Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Unexpected Racism

Sometimes when I look over the For Better or For Worse strip the night before aprilp_katje rises and writes her daily snark on the subject through the eyes of April Patterson, I can pretty easily predict what kinds of things she is going to say. Today was not like that. The final pun of the day was on the word "spayed" because it sounds like the word "spade" and in reference to the famous phrase "call a spade a spade." aprilp_katje made a remark that "spade" was a slightly racist term. This caused me to go into a torrent of research on the phrase. I was quite surprised to uncover that many websites were devoted to the analysis of old phrases and their origins also expressed a similar concern that the phrase had come from a racist background.

I was brought up in the deep South and I vividly remember extremely racist comments being made about African-Americans by kids my same age. They almost always used the "N" word. I never remember the use of the word "spade" and it wasn't until I was quite a bit older before I became accustomed to the more colourful and historical racial slurs. In those days of my youth, if I referred to a spade, I referred to a spade as the digging instrument. It was not until this very day I even considered the possibility of treating the term differently.

Quite pleasantly, every single one of those websites discussing the original of the phrase traced it to the Ancient Greek texts and the mistranslation of them that resulted in the phrase used in today's closing pun. The origin of the phrase as racist was univerally (at least within my universe of research) denied. I have used the phrase "call a spade a spade" occasionally, and I would hate to think I was using a phrase of racist origins. Now I can consider the use of the phrase as a tribute to Ancient Greek civilization.

I was also reminded of a bit in the movie Clerks II in which the lead, extremely unpolitically correct white male character went on a tirade to "reclaim" the phrase "porch monkey" as a kind nickname for young people instead of being a racial slur. At least with "porch monkey", there is no ambiguity.

As for Lynn Johnston and her point of view on race. Obviously, she goes out of her way to depict a racially diverse set of friends for Mike, Liz and April to signify they are not racist. She also shows a racially diverse set of Milborough residents. I will have to congratulate her for doing that. Sometimes we chastise Lynn Johnston for allowing her Patterson characters to come off as superiour or worshipped by people from different races, or having disabilities. I don't think is it a fair evalution. The Patterson characters act like they are superiour or worshipped by virtually everyone else in the strip. It doesn't have anything to do with race. But hard race issues, Lynn does not address. Duncan Anderson is going to be with Eva Abuya. Paul Wright is going to be with Susan Dokis. When Gary Crane asked Liz straight out about problems she might have from dating Paul, she completely sidestepped the question and went onto some bizarre diatribe based on a pun on the word "race" meaning different races of people vs. "race" meaning an actual footrace.

Tomorrow's strip: For this strip, I have to research canine spay procedures. Sheesh! I think Lynn must have some reference pictures for the operation, while failing to realize the people standing in the background may not appear in the picture. For example, the anaesthetist would be in the background. I couldn't find one website listing spay procedures which did not mention having an anaesthetist there during the procedure. This veterinarian may be pure "backwoods" vet, since he is using a first hear veterinary student as an assistant, and also 15-year-old April. I wonder if this is some kind of subtle slam on Winnipeg.


Blogger April Patterson said...

Your research was most impressive, as always. :)

2:49 PM  
Blogger howard said...

Thanks. I hope to set an example for Lynn, the next time she needs to research something, like how a canine spay operation should look, for example. She was so close this time, but the lack of an anaethesiologist or as many of the websites called it, veterinary technician, was particularly appalling, given how April points it out.

3:13 PM  
Blogger April Patterson said...

I guess it could have been worse. When April asked about anesthesia, the vet could have said, "What? Are we supposed to do that? When did that start?

4:56 PM  

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