Meanwhile in Canada…


From the National Post (tip from Neil Hrab):

A Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission panel spent a full day watching Lone Ranger episodes before deciding being called kemosabe did not demean a Mi'kmaq woman.

Whole thing here.

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  1. I once had to spend an entire day watching hardcore porn before I could decide whether being called a “cum-guzzling slut” was demeaning to my ex-girlfriend.

  2. Wait, I thought the victims discomfort was sufficient to make a term disparaging. Not so in Nova Scotia eh? Apparently they have a “Human Rights Commission panel” to decide what is and is not criminally offensive speech… How enlightened.

  3. While this was undoubtedly a silly case and should never have ended up in an administrative law proceeding, I’m actually inclined to agree with the woman that her boss was using the term in a derogatory manner. As the article mentioned, she specifically asked him to use the Mi’kmaq word for “friend” when speaking to her, but he continued to refer to her as “kemosabe” (which apparently doesn’t mean anything in the local languages). A good analogy would be referring to Native Americans as “chief”. The word itself is not derogatory but, unless the object of your speech really is a tribal chief, the only reason for using it is to draw attention to the person’s ethnicity.

  4. SR,

    You seem to have RTFA, but you seem to have missed the part where he called all his employees kemosabe. Therefore he was clearly not drawing attention to her ethnicity. OTOH, I can see that it was a little insensitive of him to continue calling her that after she asked him to stop.

    But the much, much larger point is that we can probably argue about this forever and it would remain an infinitely and hopelessly subjective matter. Laws to enforce niceness are doomed to absurdity, and that a friggin’ Commission gets to decide what’s offensive or not rather than the “crime” being based solely on the complainant’s sense of offense doesn’t help matters much. In addition to the possibility of having someone tell you that what you said was criminally offensive regardless of how you may have meant it, here we have a case of an official third party telling the offended woman she wasn’t really offended! Now, THAT’s offensive!!! If she could have only accepted that it wasn’t anyone else’s business, she could have spared herself that indignity.

  5. SR-
    At first, I would’ve said yeah, that while I don’t think this should be actionable, it sounded like the boss must be an incredible jerk. But according to the article, he called all his employees “Kemosabe,” rather than just singling out this woman. I’d still stop if someone were taking umbrage, but it’s not quite as bad as it first sounds.

  6. So did they count how many times they rode by the exact same scenery?

  7. I. AM… embarassed…

  8. To Keith Knight, Salon cartoonist:

    You and a Reason staffer make the exact same point in a Hit & Run comments thread…and YOUR post shows up first–YES!! 🙂

  9. I saw that he referred to other employees as “kemosabe”, but: a) the article doesn’t say what the ethnicities of the other employees were; b) the article doesn’t indicate what their reaction was; c) the article doesn’t indicate what the frequency was with which he used it with various employees. Here’s another way to think about it: If you are White, and you call everyone in your office, regardless of race, “my brutha” or “my sista”, would you not still anticipate that your Black coworkers would probably take offense at such behavior even though, again, the terms are not actually derogatory?

  10. Well, at least they did research before makeing a judgement. How often does that happen in government???

  11. SR,

    I think the only possible answer to your question is: maybe.

    I suppose in this hyper-sensitive world we live in it’s probably best to avoid all potentially offensive ethnic language regarding other ethnic or racial groups so as to be safe rather than sorry. But having to be safe all the time is pretty sorry. And the last thing we need is bureaucrats determining which is which under pain of law. As I said already, he probably should have stopped once she asked him to, but there’s other things we don’t know about the situation, like maybe the other employees actually liked the guy and/or this term of endearment, and maybe it was a tough habit to stop for one party pooper.

    Maybe, maybe, maybe…

  12. Well, at least they did research before makeing a judgement. How often does that happen in government???

    Hmmm, maybe they were billable hours?

  13. “And the last thing we need is bureaucrats determining which is which under pain of law.”

    fyodor, I specifically said in my first post that I did not think this should have ended up in an administrative proceeding. My point was that I didn’t think the woman was being hypersensitive.

  14. SR-

    ‘would you not still anticipate that your Black coworkers would probably take offense’

    It’s funny that you use this analogy. I was watching ‘Family Guy’ last night; easily the funniest show ever. Peter was talking on a cell phone, his friend on the other end exclaimed loud enough for a nearby black couple to hear ‘I slept with a black chick last night!’. After Peter apologized profusely to the couple the woman responded ‘What, all he said was he slept with a black chick.’ To that Peter replied ‘Oh, well I thought your boyfriend might be one of those angry black guys that gets offended easily.’ So, what is more offensive; calling them brotha and sista or expecting them to be that irrational and sensitive?

