Massey College – Master’s Racist Comment – Commentary

Massey College – Master’s Racist Comment – Commentary

Tuesday, 07 November 2017
Campus/University News

For decades, mainstream Canadian media has done a thorough job of silencing minority voices and ensuring that their complaints are painted as irrational, disruptive, and over-the top. The manipulation of their voices only works to further encourage the misrepresentation and lack of diversity in mainstream media when it comes to a public discourse about racial incidents. The way the media handled the Massey incident that occurred in late September is a perfect example of this. Yet, as a student of color in university, I am also aware that my perception of how the media handled this incident is biased. Furthermore, my bias in perceiving this case also leads to the bigger question of whether journalistic objectivity in narrating a news story is possible in such a sensitive topic such as race.

The media works to silence minority voices through the advantage of white privilege. As can be seen, when reporting on the incident, many of the online publications constantly referred to Marrus’s lists of accomplishments when it came to what he has done; regarding his studies on the Holocaust. Yes, while it was important to establish character when putting the story into context, his contribution to studies of the Holocaust still did not negate the fact that his comment, which was directed at the black student, whether a joke or not, were still very inappropriate for someone in a professional position of authority. Furthermore, the media should have taken the responsibility of explicitly separating Marrus’ history and his actions.

Another way that the media encouraged the use of white privilege in the reporting of this story, was in how Marrus’s character and innocence seemed to be well spoken for without him even having to say a word about the incident. Whereas the voice of the student, who was the victim, got lost in the narrative of the story. Through this perspective its important to note that the media’s use of white privilege functioned quite differently than the perspective mentioned above. While the use of white privilege wasn’t relevant in the process of getting access to the media, it was highly relevant in the anticipated outcome of how the media would react. What this means is that both the black student and Master Marrus had equal access to reach out to the media to tell their side of the story, but they did not have an equal footing in regard to how the media would tell their story. This is evident in the fact that Marrus didn’t even have to speak up, and yet, most media outlets seemed to lean on his side, while at the same time skewing the narrative through subtle undertones, to the vilify the black student. This vilification can be displayed through the media’s depiction of the schools ridiculous and unnecessary measures in response to the complaints that the black student made. It is this type of manipulation of the media that further works to silence and discourage minority voices from speaking out, for fear that their feelings and actions will be misconstrued.

When reflecting on my individual biases and how influence my perspective, I think my viewpoints differ from that of many other students. My first reaction upon hearing what Marrus had said, was to laugh. While I know that the poorly intended joke was not actually funny, I thought it was quite ridiculous. After all, what professor in his right mind would make such a comment and think it would be well received. Apart from that, as a black student, who for most of my life have attended predominantly white schools, I guess I have grown accustomed to hearing misplaced comments, and poorly made jokes about black people. I was quick to brush off what the professor said, as just a dumb comment. However, after further reflection, I realized that it is that same habit of brushing away ignorant and disrespectful comments such as that, which leads to the bigger issue of apathy exhibited by the media when portraying the victims’ perspective. It is this same apathy, that further pushes minority voices into the dark and tells them that they are overreacting, and that their feelings aren’t valid when they have been directly or indirectly offended, insulted or attacked. Furthermore, as a student of color who has been in many situations where I would constantly tell myself that I am overreacting; even when I had every right to do so, would hate to have been confronted like the Massey student, to only then feel like multiple media outlets were only continuing to perpetuate a cycle of silence that made me feel like a perpetrator instead of someone who was just deeply offended.

Moreover, the more I reflected on my personal history with unwelcome racial comments and situations, the more I realized that the authors of the articles reporting on the Massey incident were doing the exact same thing. To them, what Marrus said was just a poorly made joke, and instead of finding more ways to reach out to better understand the voice of the minority in this situation, they focused mainly on the schools’ actions. While I agree that the school brought up some unnecessary measures, such as getting rid of the word Master, the media’s narrow focus only encouraged one narrative to flourish, and unfortunately that was the narrative of those already in a place of power. While journalistic objectivity is very hard to achieve in sensitive and heated topics, I strongly believe that the media carries a burden of responsibility in which we expect them to strive to search out the voice of those not in a place of power so that a discussion of equal standing can take place. Given Canadian mainstream media’s history of silencing minority voices, news outlets have to work to be cognisant of our history, the present privileges that certain groups benefit from, and what is needed to right those injustices in the media so that our democratic news stations can live up to what we expect them to be; a voice for and of the people.

Elizabeth O
Edited by Ramisa Tasfia

Rick Salutin for the Toronto Star speaking on the subject:

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