K is for Keeping the Light on Racism

The People Speak!: Internet trolling

Over the past weekend, I had the interesting experience of being trolled.

Wikipedia defines an internet troll as someone who “sows discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an on-line community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response” (Internet troll, n.d.). It is equated with online harassment.

For years I have watched many Indigenous women being trolled on their Twitter feeds. I have never been quite sure of the dynamic or of how to respond. So usually, I have not intervened. I have just watched.

Image via: YMCA

On one hand, internet trolling is triangular, just like bullying. It involves a bully, a target and a bystander. Bullying is usually a performance; it requires an audience. When the audience does nothing, the bully is emboldened, taking this as tacit approval. So, the most effective way to stop bullying is to have the bystander step in and intervene. This is the message we tell students, over and over again: you must stand up to bullying.

On the internet, there can be millions if not billions of bystanders. There are lots of people who can, and do stand up to cyber bullying. However, standing up to internet trolls often has the opposite effect: it feeds them. In fact, the only ways to effectively stop a cyber trolling attack, are to ban or block individual accounts or close off comment sections entirely.

This feels a lot like letting the trolls win.

Last week, I co-wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper about racism in Moose Jaw (See Q is for Questions: The Violence of Disbelief). We have received an incredible amount of support from a wide section of our community. However, not everyone agrees with us. The following day, two rebuttal letters were published. These two letters were virtually identical and took up a page and a half of the paper. One of the writers took a picture of his letter and proceeded to harass me and my other co-writers on Twitter starting late Saturday night and early into Sunday morning.

Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images via Lifewire

Elise Moreau (2017) has identified ten types of internet trolls. The second one, “the persistent debate troll”, is someone who loves to argue and who persistently and vociferously believes that they are right and everyone else is wrong. You find this kind of troll posting long threads or arguing with other commenters in community comment sections.

What makes these trolls particularly difficult to deal with is that they are determined to have the last word.

They continue to comment until other users give up.

But is it ethical to give up?

One of the positive comments we received in response to our letter was the following: “This topic has to be kept in the light. Racism in Moose Jaw is so bad. I hear it at work and in social situations all the time. Its really heartbreaking” (Simon, 2017). But, how do we keep the light on racism if trolling ends constructive discussion?

When trolls are determined to have the last word, is there any point in forging on with the conversation?

The harassment of Indigenous people online is particularly severe. Just this week, CBC reported that the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Bobby Cameron called for tougher hate speech laws. “Indigenous people everywhere are being targeted online with disturbing regularity…It’s getting out of hand. Our people deserve to feel accepted…” (Cameron as cited in Warick, 2017). In November 2015, CBC made the extraordinary decision of closing the comments section on stories that relate to Indigenous people due to the volume of violent and vitriolic comments. “The more visible and vocal Indigenous peoples are in this country, the louder the racism gets, and there’s no coincidence there” (Ryan McMahon as cited in As It Happens interview).

Currently we live in a climate where it is more socially acceptable to make racist comments than to challenge racism. The way Indigenous people and people supporting Indigenous people get harassed online speaks to this.

So, what do we do?

Recently, when Cree author Dawn Dumont was being trolled for reporting an incident of racism that her family endured, Cree writer Tracey Lindberg called for allies to “do the work” (16 July 2017). Lindberg wrote in another tweet that allies can make a difference when they “strengthen our [Indigenous] numbers and change the narrative” (May 12, 2017). I think she is onto something.

No one can take on a troll alone. You can’t win on your own. You need the strength of numbers.

Subsequent to our letter to the editor, other columns about empathy for other cultures and individual experiences with racism were published. The trolling continued but more and more supportive people began to chime in. When dozens of people responded to the troll, all from different angles, the troll had no choice but to quit. The narrative was changed.

Having now seen how this works, I will no longer sit idly by and watch harassment and intimidation take place on social media. Certainly, if we are telling our children to stand up to bullying, we must also model what it looks like to stand up to online bullying. That said, because the harassment is occurring online, the techniques need to be a bit different. It’s not about engaging in lengthy arguments with trolls. That’s not helpful. Instead, it’s about posting a single message of support, every time we encounter cyberbullying and intolerance online and encouraging others to do the same.

