What's in a Name?
Article by: Alydia Smith
Artwork by: Michelle Zeller
Visible Minority, Ethnic, African American, Caribbean
Canadian, Second Generation Canadian, Black, are
some of the many descriptions used to describe
me. Although none of these words offend me the
use of them, as labels, does. When I was eight,
we had a culture show at school and I was asked
to bring 'ethnic food.' I asked my mother, a caterer
who specialized in Caribbean food, to help me
cook some 'ethnic food'; she looked at me and
replied, 'there is a Canadian Cook Book in the
Closet.' My mother was trying to tell me why our
family did not call our food 'Ethnic' or 'Caribbean,'
because to us and to the community I
grew up in it was just 'food.' This case is true
for all of my classmates as well, except for those
of European decent who were asked to bring 'traditional
food' instead of ethnic. The labels describe the
food to an assumed white audience, and therefore
classify it as different, establishing the European
white as the norm and everyone else as the other
in our community and in our society.
The 'other' that labels create tends to have
a negative connotation that isolates minority
groups by showing them as different from the average
person. Who is the average person? A typical White
Anglo -Saxon Protestant (WASP).
There are many ways that the media portrays
norms in society. Look at the representation of
people in the news. From my observations of newspapers
and news broadcasts, white victims usually have
large, professional colour photos, such as graduation
or formal pictures. Victims that belong to minority
groups, on the other hand, usually have small
black and white amateur pictures, shot at short
range with the camera pointing upward. The result
is a picture that resembles a mug shot. The pictures
act as words, that imply the status of the victims.
A professional graduation picture suggests that
society has lost a future doctor or teacher, while
an image that often resembles a mug shot suggests
that society has lost nothing but a future criminal.
For perpetrators of crimes, if they are not
white their race is usually given, and the crime
report is exploited as much as possible. This
representation in the media gives the false impression
that most of the crimes in our society are done
by people of minority groups. Resent Studies in
the United States have shown that white youths
are more likely to be drug dealers, that white
youths smoke eight times more cocaine and that
white males twice as likely to bring weapons to
school then black males. This is not the reality
that the media portrays.
Harmful labelling is often seen in media that
is trying to be positive and promotional. Look
around the Western environment. From the pictures
in Western's promotional pamphlets to the course
calendar book, a WASP audience is assumed. In
most pictures the person belonging to a minority
group in sociey, is also a minority group in the
photograph. The context of the phot graph suggests
a lot as well. What is thereason for the picture,
is the person of a minority group in the picture
a declaration of diversity? Are they a part of
the action or are they passively spectating? Are
they doing something stereotypical of their race?
Through examining pictures in the media, we see
that minorities are often seen as exception to
the norm, instead of as a part of it.
A medium that all Western students must come
in contact with is the course selection calender.
I belong to the Faculty of Music, so I have experienced
the effect of labelling in music courses. 'Music
History' on the service, is a general term; however,
the course very specifically focuses on Western
Music, implying not only that Western music is
the norm, but also that it is the important history
to study. Another seemingly general course title
is 'Post World War Two Music'; although many countries
participated in the war the focus of the course
is American Popular Music. In contrast, the faculty
also offers a more specific history course called
'World Music'; interestingly, this course studies
music of the world excluding music of the western
cannon. 'World Music,' is to mean the world outside
of the European one, presuming that no one taking
the course belongs to the outside world.
As a music student, I can see the effects of
labelling, assuming the norm, and the isolation
of knowing that you do not fit this norm. In music
I am often labelled not only by my race but also
by my sex. I am very proud to be a black female
musician at The University of Western Ontario.
I know who I am though, and I do not need to be
told by the Western Media, or any other medium.
Tiger Woods once said, "I don't want to be
the worlds best black golfer, I want to be the
worlds best golfer." The more that people
are labelled and categorized in the media, the
more society makes them feel like outsiders, negative
or positive, rather then participants in society.