Tag Archives: nhl

Dissenting Opinion: Raffi Torres Isn’t a Racist

I’m a little torn on the controversy around hockey player Raffi Torres dressed up as Jay-Z, which required painting his skin black in order to be less Mexican, more African-American. But only a little torn.

Judging by the angry internetz, apparently “blackface” is a special case in the world of race-mocking and racially-sensitive taboo costumes.

Well, okay. Except… this isn’t “blackface.” This is black makeup.

First, let’s point out the obvious here — I’m fish-belly white. I’m descended from a long line of fish-belly white people. I wear SPF 60 in the summer, and have green eyes and light-brown hair. I’m clearly a honky.

So, obviously I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s like to be discriminated against on the basis of my skin colour. I also don’t have the foggiest what being descended from slavery would be like. And, being Canadian, I don’t have the remotest idea what it’s like to live in a racially-charged country that has come from the Jim Crow laws of the South all the way to having a half-black president in office, all in 50 years.

I accept that I’m absolutely ignorant about what being black in America today is like. Guilty as charged.

That said…

What Raffi Torres did isn’t “Blackface.” He’s lampooning an actual person, not a whole race or culture. He’s goofing off on the one day of the year that everyone gets to dress up in masquerade.

I understand that, historically, “blackface” was a way of triggering long-felt hurt and mockery amongst socially-aware blacks who know their history. I get that there’s more to it than just being an ignorant theatrical past with stupid white people. I know this.

I think, in that way, that yes, it is somewhat racially insensitive, maybe a little boneheaded on Torres’ part given his public stature, but it’s not racist.

The outcry is over the top on this one. Is there cause for discussion? Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people probably need to know more about the history of blackface. Raffi Torres’ life has been spent without blackface being on television since its last appearance was in 1981, the year he was born.

If people want to talk about why his “costume” is inappropriate, then great. But the “he’s a racist” talk needs to fucking stop. First, he’s Mexican and probably gets it. Second, his agent is black. Third, he’s a Jay-Z fan and wanted to have a night pretending to be a great rapper — who’s black, and being a pasty-faced Mexican wouldn’t have pulled that off too effectively.

Some dude dressing up with painted skin that is done as MAKEUP, not as a mockery that has unrealistically huge lips, or excessive stylizing, isn’t racist — he’s just ignorant of the fact that some would deem it racially insensitive.

Take a look at the ACTUAL blackface shot here, the infamous The Jazz Singer take on it, versus Torres’ attempt at being Jay-Z. Slightly different style, no?

Was the movie Tropic Thunder racist because Robert Downey Jr. wore black makeup? No. It was funnier because of it, because his ignorance was amplified for comedic gain. It seems funny to us that someone could be alive today and be that ignorant, and that’s the joke.

Is Raffi Torres racially insensitive? A lot of people think so today. Would I have dressed up with blackface? No, but that’s mostly because it’s way too much work. Do I think Raffi Torres is racially insensitive? No. Would I advise someone against dressing up as a black person? Unlikely, but depends on the context. This context? I have no problems with it. Rappers by their very nature are pretty easy to lampoon, because they’re so stylized. But white southern folk are easy to lampoon too. That’s how it goes.

There are things we need to societally accept and just get over, and this is one of them. There’s a big difference between wearing black makeup that’s authentically done and wearing “blackface.” There’s a big difference between dressing up as an Asian and drawing “slant-eyes” on your face. One is authentic-looking in an attempt at mimicking, the other is blatant mockery and derision.

Raffi Torres wasn’t mocking, deriding, or insulting black culture. He was pretending to be someone that’s not the same race as him. It’s not an offense.

In some ways, it’s an example of how far we’ve come — that the new generation doesn’t see the offense, blacks have become millionaires and the movers-and-shakers of culture today. They’re as fair game as anyone, and that’s a good thing. That actually is progress.

We need to get to a place where we understand that there’s a difference between offensive behaviour and just having fun. There are sometimes shades of grey, but being unable to laugh at ourselves does us no favours.

This wasn’t racism. It’s not offensive. It’s impressionism, mimicry, and even wanna-be behaviour, but it’s not racist.

If everyone who’s bent out of shape about this could turn their righteous indignation towards the real offenses — like how a race that comprises 14% of the American population still manages to account for 60%+ of those in jail today in the USA.

Now that’s offensive.

Confessions of (Not) a Bandwagoner

Here we go: playoffs, baby.

I actually love playoff hockey. There’s nothing more fast-paced and exciting than when your team starts doing well in the post-season. The spring of ’94 was one of the most exciting times of my life, when this town went on the playoff run with the Rangers. Man, was that some kinda hockey.

And maybe the Olympics were a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but so’s a Stanley Cup Playoff Run in Vancouver, and, for me, the playoffs are a bigger, happier, more awesome memory for me than the Olympics. It was unexpected, it was for us and no one else.

This year is the first time I’ve watched almost none of a season. I can’t believe it. Feels so odd to not be into watching sports all winter anymore. But there you have it.

