A social media shitstorm erupted a few weeks ago over a racially insensitive (at best) cowboys-and-Indians-themed party that took over the Rhino in Parkdale on January 26.
A lot of the reporting missed the mark on the story, describing it as a standoff between bone-headed partiers in feathers and frills and a band of angry protesters mobilized by social media outrage.
We spoke with Lance Morrison, a Toronto man of Cree descent who was at the Rhino that night, for a story that appeared on NOWtoronto.com last week. Morrison also sent us a statement (condensed below) about what actually happened.
On January 26, an unfortunate event occurred at the Rhino in Parkdale, and I was there.
Over the past several days, an even more unfortunate event has taken place as factions have sensationalized that evening. What was an amiable discussion about misrepresentation of cultural identity between a group of friends and some ill-informed partygoers has since been overblown by several media outlets and personal social media accounts.
We are dismayed to see the attacks over what was, in the end, a positive and enlightening night of talking and learning.
As much of Toronto and much of Canada now knows, a cowboys-and-Indians-themed birthday party group decided to go to the Rhino. Also in attendance was a table of friends, not part of the party, enjoying a drink and some food. This table happened to include people with indigenous heritage - myself included.
As the participants went about their party, they interacted with us. Many were funny, and, yes, some were offensive, spouting "jokes" based in cultural stereotype (war calls, jokes about alcoholism and shiftlessness). When a tomahawk was held to a throat for a photo, the mood changed.
"Racism" is a harsh word, but it certainly came to mind (and was echoed by people who were in touch with us via social media). But as we spoke with the partygoers, we understood that this was not conscious racism on their part but, instead, a lack of understanding of how their behaviour was upsetting. They simply did not realize [their actions] could be hurtful to people proud of their heritage.
As the evening progressed, both groups were able to look at [the encounter] as an opportunity to overcome cultural insensitivity. Ignorance is but one thing: an opportunity for education. And so we listened and talked to each other about how and why the revellers' thoughtless representation of indigenous people would be considered offensive and hurtful.
As I have said and as was tweeted, "A war was fought with words - spoken, never yelled. And it was beautiful." The partygoers we spoke to understood how their actions could be viewed, and many removed their apparel - without being asked to.
We need to talk to each other and build understanding. We must use the power of our voices and media vehicles to bring us together rather than divide us.