Friday, April 27, 2012

Joel Ward and the racism of "a few people"

Hockey fans probably remember the NHL exhibition game that was played in London, back in September. Not for the game itself, mind you, but for the banana that a fan threw on to the ice when Wayne Simmonds, a black hockey player, skated on to the ice for his turn in the shoot-out. People were predictably outraged, but it still took several days to identify the banana-thrower, and the whole incident was widely dismissed as an isolated one because, we were assured, London is not a racist place. But, of course, it's not "isolated" - how many times do these things need to happen before we can admit that? - and no place is without racism. (I wrote about it briefly on my personal blog, at the time.)

So, I wasn't surprised when this happened. You've probably seen those tweets, because they're everywhere: the Washington Capitals' Joel Ward scored the series-winning goal against the Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas, and in so doing set the Twitterverse afire. Oh, and Joel Ward is black, so by "set afire", I mean "pissed off a lot of racists". (Actually, there is one thing about the responses on Twitter that surprise me. Of the forty tweets listed on that Chirpstory page, only three have been deleted, a full two days after they were first posted. Really? You still haven't figured out that posting a racial slur to your public Twitter account is a bad idea?*)

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

But one of the most interesting things to come out of this are the telling comments from Ward's mom, for whom this isn't isolated and who reminds us that even Toronto, where Ward grew up, is a racist place. In a Toronto Star article, she recalls "players and their families drawing attention to the young black player on the ice, telling him to play basketball, and even a referee calling him a monkey."

Equally telling, though, are all of the other comments from people involved in the game: Ward's teammate Jason Chimera describes it as a problem with "a few idiots", the Capitals' owner calls out "these folks", and even Ward reduces it to just "a few people". And here we are, sliding back into characterizing it as an isolated incident and a problem that belongs to only a very small number of people, rather than recognizing that it's one of many symptoms of a much larger, systemic problem. Plus ├ža change, and all that.

[* In the Toronto Star article that I've linked above, they quote one of those many Twitter users, who 'apologizes' to "anyone [he] may have offended". This is, of course, not an actual apology because he takes no responsibility for causing offense. He also adds that he's "not racist", and that it was said in "the heat of the moment". Yes, because every single one of us is known to drop the n-bomb when we get too excited, am I right? Only, no.]

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