Friday, January 26, 2007

Sense of humour optional

**Disclaimer: I am an ad hoc Federal Civil Servant, so I totally get to comment on this**

So according to The Toronto Star, Conservative MP Colin Mayes (Okanagan-Shuswap) is being criticized for his toleration of an e-mailed joke that was derogatory or insensitive to Aboriginal Canadians. The joke was as follows:

An Indian walks into Tim Horton's with a shotgun in one hand pulling a male buffalo with the other.

He says to the waiter, "Want coffee." The waiter says, "Sure chief, coming right up."

He gets the Indian a tall mug of coffee. He drinks the coffee down in one gulp, turns and blasts the buffalo with the shotgun, causing parts of the animal to splatter everywhere, then just walks out.

The next morning the Indian returns. He has his shotgun in one hand another male buffalo with the other.

He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter, "Want coffee."

The waiter says, "Whoa, Tonto! We're still cleaning up your mess from yesterday. What was all that about, anyway?" The Indian smiles and proudly says: "Training for an upper management position in Canadian Government: Come in, drink coffee, shoot the bull, leave mess for others to clean up, and disappear for rest of day."

Now, a few things to note:

  • While "Tonto" is certainly a, shall we say, ignorant thing to call a Aboriginal Canadian, I have trouble seeing it as derogatory. Wikipedia has a fascinating article on the character. As the end of that article points out, Jay Silverheels, the (Canadian! Aboriginal!) TV actor famous for portraying Tonto apparently had a sense of humour, which caused him problems later in his career.
  • Maybe this is just me, but I took the use of "chief" and "Tonto" to be as much comments on the Tim's employee as the customer. You know, the trope of the slightly-culturally-insensitive-but-well-meaning-small-towner. Its a stock character, true, as much as the Aboriginal, but is also a true stock character. Hell, my grandmother is that character. She still refers to Robert Rainford as "that negro gentleman with the barbeque show" when she can't remember his name--a comment that cause both my stepfather and I choke on our food--with an absolute absence of malice or racism.
  • Most importantly: this is a joke about the Canadian Civil Service. Part of the set-up is that it looks like an uncomfortably culturally insensitive joke, but at the end, it isn't. It's just true, and vaguely hilarious.

The Star article also mentions the following:

"I find it offensive," said Liberal MP Tina Keeper (Churchill), an accomplished Cree actor. She resents the fact that some people still try to portray natives as "cartoon" characters. "How could you not get that this is offensive particularly when you are in that role?"

MP Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre), the Liberal native affairs critic, said Mayes should "resign immediately" from the committee post and apologize to First Nations.

I'll admit, my first reaction is: Tina Keeper's an MP? That's odd (not because she's First Nations, obviously, but because a) she's an actor, and more importantly b) I've never heard of her being involved in politics) but if she finds it offensive (really? I mean...come on...really?) then I suppose if merits an apology (not a resignation). What adds to the stupidity is MP Mayes then going on the defensive about how multi-cultural his family is. Never helpful.

This reminds me of a Savage Love column I read recently...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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