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Andrew Coyne: instance of racism #3

Written by Sherwin, published on February 23, 2013

Andrew Coyne with the National Post

This is my third exploration of racism in the writings of Andrew Coyne. Today’s argument will focus on the  discourse of denial. I should mention that Coyne wrote three articles in January about Aboriginal people, but those articles appeared in several publications including the National Post, the Calgary Herald, Canada.com and the Montreal Gazette.

Argument #3

Premise 3.1: When journalists ignore or deny contexts of racism in their reports, their writings are racist.
Premise 3.2: Andrew Coyne wrote articles theorizing and making strong claims about what Aboriginal people should do, while consistently denying all instances and contexts of racism.
Conclusion 3: Andrew Coyne’s claims were racist.

Evidence for premise 3.1

The Pew Research Centre for Excellence in Journalism has a good resource on the principles of journalism. In it, they state the necessity of context in good journalism. I mention this because an important part of the context of modern state relations with Aboriginal people in Canada is racism. This is well established by the United Nations, by Canada’s own judicial reviews, various commissions [PDF], and government publications. Canadian academics have written a number of well received scholarly texts on racism and especially institutionalized racism in Canada.

Just do a Google Scholar search for racism in Canada regarding Indigenous people. You’ll get thousands of hits.

So why would a journalist claim that there is no racism? Why would a journalist claim that all declarations of racism are false or worthy of ridicule?

John Miller is a professor of journalism at Ryerson University. He made a submission to the Ipperwash commission regarding the role of media. He noted that a common frame that journalists adopt is a discourse of denial [PDF]:

The principal assumption is that racism simply does not exist in a democratic society. There is a refusal to accept the reality of racism, despite the evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination in the lives and on the life chances of people of colour. The assumption is that because Canada is a society that upholds the ideals of a liberal democracy, it cannot possibly be racist. When racism is shown to exist, it tends to be identified as an isolated phenomenon relating to a limited number of social deviants, economic instability, or the consequence of “undemocratic” traditions that are disappearing from the Canadian scene. This discourse resists the notion that racism is systemic and inherently embedded in our cultural values and our democratic institutions.

Now John Miller identified the discourse of denial as a real and common frame that journalists adopt. But it’s not clear to me that he ever really came out and said that it’s racist. He did identify other racist behaviours, but I don’t think that he ever explicitly said that the discourse of denial is one. Well maybe he did in other places, I’m not sure.

But I am saying that it is. It’s racism. And I’m not alone. It turns out that Yasmin Jiwani, professor of communications studies at Concordia University, wrote an entire book called Discourses of Denial. Her entire second chapter is devoted to media. In it she reflects on a variety of ways that the violence of racism is made invisible in Canadian media. One way this happens is through a normalization of the “inevitable” reality of racism. Another way this happens is by relegating racism to individual ignorance or pathology. Relevant to my argument, however, is Jiwani’s claim that narratives that downplay the frequency and impact of racism are commonplace. Downplaying the existence and importance of racism is a central way that white supremacy remains intact.

The reason for this is that best way to challenge and eradicate racism is to search it out, to name it, to say it’s real and to confront it. The best way to defend and protect racism and racist power structures is to claim that they do not exist. It’s a sound strategy. You cannot find what “does not exist”. I’ll give you an example.

I just did a site search for the term ‘race hustler’ (and other related forms like ‘race hustling,’ etc.) on a well know white supremacist website, stormfront.org. You can do this by using the Google site search function (site:stormfront.org “race hustler”) but I don’t recommend that you actually go to their site. It’s really full of hate. When I did the search, I got hundreds of hits. There are hundreds of Google indexed pages found on the Stormfront website with the term ‘race hustler’ or something close. That’s because the white supremacists at stormfront.org make a habit of ridiculing and shutting down any person who brings up racism by accusing them of being a race-hustler. It’s an accusation of dishonesty and it’s an accusation of “pulling the race card,” of being manipulative and even of being racist – as in “reverse racist.

See, even though the notion of reverse racism is a deeply deeply misguided concept, it’s common for white folks, like Coyne, to accuse those who are interested in anti-racist practices of being reverse racists. It’s an effective strategy of shutting down and derailing real allegations of racism.

For example, when Psychology Today published an article demonstrating that “colour blind” policy making is a variety of racism, members of stormfront.org called them race hustlers. When courts recognized affirmative action as a legitimate way to combat racism, members at stormfront.org accused the justices of being race hustlers and reverse racists.

Similarly, this research [PDF], by Teun A. van Dijk from the University of Amsterdam, showed that even the “most blatantly racist discourse” in their data “routinely features denials or at least mitigations of racism.” More than that, they “found that precisely the more racist discourse tends to have disclaimers and other denials.” Most importantly for my argument, the strongest form of denial is reversal, like we see when folks accuse others of race hustling.

