March 31st, 2014

Commentary | February 24th, 2014
We can’t define each other’s triggers or oppressors
On the complicated process of equity
Written by | Visual by Tamim Sujat | The McGill Daily

A controversy has erupted recently regarding an apology email sent out by SSMU. As many readers will know, the apology was for a previous email sent out containing a fake GIF of Barack Obama kicking down a door. The apology by VP Internal Brian Farnan claimed that the GIF reinforced stereotypes of men of colour as being violent, and as such constituted a microaggression.

The email garnered quite the reaction. The response from some has been incredulity as to why the inclusion of the GIF would constitute a microaggression, and why Farnan should have to apologize for it. A letter by Ameya Pendse in The Bull & Bear criticized the apology, and just this week the National Post covered the story. Pendse’s piece blamed the presence of a “radical vocal minority” for the apology, and similarly, in a different article, the National Post cited lawyer Julius Grey as saying the climate on campus is “stifling of free speech.”

Because I’m a self-described member of the “radical minority” on campus and I’m writing in The Daily, I’m sharing my support for the equity process, and some thoughts about why. As a white woman, I will never experience racial microaggressions. But I have experienced the SSMU Equity process, particularly in my position as VP External of SSMU last year.

The apology email did not come because the ‘radical minority’ at McGill had a protest about it. The apology came because at least one student experienced the GIF as a racial microaggression, and took the time to go through the long SSMU Equity process in order to make that known.

Equity is just that: a process. In a world filled with instances that cause different kinds of harm to people with different experiences, the work of responding to oppressive behaviour is far from easy or straightforward.

The process will not satisfy everyone. It will upset a lot of people. But while any number of voices leap up to criticize the apology email, there remain many whose opinions will never be published. While Pendse may claim to speak for the “silent majority,” the fact is that the student body is not a homogenous group. I don’t know how many students appreciated the apology, and I probably never will, but I have no right to assume that just because they’re not all writing commentary pieces, they aren’t there.

It is interesting to note that in the article in the National Post, most of the people quoted are white. It also feels worth mentioning that just this past week, the jury reached a verdict in the case of Michael Dunn, who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument over the volume of Davis’ music. Similar to the Trayvon Martin case, Dunn, like George Zimmerman, testified that he feared for his life before killing the young black man. I feel that this is an important point to bring up, as it shows that although for many people the GIF may be a simple joke, the stereotyping that the Equity complaint addressed can have much deeper implications in terms of the value placed on the lives of black men by the judicial system.

An apology isn’t going to hurt anyone. Some may claim that it has harmed the concept of equity, or of free speech. Yet for others it is important, and long past due as we witness more young black men dying outside convenience stores for the simple, unjust, and racist reason that other people think they’re scary to be around.


Robin Reid-Fraser is a U3 Environmental Studies student and was SSMU VP External (2012-13). She can be reached at robin.reid-fraser@mail.mcgill.ca.

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