“Haters should be confronted each and every time they crawl out of their holes. If not, it signals that we condone their behaviour” (Fletcher, 2017).

I will respond and I hope many others will join in with messages condemning racism. There is strength in numbers. Keeping the light on racism will require these numbers.

References:

Fletcher, Jan (@FletJan). “Haters should be confronted each and every time they crawl out of their holes. If not, it signals that we condone their behaviour.” 28 July 2017, 6:53 AM. Tweet. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/FletJan/status/890903100751585280

Internet troll. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 25, 2017 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll

Lindberg, Tracey (@TraceyLindberg). “I am sorry, Dawn. This is crap. Allies, do the work.” 16 July 2017, 5:39 PM. Tweet. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/TraceyLindberg/status/886717041654235144

Lindberg, Tracey (@TraceyLindberg). “And: THIS is when allies make the difference, strengthen our numbers and change the narrative.” 12 May 2017, 9:01 AM. Tweet. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/TraceyLindberg/status/863031498622029824

Moreau, E. (2017, May 19). 10 types of Internet trolls You’ll Meet Online. Lifewire. Retrieved from: https://www.lifewire.com/types-of-internet-trolls-3485894

Ryan McMahon on CBC decision to close comments on indigenous stories. (2015, November 30). CBCRadio: As It Happens. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-monday-edition-1.3343703/ryan-mcmahon-on-cbc-decision-to-close-comments-on-indigenous-stories-1.3343712

Simon, Joseph Michael. “This topic has to be kept in the light. Racism in Moose Jaw is so bad. I hear it at work and in social situations all the time. Its really heartbreaking.” July 22, 2017, 6:14 AM. Facebook Comment. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/359614337774192/

Warick, J. (2017, July 25). ‘It’s getting out of hand’: FSIN chief calls for tougher hate speech laws. CBCNews: Saskatoon. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/afn-indigenous-hate-speech-1.4219223

M is for Maps

CaseyPenk, Vardion: 180 degree rotated map of the world

I posted a South-Up map of the world in my classroom last year. On this map, South America and Africa are on top, and Europe and North America are on the bottom. It is disorienting to look at this projection of Earth, accustomed as we are to the other. But it is not just the shapes in different places that is unsettling, it is the rearrangements of our metaphors. For North and South are not just geographical locators, they are moral locators as well.

Looking at the standard Mercator projection for centuries, we have come to associate North with “up” and South with “down” (Nelson & Simmons, 2009). We go “up North” or “down South” even though there is no up or down in space.

Cardinal directions do not correspond to verticality.

But we also connect these directions to value judgments: “up” is good and “down” is bad (Meier & Robinson, 2004). In the Bible, the Lord took Elijah “up” to heaven (2 Kings 2:1, King James Bible) while the sinners are cast “down” to hell (2 Peter 2:4). Good movies get a thumbs “up” and bad movies a thumbs “down”.

Our songs reinforce this narrative with “Uptown” meaning high class, as in Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”. “I’m gonna try for an uptown girl, She’s been living in her white bread world…” (Joel, 1983). Meanwhile songs cast “Downtown” as poor and degenerate like in “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. “Well the South side of Chicago, Is the baddest part of town, And if you go down there, You better just beware” (Croce, 1973). Geography has become entwined with morality. Up is good. Up is North. Up is the rightful place of Europe and North America.

Posting a South-Up map calls all of this into question.

Land Area: Peters vs Mercator

As teachers, when we post only Mercator-style projection maps with North America on top, we contribute to this mythology of European and North American superiority. Besides the up and down, the land masses on the Mercator projection are distorted with regions in the Southern hemisphere appearing much smaller than those in the North. In fact, the entire Northern Hemisphere takes up more than half of the map, with the equator sitting significantly below the midway point (as the map is typically cropped to reduce Antarctica). By posting only this type of map, we normalize a singular, colonial worldview. We emphasize the importance of European and North American nations at the expense of our Southern counterparts.

