Wednesday, August 22, 2012

White-washed $100 bill

Anyone out there a fan of Community? Have you seen any of the episodes that feature the college mascot, the Human Being? It is a creation by the dean (and his mad assistant, Pierce) to sculpt a representation that all humans can relate to. They did their best to scrub the Human Being clean of any traits that might be indicative of his ethnicity. Even the maleness of the Human Being can be called into question, as it lacks any of the stereotypical gender attributes. The result is an extremely disturbing and creepy apparition.

Chevy Chase and the Human Being

See? Imagine that thing rushing toward you during a basketball game. Inspiring school spirit is the last thing you’re likely to see.

I’m reminded on this fictional experiment in stereotype “white-washing” because of the recent snafu over at the Bank of Canada. If you haven’t been following it, here it is in a nutshell: they recently altered the image of a fictional person on the new $100 bill because it is their policy not to depict people of “a particular ethnic origin.” This image was deemed to be “too Asian.” Therefore, it was given its own version of “white-washing,” emphasis on the white. The result is ethnically “neutral.”

I get it. White people, for the moment at least, are the dominant ethnicity in Canada. Therefore Mr. and Mrs. Cracker (and their 1.7 children) are “normal” and not seen as ethnic. So much for the “Global Village” idea. How can it escape Canadians that the world is filled with people that aren’t white? If you put a representative sampling of the world’s population into a jar, there wouldn’t be very many white jelly beans (maybe 1 in 7 or so). If “ethnic” is equated to “minority,” that counts.

There are a lot of problems here. Believing “white” isn’t ethnic is one. Another lies in the Bank of Canada policy, clearly written by someone who has magically been alive since the days of Confederation, before we had to deal with all this pesky non-white immigration. How can you possibly--EVER--depict a person without indicating “a particular ethnic origin?” They could be wearing gloves and a balaclava, I suppose. Not exactly an inspiring symbol, though, to have our money proudly displaying bank robbers performing day jobs.

I grew up in the days when pencil crayons included “Flesh” and “Indian Red” as colours. Things have improved. Band-Aids no longer harps on the “realistic flesh tone” of its products, for instance. Compared to race riots and apartheid and segregation, this whole "Asian on the $100 bill" thing is pretty small potatoes. But they still shouldn't have changed it.

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