most is not what you say, but how you say it. For the time being I would revise that: what matters most is that you just fucking speak up.