By only posting this type of map we construe map-making as uncontested, objective and scientifically accurate. But the truth is that there is no objectively “accurate” map, there is no one way to precisely represent Earth, a sphere, on a flat paper without distortion. Maps are as “subjective as any other artistic endeavour” (De Armendi, 2009, p.5). The question thus becomes: which artistic distortion represents the world we want?

In my classroom, I have also posted a large map of Saskatchewan. For a year it stayed unadorned and unquestioned on my wall, until I began to see this too as problematic. The difficulty with maps, all maps, is that they typically only tell one side of the story; they represent only one moment in time from only one viewpoint. The usual map of Saskatchewan is an open rectangular space dotted with English place names and railroad tracks. However, Saskatchewan is much more than this. Saskatchewan is covered by six treaties: Treaty Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10. These treaty areas were not included on my map, and neither were the original Indigenous names for places. The depth and complexity of this province is noticeably absent. Instead, my map tells a simplistic story of pioneer discovery without any significant Indigenous presence.

These types of maps contribute to what Calderón (2006) has called a “flattened epistemology”, a way of knowing and understanding the world that is one-dimensional. This “flattened epistemology” promotes “routine ways of seeing, hearing, feeling and understanding things that preclude critical engagement with oppressive practices” (Calderon, p. 79). Mercator projections and standard political maps of Canada perpetuate colonial mindsets by flattening our understanding of place to a simple dot in an otherwise empty space. The complexity of multiple understandings of land as well as competing histories of the land are absent. Furthermore, maps affirm positions of power and hierarchical relationships. Who and what gets to be on a map and where they are put, tells us who and what are important. By disregarding Indigenous presence and by distorting the size and thereby the importance of Europe, common maps reinforce colonial frameworks in our classrooms.

This erasure of Indigenous peoples from maps began with Columbus. The Doctrine of Discovery that was issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, classified any lands not inhabited by Christians as empty, terra nullius, and therefore available for discovery and claim. Since then, the empty-land narrative has continued to be supported through maps. These tales of empty land are the origin stories we tell our children. Once upon a time your ancestors came from Europe. They came with nothing. They built this nation with their bare hands…

On my bedroom floor, I have spread out the map of this story. It is made of pastel coloured blocks and straight lines, orderly and neat. In each box there is a name. Parallel and perpendicular creases plot out the methodical clearing of Saskatchewan, in this case the rural municipality of my great grandparents’ farm near Tisdale, Saskatchewan. I’m looking at these township and range road lines and trying to make sense of my own family history.

Who’s land was this that my ancestors’ names are written down upon? Who lived there when it was spruce bluffs, wild berries and elk? Before it was all cleared away for wheat and barley?

There is no Indigenous presence on this map, nothing to provide me with any counter-narrative to the story of a peaceable settling in an empty land. There is nothing to point me in the direction of deeper historical truths.

And then suddenly I found another map, hidden deep within a community logbook of the town. It is a hand drawn diagram with 48 square sections, just like the rural municipality map. Except this one also has meandering, hand-drawn lines. There is the Crooked River and the Hell Roarin’ Creek. There are early roads, a church, a sawmill and… a long winding trail. The legend tells me this is the “Indian or often called The Pas Trail” (New Osgoode Restoration Club, 1984, p.18). It connected the Pas region with the Battlefords. This logbook also tells me of Indian gravesites and arrowheads, of “Indian tents” (New Osgoode Restoration Club, 1984, p.393) that would appear near long patches of wild strawberries and saskatoons in the Spring, and then disappear again in the Fall.

So it wasn’t empty land after all. Someone was using it. My ancestors did not start with nothing. They started with land… someone else’s land.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015) calls for Canada to “repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius” (Call to Action #45i, p.5). Heeding this Call begins with the origin stories that we tell our children, and ourselves. Once upon a time our ancestors came from Europe. They were given free land. This was the land of the Cree, the Anishinaabe, the Lakota, the Dakota and the Nakota peoples…

Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius also begins in the classroom, with a Sharpie marker. We need to correct our maps by adding treaty areas and Indigenous place names. We need to add in the winding Indigenous trails and the traditional trap lines.

