U of T newspaper The Varsity likes to take itself seriously. Sample the headlines any given week and you’ll find stories on everything from U.S. electoral politics to dismantling conflicts abroad.
But by keeping with a recent tradition to dedicate one issue to fake news during exams, the paper has unleashed a backlash from some black students.
U of T’s Black Lawyers of Tomorrow aren’t laughing.
The group has filed a complaint with the university’s anti-racism and cultural diversity office saying that a spoof on a fictional blackface production of Charlie Brown, complete with staged photo of a cooned-up Chuck, demeans black students. The group is also demanding space in the Varsity to register its displeasure.
Says BLOT prez Anthony Morgan, “The people at the Varsity figure they can say what they want, but to me it says something about white privilege. To see that in our student paper in this multicultural city in what’s supposed to be the premier university in Canada is absolutely not acceptable.”
Should there be limits on what the student press can print? Morgan definitely thinks so.
“Students everywhere need to be aware of what’s going on in the student newspaper, because we’re paying for it (through student fees), and we’re not paying to be made fun of.”
U of T boasts of “fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.” So maybe Morgan has a point.
But the funny thing, if there is anything funny about this controversy, is that the Charlie Brown madness may not be the most offensive material in this issue of the Varsity.
Case in point is another item, New College Discovered. The article speaks of uncovering hallways and crannies “stalked by degenerates who may have descended from the building’s doubtlessly evil creators.”
Given that New College has the highest tally of African, Caribbean and South Asian students, Morgan thinks that smells like colonialism – effectively, “We’ve got to civilize them again,” he says.
Other questionable attempts at humour include a reference to al Qaeda and faculty being “scared” of the hijab, as well as a Paul Bernardo joke and the mocking of homeless schizophrenics. Dudes on the prowl for chicks in the commons are encouraged to “just join her on the couch and start to lick her.” The “feminist sluts” also alluded to might have something to say about that.
And those seeking advice can turn to smoking, drinking, snarling columnist Sandy Fingerbhangs – “Giving you a hand in sticky situations.” Take it as you will.
Editor-in-chief Chandler Levack is taken aback by the unfunny turn of events. She informs NOW that she’s met with Morgan and the Black Students Association, another group that registered concerns about the Charlie Brown spoof, and that the BSA will be given 700 words to air its grievances in the first issue of 2008 – alongside a Varsity editorial. Is an apology in the works? Levack isn’t saying.
“We deeply understand how sensitive the matter is and how it may not be perceived as humorous, and it was definitely not our intention to offend anyone or make light of anything that has to do with race,” she says.
“I’d hate for people to get the wrong impression of the Varsity. It was a fun issue because it was equally ridiculous in all aspects.”
Is Morgan being too touchy?
There are those like comedian Kenny Robinson, the godfather of racially hued laughs in this land, who find the invocation of blackface beneath contempt, period.
He figures the spectre of blackface should have been left for dead by the mid-50s, along with Amos ’N’ Andy. “Are these clowns serious?”
The issue, meanwhile, is no longer available online because, as Levack puts it, “people might think it’s real.”