Saturday, November 20, 2010



The pretty river town of Campbellford - the site of that Legion Halloween costume party where a KKK-cloaked man leading a man in blackface by a noose won the award - is a decent community where picking on minorities is not a sport.
The details, the fallout and the hysteria are well-known now and burned into the memories of the locals who feel betrayed.
As someone who has cottaged nearby for 30 years, and routinely walks and talks and shops there, let me offer some other thoughts.
First of all, it's illegal to paint your face black in Ontario, whether for a play or a party.
I find it remarkable that so many, including the ex-Toronto cop in blackface, didn't know that.
It is true that once upon a time, blackface was popular in vaudeville and in the minstrel shows that even churches staged to raise money. I'm sure there were minstrel shows, with blackface, darky jokes and great Stephen Foster songs, in Campbellford, just as there were in Toronto and throughout North America. I saw many shows that were jampacked with all my neighbours. Eighty years ago, two of the biggest stars in the world were Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson. In blackface! Amos 'n' Andy was still around in the '60s, a hit radio show by whites about supposed black comedy.
For a century, blackface flourished. But then, thankfully, changing times, freedom marches and politicians properly sensitive to insults to blacks and other minorities, not only made blackface shows rare, a law was passed at Queen's Park to make them illegal.
You would have thought an ex-cop would have known that. What he gave us instead was crap where he says they would have left if anyone had told them it was offensive.
The ban on blackface has strained the theatre community when it recreates old shows. I recall that at the venerable Royal Alex in Toronto that the restaging of the famous operetta, The Desert Song, had at one point actors wearing green paint on their faces.
I found it bizarre when I saw it but that was the law.
It's encouraging that leaders were so deft when they waded through the poisonous commentary afterwards. For example, Mayor Hector MacMillan said how sad it all was for the families who had lived there for generations. (He's mayor of Trent Hills, composed of Campbellford, a quiet town of nearly 3,000 - hardly the tiny place pictured by the Star - Hastings, Warkworth and some township.)
One example of why I know racism hardly burns through Campbellford is that as someone who has eaten several times at Rubbs, a local restaurant, and discussed its menu often with neighbours, no one ever mentioned that the owner was a Canadian from Jamaica. Unfortunately there has been some profane reaction against him for criticizing the costume stunt, but then racist idiots also are found throughout the world.
People who care about racism, as we all should, must look beyond Campbellford and the anguish of the smear on all.
We have just had a conference in Ottawa about the relentless increase in anti-Semitism year after year. We know from the unceasing turmoil at York University that militant Muslims are determined to fight Jewish students from classroom to classroom until Israel falls into the sea.
The daily emails infesting the Internet that slander Obama for daring as a black to become president is a festering sore. It dwarfs any racist costume mistake, but far less attention has been paid to Internet poison in the last two weeks.
One exception was a Sunday Sun column on Nov. 21 which lamented and condemned the vicious profane attacks on political web sides, one term for it is flaming, where sensible debate has been drowned in a flood of poison.
When I sit on the docks with neighbours for one of those afternoons where beer follows beer until you wonder what happened to the sun, the talk is not about blacks but corruption, gangs, native barricades, native land claims, the incredible mess of Caledonia, and the erosion of rights and common sense by politically correct activists.
Oh yes, let's not forget the annoyance in Cottage Country of the crammed fishing boats of Canadians of Chinese heritage. They certainly enjoy themselves, but they're ignored as they break every rule in fishing and safety as they keep every fish, even the babies.
There's a common thread from the petty to the obscene. And what links the issues bugging Canadians - and a racist costume is barely on the radar - is the costly and frustrating failure of our politicians and police to deal appropriately with anything larger than a pothole or a ticket. Let us not be diverted from our fury at how inept our authorities have become by a brief incident in a Legion, when our Legions, the social clubs of small-town Canada, are filled with so many who have served and worked to help the rest of us.

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