And that world map? Why not try it South up?

References:

Calderón, D. (2006). One-Dimensionality and Whiteness. Policy Futures in Education. 4(1), 73-82.

Croce, J. (1973). Bad, Bad Leroy Brown [Recorded by J. Croce. Artist]. On Life and Times [Vinyl]. New York, NY: ABC.

De Armendi, N. (2009). The Map as Political Agent: Destabilising the North-South Model and Redefining Identity in Twentieth-Century Latin American Art. St. Andrew’s Journal of Art History and Museum Studies13, pp.5-17. Retrieved from: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/media/school-of-art-history/pdfs/journalofahandms/mapaspoliticalagent.pdf

Joel, B. (1983). Uptown Girl [Recorded by B. Joel. Artist]. On An Innocent Man [Vinyl]. New York, NY: Columbia.

Meier, B. P., & Robinson, M. D. (2004). Why the Sunny Side Is Up: Associations Between Affect and Vertical Position. American Psychological Society. 15(4), pp.243-247.

Nelson, L. D., & Simmons, J. P. (2009). On Southbound Ease and Northbound Fees: Literal Consequences of the Metaphoric Link between Vertical Position and Cardinal Direction. Journal of Marketing Research. 46(6), pp.715-724.

New Osgoode Restoration Club. (1984). Preserving Our Heritage: New Osgoode & District 1904-1983. Saskatoon, SK: Midwest Litho Limited.

Truth and Reconciliation Canada. (2015). Calls to Action. Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

L is for Language

Jennifer Morrow: “Respect Are Country Speak English”

During the 2015 federal election, the Liberal party under Justin Trudeau pledged to resettle over 25,000 Syrian refugees. This became a polarizing issue in the election and in the Canadian population generally, as well as south of the border. Social media was full of vociferous debate about the practicality and ethics of accepting refugees. A common theme for those opposed to refugee resettlement was language. Concerns that refugees, once settled, would not assimilate and would not learn English were frequent. “I don’t want America to help Muslim refugees. They will not assimilate, learn English or become a Christian, don’t bother coming here” (Flaherty, 2015). “Refugees need to speak/learn English,have/learn a trade, or otherwise they will continue to be a burden to the world forever more” (Nankervis, 2015).

The learning of English as a requirement for entry into Canada, became a rallying call for Euro-Canadian intolerance.

My grandmother’s family on the boat from England.

During this time, I couldn’t help thinking about my own ancestors. My great great grandparents on my mom’s side came from Scotland in the mid 1800s. On my dad’s side, my great grandparents came from England in the early 1900s. I’m fairly certain none of them learned an Indigenous language. Certainly, no Indigenous language skills were passed on to my parents or myself. But, this is not surprising. Canada, as we know it, is a direct result of European immigrants who refused to assimilate into Indigenous cultures, who instead brought their own languages, cultures and institutions with them. Furthermore, not only did my ancestors not assimilate, they made every attempt to force the original inhabitants of this land to assimilate to British culture, and accept British institutions and legal constructs.

So how can Settler Canadians so vehemently insist on newcomers learning English? The hypocrisy is astounding.

And so it is thanks to 25,000 Syrian refugees, that I began to learn Cree.

My ancestors on their farm near Tisdale, SK.

My paternal great-grandparents homesteaded near Tisdale, Saskatchewan close to the James Smith Cree Nation. Of the many Indigenous languages to choose from, Cree makes sense historically for me but also practically as one of my friends teaches Cree. I have taken a class at the library and had a few private lessons. I have also bought a few books. Now, two years since this language journey began, I am very much still beginning.

I can greet my friend with “tânisi nitôtêm” (hello my friend). Our dog responds, most days, to “âstam” (come). When I hear someone say “môniyâw” (white person) I know they’re probably talking about me.

