Evelina, Dog Owner. Why Labels Suck.


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work

I usually like to start my day off with reading news stories from around the world, hoping to capture a balanced view of what is actually happening.  It is not always so easy to piece it all together.   One thing stands out for me for sure. The presence of labels: when, how and if they are used to describe protagonists and antagonists in the stories.

We are uncomfortable with applying specific labels when we see large groups  doing nasty things.  You are more likely to see an avoidance  of labels  with Canadian television broadcasters or more socially oriented European media.   The concern is about stereotyping, backlash, and creating fear.  On the opposite side of the spectrum when the media, social movements, governments and others want to draw negative attention to a group – the labeling comes in really handy.

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My Twitter feed was laden with sexist and racist exposés from journalists covering the Olympics in Rio. I also read about the hateful interactions of Arab athletes against the Israelis.  Clearly, “Israeli” or “Jew” a divisive label, was preferred over a more conciliatory one of  “fellow-athlete”.   How sad!

Labeling is tricky.  Gabby Douglas, the American Gold Gymnast had her share of labels thrown at her during the Olympics.  A lot of them weren’t very nice.  It was interesting to note how Gabby’s “blackness” was plastered around Twitter by black groups.  Then to my surprise, I saw again in my feed an article about how Gabby Douglas credits her Jewish upbringing with helping her to succeed.  Two cultural/racial groups wanting to make her their own and confer their label as a celebration of membership.  For individuals who judge people on one-dimensional characteristics: where does someone like Gabby fit in?   Since she is Jewish, does that mean she fits into the white privileged category that oppression activists would categorize, even though hatred against Jews is now considered to have reached the levels of pre-Second World War times? Or is she black?  Here lies the problem with looking at human beings so simplistically.  We are not one-dimensional.   It is time to reconsider the limitations of dangerously divisive thinking.

Labeling has been on my mind for a while, and more so now as I connect with Americans. My race seems to always come up.    Along with that, it becomes important for them to tell me their race when we are speaking over the phone.  I don’t understand it, maybe I will in the future.  In my opinion it is irrelevant, and so I wish my race was too.  I don’t think there is a universal “white” or “black” way of thinking.

I am Evelina: a multi-dimensional human being and so are you.  If it makes you happy to label me, why don’t you categorize me as  Evelina,  dog owner? I much prefer that.

 

 

 

Challenging Our Stereotypes


Written by:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc,   Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget

 

In our early childhood education, we are taught to classify, sort and separate.  We categorize by shape, colour, texture, and by things that we like and do not like.  This early training helps us to sort out large chunks of material into smaller pieces which are more easily understood.  While this system may work with objects, it can be problematic when it comes to trying to categorize people and placing them into labels or stereotypes. Each day we engage in this labelling process whether consciously or unconsciously.

 

 

 I was on the bus one morning travelling through some of the less than desirable parts of town.  A man in his mid-thirties got on the bus with what looked to be his 5 year old daughter.  He seemed a bit rough around the edges, heavily tattooed and on the messy side.  This tough man held a little pink brush in his right hand.  He sat his daughter on his lap and proceeded to brush her hair and make the neatest pig tails.  All the while she was smiling and kissing her father’s hand as he admiringly transformed his little daughter’s tangled hair into a tamed coiffure.

 

While I sat and admired the interaction in front of me, behind me were a couple who regularly attend a methadone clinic in the downtown core.   On the surface they would appear kind of scary.  Dishevelled appearance and missing teeth – people you might want to avoid. However, over the years I have seen this couple who live in government housing show generousity to others on the bus.  Lending others an ear, offering their poverty-stricken neighbours some of their own food.  That day they were engaged in a deep conversation about the upcoming election, and judging by their vocabulary they would have appeared to be well educated.

 

I get to the conference that I was supposed to attend and visit my associate.  After the conference she told me that a woman who was wearing a burka had approached her before her talk to tell her that a man at the conference has stolen the books that she had on display.  My friend who was about to start her talk did not have the time to do anything about it.  As it turns out the woman in the burka chased the man outside the school and demanded that he hand over what he had stolen.  At the end of the conference the woman in the burka handed over the text book to my friend.  

 

I was pleasantly surprised by each of these incidents that I witnessed in one day.  They were a gift to me.  I was challenged by common stereotypes that not only I have but that society has in general.  It is hard for us to imagine a tough looking guy feeling comfortable fixing his daughter’s hair in public.  We don’t expect people who have a problem with addictions and are poor may have a strong depth of political analysis.  And surely, with all of the images of passive women in burkas in the media we would not expect one to stand up to a man and demand stolen merchandise be returned.

 

Government Dollars Used to Spread Hate and Bias in Ethnic Media


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work – Publisher Inclusion Quarterly, and Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget.

The other day I recounted to a colleague that I blog about what makes me angry and passionate. I get really angry about the spread of hatred to any group and worst of all I get really angry when I know that valuable charitable dollars and government funds unknowingly and innocently are used to passively promote sexism, racism, and more.

Last night I couldn’t take it anymore.

A family member translated a joke that he had read in a local ethnic newspaper. The punch line was not funny to any of us. But obviously the editor must have got a chuckle. It was yet another joke that portrayed black people as savage beasts. This isn’t the first time this paper has done this. It also has a history of printing anti-Semitic jokes about money hungry, hooked- nosed Jews. Those weren’t funny either. We all have friends who are black and Jewish and we had an emotional response. My family member who is part of this ethnic group was outraged. If this newspaper was supposed to represent his cultural values, they did not do a good job of portraying his, he said.