Take, for another example, the article that Harvard Business School published, recommending that human resource teams stop trying to implement colorblind practices because they result in more entrenched racism in hiring practices. An effective way of denying what Harvard Business School is saying, would be to accuse them of caring too much about race, race hustling, or being reverse racists. And similarly, When Aaron Wherry wrote a piece for Maclean’s and mentioned that Jack Layton was calling for, among other things, “a full inquiry into the 520 missing or murdered Aboriginal women,” Maclean’s readers accused Jack Layton of race hustling:

Oh great. Indians hate us enough as it is and already, thanks to the media and Liberals/NDP, think we committed genocide against them, now Jack wants to take race hustling to a new level. The Indian on other crime rate in Canada is orders of magnitude higher than the reverse. This proposed inquiry would float the fantasy and give the false impression that Indians are largely victims of crime, rather than deal with the reality that is extremely high levels of crime perpetrated by Indians against non-Indians. For example, while Indians make up only 11% of Saskatchewan residents, they make up over 80% of incarcerated inmates, and that’s with “two-tiered” sentencing guidelines by judges which divert Indians from prison sentences, keep in mind. From a gender perspective, men are still far more likely to be victims of homicide and violent crime than women, contrary to the impression Jack Layton wants to give you. So here’s my suggestion: a Royal Commission on the Systemic Use Of Violence And Crime By Indians To Terrorize Non-Indian males In Canada. If Layton wants to race and gender hustle I say we up the ante and do this. – Toporious Tony, Maclean’s

The thing is, as this comment demonstrates, racism in Canada in the 21st Century is very very real and it’s usually accompanied by denials and reversals. But it’s not always as obvious as this comment. Sometimes it’s subtle and indirect. Sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight. Sometimes it’s published right on Canada.com.

Evidence for premise 3.2

There’s no question that in Andrew Coyne’s January articles he was expressing strong opinions about Aboriginal people. He developed a theory of fundamentalist movement with a traditional agenda within Aboriginal people. He told us that the failures within Idle No More could explain the problems, the chronic poverty, of Aboriginal people in Canada. Coyne explained that the traditional agenda was a movement of extremists, that Aboriginal leaders lacked accountability and competence, and the fundamentalists are “Divinely certain of the righteousness of their cause and undeterred by such niceties as the rule of law…”. If you’re unsure about any of this, see my other articles in this series.

But did Coyne ignore the context of real racism? Yes. Equally important, Coyne only brings up race, racism or genocide in order to deny or belittle the concepts. Coyne makes mention of race, racism or genocide in six locations in his three January articles.

  1. “The movement, with its vast and ill-defined agenda, its vague and shifting demands, its many different self-appointed spokespersons, is open to any number of different interpretations. But the absolutist rhetoric, the dismissal of dissenting opinion as so much “racism,” and above all, the rigid insistence on adhering to the same approaches that have so signally failed to date, do not suggest a happy future for aboriginal relations.”
  2. “If you are puzzled how providing safe drinking water or recognizing self-government add up to genocide, well, you need to take responsibility for your own racism.”
  3. “But the mundane reality, with the continuing revelations of just how thoroughly she has mismanaged her tiny hamlet, is that her career in the race hustling business is very nearly at an end.”
  4. “In Palmater’s writings, the Harper agenda is nothing less than the deliberate “genocide” of aboriginal peoples… not merely their “assimilation” or “termination,” in the ambiguous terminology preferred by other native leaders…”
  5. “How is this murderous agenda being pursued? … Those monsters”
  6. As I’ve written before, it is Atleo and others like him, more than Harper, whom the more fundamentalist elements in Idle No More have in their sights, precisely for their willingness to co-operate with the government and its “genocidal” agenda.

In all six instances Coyne belittles or derides a claim of racism or genocide. Never does Coyne acknowledge, explain or elaborate, any instances or contexts of racism that he considers legitimate. In #1, Coyne accuses Aboriginal people of extending their own suffering, in part, because they “falsely” accuse others of racism. He is making the same move in the rest of the instances. He even accuses Chief Spence of race hustling.

Note especially the tone of derision. It’s as though he is rejecting any interest in even discussing racism. By turning the issues of genocide and assimilation into sarcasm and comedy, he has reversed the accusations of racism. He is not simply ignoring the context of racism, he is denying racism and attacking those that are trying to name and resist it.1

It is worth noting that this pattern of sarcasm and denial is also evident in Andrew Coyne’s Twitter feed as well. He uses sarcasm, derisive jokes, snark, direct denial, more sarcasm.

I’ve storified some of the tweets that reveal Coyne’s preoccupation with, and his denial/dismissal of racism. I’ve also storified a stream of Coyne’s tweets about Idle No More, Chief Spence and the AFN.

Conclusion 3

In conclusion, by neglecting to acknowledge any contexts or instances of racism, and by only writing about instances of racism in order to deny them, while writing about issues that are heavily shaped and embedded in contexts of racism, Andrew Coyne wrote things that were racist.

  1. In the three articles he only just barely acknowledges some kind of unfair history: “Needless to say, these have not been much in evidence to date. Any government that proposes any changes on this file, no matter how benign, is likely to run into suspicion and resistance from native Canadians — not unreasonably, given our history,” in “What do aboriginals really want?” from January 9th, Canada.com.
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Archived comments

  1. […] Andrew Coyne is also with The National Post and is featured regularly on CBC. He was the National editor for Maclean’s and was also with The Globe and Mail. You would think he might have more to say on the use of “cunt” as a tool of scorn. But this is all he could bring himself to say on the matter. […]

  2. […] Andrew Coyne is also with The National Post and is featured regularly on CBC. He was the National editor for Maclean’s and was also with The Globe and Mail. You would think he might have more to say on the use of “cunt” as a tool of scorn. But this is all he could bring himself to say on the matter. […]

  3. Sherwin says:

    Well, there might also be more legitimate uses of the term, but I haven’t seen it. So I’m hesitant to say it’s ever a slam dunk that the use is racist.

    But yes, generally it’s part of a backlash from the folks who think that “real” racism is over and done and who think that talking about or noticing race and racialization is racist.

  4. Sarah says:

    Wow, this is my first encounter with the term “race hustler”. Is that just a phrase that racists use to describe anti-racist things?