The photo of a man with flowing dark hair, brown eyes, and a scarf draped across the lower part of his face and wearing a dark coat has been flashed across social media, television screens, and in newspapers countless times since Wednesday’s shooting at the War Memorial and in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa (ON). It’s an image that many of us will remember for a very long time. But it’s troubling for a number of reasons, one of which has to do with some of the comments posted to social media as the tragedy unfolded on that day.
Bill Curry is a Parliamentary reporter with the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto (ON). His profile on the Globe and Mail website states that he’s been a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999. He was with the National Post until 2005 when he was hired to work for the Globe and Mail. In other words, he’s a seasoned media professional when it comes to reporting the news.
So why would a seasoned media professional tweet that two eye witnesses alleged that the shooter appeared to be Aboriginal?
And what does that mean exactly: two [eye witnesses] said [the shooter] appeared aboriginal?
Did they mean that because he had dark flowing hair, they believed he must surely be Aboriginal because all Indigenous peoples have dark flowing hair? Did they mean that because he had brown eyes, they believed he must surely be Aboriginal because all Indigenous peoples have brown eyes? Did they mean that because they thought he probably had dimples, they believed he must surely be Aboriginal because Indigenous peoples have dimples? I mean just look at all those actors with dimples like Adam Beach and Wes Studi and Eric Schweig.
Let’s take a quick scamper through the “Traits Made Easy“ refresher course that was part of “Genetics 101” in elementary school. This is where teachers taught students that traits sat in one of two camps: Dominant and Recessive. To make this easy to remember, eye color will be discussed.
Each parent is responsible for a gene with two alleles that help determine eye color. So if Parent #1 has a gene with two brown alleles, it doesn’t matter what Parent #2 has because brown trumps everything. But if Parent #1 has a brown alleles and a blue allele, and Parent #2 has a green allele and a blue allele, depending on what Baby gets, the child could have either brown eyes or green eyes … or blue eyes.
That doesn’t explain how it is that some people have grey eyes or hazel eyes or varying shades of blue, brown, green, or grey, and that’s because there are three genes involved in determining eye color. We won’t discuss that here, but suffice it to say, it’s possible for an Indigenous person to have blue eyes. And it’s possible for a non-Native person to have brown eyes.
In response to Bill Curry’s tweet, a number of people on social media called him on his tweet, pointing out that it was irresponsible of him to have mentioned possible cultural background. However, the situation was compounded when this was brought to Mr. Curry’s attention.
You see, regardless of whether the alleged shooter appeared to be Aboriginal or appeared to be Arabian or appeared to be from outer space is really immaterial. What someone appears to be culturally is not reporting on what’s happening that’s newsworthy. It’s playing to the lowest common denominator: Racism.
In fact, none seemed to say it better than this person who took issue with Bill Curry’s tweet.
Racism has no place in the news being reported responsibly. Truth be told, no –isms have a place in the news being reported responsibly.
Responsible news reporting doesn’t rely on fear mongering or negative stereotypes or culture bashing. Fobbing fear mongering, negative stereotyping, or culture bashing off on eye witnesses doesn’t make it right or acceptable.
Reporting the news impartially, based on facts, and without bias is what we expect from reporters and journalists … especially those who considered seasoned media professionals.