Whitman, pictured here not tweeting.
A city councillor’s use of the word “negroes” while stating that it's impossible to be racist against Mexicans has prompted the latest public tweet storm between Halifax’s elected leaders.
The back-and-forth between city councillors devolved out of Halifax West Armdale
representative Shawn Cleary’s statement Tuesday
that he would personally no longer use the term “marijuana” when speaking about cannabis products.
The Anglicized spelling of the Spanish word for Canada’s soon-to-be legal pastime was purposefully used in the early 1900s by American authorities hoping to tie their criminalization efforts to already ostracized Mexican communities and immigrants. A dialogue about whether the term still carries those hateful connotations
has recently increased
with the Trudeau government’s legalization efforts.
So Cleary’s not going to say it.
“Let’s do what we can to not perpetuate racism,” the councillor tweeted Tuesday.
But Hammonds Plains–St
councillor Matt Whitman feels it’s impossible to be racist against Mexicans because it’s a nationality, not a race.
It’s the sort of nit-picking counter-argument one usually finds in online comment sections, and entirely irrelevant to Cleary’s larger point that Latin Americans and those of Mexican descent have faced—and continue to face—discrimination, prejudice and hatred based on their ethnicity. (For more info on the subject consult The News, Every Day.)
“Race is a social construct, not a biological characteristic,” Cleary tweets in response to his colleague.
The two dug in from there. A sustained debate about civic issues can be, as it is often described by the councillors themselves at public meetings, a “good discussion.” This was not that.
“Italian is a nationality but is now a race according to the newest definition of #SocialConstruct,” mockingly replies
“It would be awesome if, when you spoke, you knew what you were actually talking about,” tweets Cleary. “Even just once would be good.”
“Please educate us, oh wise one!!” trolls Whitman.
Declining Cleary’s suggestion of getting a coffee to explain the concept of social constructs further, Whitman tells his coworker he’s already wasted enough time.
“Fuck! Don’t I know it,” says Cleary.
But it didn’t stop there.
The next day Cleary suggested one of his council colleagues belonged on a list of “hopeful Trump interns and Ford nation wannabes.” Whitman then stated the use of “fuck” by a “genius public official” didn’t offend him, so marijuana shouldn’t offend anyone else.
“Ya but at least I didn’t call a Chinese fire drill or wear a Mexican Halloween costume,” Cleary says, referencing two of Whitman’s social media blunders.
Last Halloween the very-white Matt Whitman donned a poncho and overly large moustache
to portray a “Mexican Trump supporter” for Halloween.
The former deputy mayor also publicly apologized earlier this year
after publishing a video of himself performing a “Chinese fire drill” while in traffic.
“If someone dresses as a nurse or firefighter for Halloween does
that make them racist too?” Whitman rhetorically asks of Cleary.
The flame war ended up being covered by CTV Atlantic on Thursday evening, where Whitman again defended his argument.
“The word marijuana may be racist because of caucasians
, negroes or some other race, but not because of a nationality,” he said on television
Leaving aside the geographic origins
of the term caucasians
, the councillor’s use of the outdated descriptor “negroes” motivated Lindell Smith—the only non-white elected representative on Regional Council—to tweet at Whitman.
“Please don’t use the word ‘Negroes.’ It’s not appropriate and we are not in 1950,” Smith writes
, before stating he would not be commenting on the matter further to the media.
The online discussion about race comes the same week it was revealed councillor David Hendsbee joked about smoking a “peace pipe” after making racially loaded comments
about Indigenous protesters and then later expressed concerns to a resident that reconciliation efforts will lead to white Canadians giving the “keys to our homes” to First Nations.
Earlier this same month, Halifax South Downtown councillor Waye Mason seemingly agreed with a tweet
calling Hendsbee, Whitman and councillor Stephen Adams “shitheads” that needed to be “publicly shamed” for their comments about Indigenous people. Mason later clarified he only meant to agree with the public-shaming half of the tweet.
All of these people make $85,443 a year.