But don’t let that fool you. I want the Canucks to go all the way. I want them to play inspired, to get hurt and come back from it every single game. I want little Vancouver boys and girls watching and later playing street hockey with all their favourite team players’ names taped on their backs.

I want the streets to open up and bleed maple-flavoured hockey blood, man. I want a choir of angels harmonizing “Hallelujah” behind Stompin’ Tom belting out The Good Old Hockey Game while an arena stomps along.

YET I didn’t watch the regular season.

Some yahoos on Twitter last night are exactly the kinds of asshole fans that kind of turned me off of watching day-in, day-out. Some are saying Bushisms like “You’re either with us or against us!” and calling people tuning into the playoffs “bandwagoners”.

Those dickheads make it seem like THEY did what these 26 guys accomplished on the ice. Um, no, they’ve done nothing but swill beer and mouth off at their TV — those 26 teammates have bled and ached for the game.  They’ve been well-paid to do so, yes, but they’ve bled and ached and trained.

So, I’m here to tell you the real reason I don’t watch the full season of hockey anymore.

From 1991 to 2004, I probably watched or listened to 80% of ALL the Canucks games that were broadcast. I was a fan girl, baby. I didn’t miss a MINUTE of the spring of 1994. I was managing a photo lab and on game nights when I was working, you could hear the game in the mall corridor, filtering from my back lab, where it would be blasting.

When the team started sucking again, I stuck with them. When a new empire began with Bertuzzi and Naslund and Mo, I was  in love with that hard-hitting great-shootin’ team.

2003-2004 was The Year It Changed for me, in more ways than one. The hockey season was all right, sorta phoned it in with a tendency to start slow and win late, and the playoffs sucked. It was game 7, series 1, against the Minnesota Wild. Dominating the first 3 games, they lost the next four, and the Wild took the series. I was the fool with the hope they could undo the falling-apartness and actually WENT to Game 7 live.

You know, the infamous game where Captain Markus Naslund later confessed the team “choked”? It wasn’t their first post-season choking, it was just the most offensive occurrence of recent years. THE FUCKING MINNESOTA WILD!

I stayed until the end of the game, because that is what a FAN does. I don’t leave early, it’s disrespectful.

And then some asshole threw a lidded beer from higher up, and missed the ice by a mile — hitting me in the head, exploding all over me.

That was it. I was done.

And it coincided with the Lost Year, thanks to the NHL strike — which caused me to loathe the pettiness of both players and owners. With no hockey available, I learned there WAS life after hockey. Holy toledo.

I got out of the habit of watching, and I liked being out of the habit. I found it harder to focus on pro sports anyhow, having had a head injury during the year of the strike, and not trying to watch made more sense.

When fans are rabid and love their teams and support them, and in losses suck it up, grumble a bit, but know that’s how it rolls, they’re great.

It’s the dickheads with the us-versus-them, take-it-all attitude that boo opposing teams’ anthems, pitch beers when they’re unhappy, get argumentative, etc who turn folks like me off.

Year-round? Well, I find the “fans” who insult and belittle the team for a loss after 4 wins turn me off too.

When the team’s playing hard, showing up, like the Canucks have all year, then that’s all a fan can ask. Sometimes I think Vancouver fans ask too much, and I grew tired of being in the mix. I needed a break.

So, am I a bandwagoner? Nah. I’m a fan who’s watched them for much of 25+ years. I’m a fan who doesn’t like having to commit to watching sports anymore. Not right now. I’m a fan, I’m just not an observer.

I was bantering with a friend in email last night, who surprised me when she said she was watching, and confessed she only watches playoffs, so I asked her about whether she thinks she’s a bandwagoner. Her reply?

To appease their taunts of “bandwagoner!”, I tell them I’m not a fan of hockey, I’m a fan of fans, and fans are really fun this time of year! ;)

I have to agree. Some fans are HILARIOUS and just so much fun at this time of year, and I love the energy they bring to the city — those with shrines on their work desks, hockey flags, a schedule for washing/wearing their jersey — they crack me up and are everything a fan should be.

Know what I want this year? Average fans who can handle the playoffs WIN OR LOSE. Fans who respect the effort, who don’t become assholes if it should go awry, who understand there is no US OR THEM in Vancouver — this is VANCOUVER. We’re in it together, but not everyone’s addicted to hockey. It’s not a CHARACTER flaw. It’s like chocolate versus vanilla — you like what you like.

But mostly, I want the Canucks team to put it all on the line, hit any motherfucker with the balls to touch a puck, pass clean, hit fair but HARD, make fast changes, listen for their linemates, remember how much their fans have stuck with them over the decades, do what the coach says, and fuckin’ WIN.

That’s what I really want. This town would be wild after a Stanley Cup.

Maybe that’ll make me fall in love with regular season again. Who knows. Or maybe I’ll just keep hockey as a Canadian rite of spring.

Either way: Bring us the Cup.