Monday, January 28, 2008

CANADIAN. The racial slur edition.

I remember a sign on the door of a hotel in a place far from Canadian shores. It said, No dogs or Canadian sailors. There was a good reason for that. We had, shall we say, abused greatly the hospitality of our hosts.

On that occasion we deserved what we got. But that is hardly normal. Canadians are generally looked upon as affable and nice, if somewhat unexciting.

So, are you wondering why the "Stars and Bars" in the corner? That's because this is an American story.
When you hear the word "Canadian," what's the first thing that comes to mind? Someone who is hockey-crazed? Someone who says "eh" at the end of every sentence? Someone who is, dare I say it, nice?

How about someone who is black?

It would seem that in place of the former racial slurs used to describe black Americans, the racist segment of the US has taken to using Canadian in its place.
Earlier this month, an e-mail that had been circulating since 2003, written by a Houston assistant district attorney Mike Trent, resurfaced. The e-mail was short, only about 100 words, and was sent to the entire office. It started out by praising a junior prosecutor for a job well done. Then the message continued:

He overcame a subversively good defense by Matt Hennessey that had some Canadians on the jury feeling sorry for the defendant and forced them to do the right thing."

The problem however, (and this raised concerns with Trent's superiors), is that Canadians are not permitted to serve on US juries. So Trent had to mean something else.

Check The Racial Slur Database and scroll down to "Canadian". There's your answer.

Trent claims that he was unaware of the meaning, overheard someone saying that there were Canadians on the jury, took that literally, and just repeated it in his e-mail.
Really? One would think Trent might have discovered the odd "Canadian" during the Voir Dire phase. You know, jury selection. It was, after all, a criminal case. In a place like Houston, Canadians have funny accents. And we say, "eh" a lot.

Why Canadian as a racial slur referring to blacks? From the National Post:
Last August, a blogger in Cincinnati going by the name CincyBlurg reported that a black friend from the southeastern U.S. had recently discovered that she was being called a Canadian. "She told me a story of when she was working in a shop in the South and she overheard some of her customers complaining that they were always waited on by a Canadian at that place. She didn't understand what they were talking about and assumed they must be talking about someone else," the blogger wrote.

"After this happened several times with different patrons, she mentioned it to one of her co-workers. He told her that ‘Canadian' was the new derogatory term that racist Southerners were using to describe persons they would have previously referred to [with the N-word.]"

A similar case in Kansas City was reported last year on a Listserv, or electronic mailing list, used by linguistics experts. A University of Kansas linguist said that a waitress friend reported that "fellow workers used to use a name for inner-city families that were known to not leave a tip: Canadians. ‘Hey, we have a table of Canadians.... They're all yours.' "

Stefan Dollinger, a postdoctoral fellow in linguistics at University of British Columbia and director of the university's Canadian English lab, speculated that the slur reflects a sense of Canadians as the other.

In other words, when used by a white racist, "Not one of us. Not a real American."


Thought so.

Thanks to Cheryl for catching this.

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