I wish I could say that this is the only ethnic newspaper that does this but it is not. Former ESL students of mine often commented with disbelief about ethnic newspapers delivered to their schools with horrible offensive cartoons. Sometimes you don’t even have to know how to read the language to get a feel for what is coming through the cartoon images.

I remember the disgust I felt when I saw a cartoon of Condoleezza Rice some years ago portrayed with exaggerated lips, and butt – the stereotypical caricature of a black woman. Regardless, of your politics, you cannot overlook the incredible achievement this woman has made in her career in a male- dominated white government. Why reduce her to such a subordinate level? Not only was this cartoon racist it was misogynistic.

What about all of the anti-West propaganda found in these papers and more? Does it help these readers to feel more a part of Canadian society? How is this conducive? Creating a polarity of “them” and “us”? It doesn’t seem overly logical to me.

Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing and I wouldn’t want to that to change. For some of these fledgling newspapers they rely heavily on the advertising dollars from various levels of government and non-profits to keep them running. Non-profits believe that they are doing the right thing, getting their message out to a wider audience by using ethnic newspapers to do so and I am not discounting the value. The government does it to inform their constituents and to gain voters. Again, I doubt that any of these politicians would knowingly spend taxpayers’ dollars funding racist and sexist newspapers. They are in a bind because this is one of the most cost effective and fastest ways to get things out to ethnic constituents. Ethnic marketing is cheap in comparison to conventional forms.

However, I challenge governments and others who continue to put out dollars to these bigoted papers.

1. Consider your brand integrity when you choose an ethnic outlet. There are some exceptional ethnic newspapers with great journalist quality that do not engage in these bullying, bigoted and hate propaganda spreading tactics. Find out who they are and align yourself with those people. Remember, where you advertise is a reflection of you. Do you want to be associated with funding the spread of hatred against Jews, blacks, women, gays and others? You have a choice – don’t do it!

Take a look at a years worth of papers and see if you like what you see and what you read. Have someone who speaks the language go over the paper. Resist the urge to get cheap advertising by compromising your principles. I have been offered free space in some of these hate generating papers and ones that regularly contribute to the degradation of women and I have said no to them. At the end of the day, I have to keep with my principles and support the people close to me.

2. Leverage your power as a customer. You have a great program that your organization is running which has health benefits to the specific ethnic community that you are targeting. But you see that the ethnic paper that you are advertising in is bigoted toward some groups. So what do you do? Don’t lock yourself into a long term advertising contract. Tell them you will monitor their paper and demand change. You can ask the editor to write a note of apology in his/her paper and encourage him/her to write articles that are helpful toward Canadian integration.

3. Remember your responsibility. Are you using charitable dollars or taxpayer’s money to support these papers? Don’t channel hard earned dollars into media that is counter-productive to Canadian values of inclusion. Do your homework and ask around. Like I said, there are wonderful ethnic outlets with journalistic integrity that do a great service to their communities, helping them become more integrated into Canadian culture and embracing unity. These hard working professionals need more support and think of them next time you want to target a particular ethnic community or increase your reach.

We all have a role in shaping our country, making it inclusive and safe. We all benefit. What is special about Canada is that we somehow have managed to remain peaceful with all of our diversity. Let’s keep it that way. By challenging negative stereotypes and holding people accountable for spreading hate – we will be way ahead of the rest.

Stand Up Against the “B” Word


ImageSo it is summer, and things have slowed down and now I have time to do things like watch television.  It seems like it has been awhile since I have watched so much television, but I am going to put a halt to it very soon.   I cannot believe what I am seeing!  Has the world become so numb and accepting of the violence against women in TV?  Reality television has stooped to the lowest level when a bunch of women are vying for a bachelor? Roma women are punching each other and slapping the face of a pregnant woman?  Vancouver beauties fight over who has more filler or botox? And on top of that the “Bitch” word and “Slut” word gets furiously hurled around like it was nothing, even in daytime programming which was once supposed to have higher decency standards!

Since when did it become acceptable and common place to call women female dogs?  I don’t care if some women have reclaimed this word as their own.  The connotation is still negative.  We are ascribing half of the world’s population to the status of an animal.  Why are anti-racist activists so good at challenging the use of derogatory and racist words and women are not?  Is it that women are unsuccessful with challenging it, or are their calls not being heard? When was the last time you saw the “N” word written if full?  You probably haven’t.  The “N” word has become so repugnant in our vocabulary that the mere sight of it, makes a lot of people enraged.  It’s meaning heralds back to a time of slavery, inequality, and the inferior role that black people had in our society.

I wish that we could do the same with the “B” word or the “S” word and others  What will it take for us to see that calling women these words is repugnant as well? It seems that we haven’t really progressed that much. By using these words, we show that we are backward and that women have not reached the same equal status as men in our society.  We still judge them on their submission, passivity, and on their sexual history.

Let’s challenge one another when we use these words against women.  One by one we can make these misogynistic words cast outs from our vernacular.  It is going to take some time but  high time that women enjoyed equal status in this society, don’t you think?

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