  15. pigwiggle, unless you announce it in the manner of the character on the TV show you mentioned, how would anyone ever know your reason for *not* affecting Black dialect?

  16. All my friends call me ” gringo”, should I be offended? Those damn insensitive mohados.

  17. SR,

    fyodor, I specifically said in my first post that I did not think this should have ended up in an administrative proceeding.

    But you didn’t say why other than that it was “silly.” I wanted to make a strong and specific case for that why and so I did. I wasn’t addressing that to you per se, though I can see why it seemed that way. If I offended you that way, well SOR-RY!!! 🙂

    As for whether or not the woman was being hypersensitive, I don’t know and I don’t care. MY point, whether you in particular need to hear it or not, is that one can easily make the case both ways, and therein lies the problem.

    Oh, and good point, pigwiggle. Of course, the way SR is imagining his scenario in his head, your example may not apply, for hopefully obvious reasons. But again, therein lies the problem, or should I say, problems. There’s context, there’s difference of opinion and perspective, there’s under-caution and over-caution, there’s one in every crowd…it’s simply a mess to try to say anything definitive about such matters…even if you were there, and much more so if you just read an article…or are trying an administrative case!!

  18. And it all comes down to there’s no (or should be no) right to be “dignity,” or anything else that depends on others. Only rights that are tied to individual sovereignty of person and property make sense and can be properly defended. All the rest inevitably becomes a mess.

  19. fyodor, I agree completely that there is no right to not be offended. However, there are also logically foreseeable consequences to certain behaviors. Using ethnic slang, terminology, etc., with someone who hasn’t given you permission to do so will more often than not precipitate an outraged reaction.

  20. there are also logically foreseeable consequences to certain behaviors.

    In extreme cases, yes. In less extreme cases, no, not necessarily. The reactions of others are not always so easily predictable and reasonable people can likely often disagree on what’s offensive in a given situation. Of course, one can always err on the side of caution, but some of us understandably would rather not always have to be cautious. But I’m sure the folks who back the types of laws we both oppose would love to hear people like you claiming that it’s always black and white and “logically foreseeable.”

  21. fyodor, I’m well aware that there are people who would be willing to pounce on my statement as support for their own views. That does not change my thoughts on the subject.

  22. What exactly is “ethnic slang”? If I meet a black guy (or african-american male if you prefer) and while chatting with him I call him “dawg”, I should expect him to be offended because I’m white and I didn’t ask him if I could use that term? Should I be offended if he refers to me as “dude”?

  23. I dunno. I’ve heard it’s inappropriate for a white person to address a black person as “bro.”

    I’ve heard chicks refer to each other as chicks, and I’ll call them chicks, but then one day a chick told me it would be more correct to refer to chicks as “babes,” but that sounds wrong.

    I used to call American Indians “Native Americans,” but once I was interviewing a reservation-living White Mountain Apache on the phone, and halfway through I realized that I was dutifully using the term “Native American” but she was always saying “American Indian.” Later I discussed the proper term with a couple of Cherokee persons, and they told me “real,” in-touch-with-their roots Indians prefer “American Indian” — only white liberals and “fukawi” use the term “Native American.”

    I have heard of flyover-country Asian-Americans being corrected by their trendier coastal brethren when they refer to themselves as “Oriental.” “Man, I hope I didn’t offend myself — I hope I can find it in myself to forgive me …”

    It’s so subjective, you might as well resign yourself to inadvertantly offending somebody, somewhere, sometime. Rather than worry about it, spend your time composing your inevitable apology, use it when you have to, and get on with your life.

    And, just to avoid future problems, I’ll just let you know right now that I find the following terms for “white” offensive to me as a Caucasian-American:

    – redneck
    – cracker
    – continent-snatcher
    – boardroom bunny
    – golf monkey
    – plaid-ass
    – honquistador
    – globe-warmer

  24. That admin judge could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if he only read Cecil Adams from time to time.

    Tonto as a “sneaky guy” does make sense. The Ranger was always sending him to town, to see what the badmen were up to.

    Cue the Bill Cosby routine. You want information, information say that Tonto no go to town; that’s what information say.


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