If you ask me how I am, I can respond “namôya nânitaw” (fine). But I often forget how to say “kiya mâka?” (and you?). Once at a ceremony, I introduced myself as “Claire nitisîyihkâsoyan” (My name is Claire) to a Cree elder and she looked at me blankly, having no idea what mangled words had just come out of my mouth. But, I keep trying. Neal McLeod (2016) ended the introduction to his book, 100 Days of Cree, with “kâya pakicî! âhkamêyimo!” (Don’t quit! Persevere!) (p.xv). So I soldier on.

In class I have tentatively introduced Cree to my students. In one of our Treaty Education assignments, students create a podcast where they go back in time to 1874 to interview someone about the signing of Treaty 4. Their Cree character must say “tânisi”. I have also labelled a few items in my classroom in French, English and Cree. But my attempts have been patchy at best.

So, I have to say I was a little jealous when I read about Regina teacher, Aaron Warner, bringing 100 Days of Cree to his classroom. Spending some time each day learning new Cree words and following the structure laid out in Neal McLeod’s book, is clearly, the way to go.

There is lots of research to support the benefits of learning additional languages. On an academic level, there is evidence that language learners transfer skills from one language to another (Cunningham & Graham, 2000) therefore enriching their language abilities overall. Other research has determined that those who speak multiple languages have an increased ability to ignore irrelevant information, switch between tasks and resolve conflict (Kroll & Bialystok, 2013). Healthwise, learning an additional language can delay the onset of Alzheimers disease (Craik, Bialystok, & Freedman, 2010). But perhaps most compellingly, on a relationship level, research suggests that language learners develop a more positive attitude toward the target language and speakers of that language (Riestra & Johnson, 1964). So students who learn Cree will likely develop a more positive attitude towards the Cree language and its speakers. What better way to work towards reconciliation than that?

As it turns out, learning an Indigenous language meets a significant number of our learning outcomes. Not only do we attend to several of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, but also to significant parts of our Treaty Education and Social Studies curricula. A Professional Learning Community is growing on Twitter using the hashtag #100DaysOfCree. A number of teachers throughout Saskatchewan are working together to start the 2017-18 school year with 100 Days of Cree. Please join us as we, “ê-mâmawi-atoskâtamahk”, we work on something together.

As for Syrian refugees, I am happy to call the growing Syrian population in my city, my neighbours. I have no language opinions for those who are newly arriving in Canada. But learning a little Cree couldn’t hurt.

PDF-100DaysofCreeLearningOutcomes

References:

Craik, F., Bialystok, E., Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology. 75(19), 1726-1729.

Cunningham, T. H., & Graham, C. R. (2000). Increasing native English vocabulary recognition through Spanish immersion: Cognate transfer from foreign to first language. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 37-49.

Flaherty, Sean (@redcarolina). “I don’t want America to help Muslim refugees. They will not assimilate, learn English or become a Christian, don’t bother coming here.” 27 September 2015, 7:32 AM. Tweet. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/redcarolina/status/648113032619495424

Kroll, J. F., & Bialystok, E. (2013). Understanding the consequences of bilingualism for language processing and cognition. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 497-514.

McLeod, N., & Wolvengrey, A. (2016). 100 days of Cree. Regina, Canada: University of Regina Press.

Nankervis, Diana (@diananankervis). “Refugees need to speak/learn English,have/learn a trade, or otherwise they will continue to be a burden to the world forever more.” 20 September 2015, 12:29 AM. Tweet. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/diananankervis/status/645469926132572160

Riestra, M. A., & Johnson, C. E. (1964). Changes in attitudes of elementary-school pupils toward foreign-speaking pupils resulting from the study of a foreign language. Journal of Experimental Education, 33(1), 65-72.

Teacher brings 100 days of Cree to Regina Grade 7 and 8 students (2016, October 9), CBCNews: Saskatchewan. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/teaching-cree-grade7and8-douglasschool-1.3798383