Category Archives: AIUofT Candlelight

they’ll forget anyways

by Cedric Pak

The authoritarian lockdowns that drove the trapped mad
The invasion that shook geopolitics (the advent of WW3, some called it)
The swift collapse of a 20 year-long stability
And now, the reignition of a bloody feud

These things are nothing new, you and I both know
The tyranny of the strong, and
(The fleeing of homes, the destruction of cities, the loss of loved ones)
The suffering of the powerless
Tales taught to us by history, the stories with a thousand faces

But weren’t things supposed to be different?
New orders, new values, new generation
Not to mention our
Eyes all over the world, voices that echoed across countries,
hearts and minds that were meant to be interconnected

Why has nothing changed?
The academics, the politicians, and the opinionated can tell you, no doubt
Rattling off the list, reiterating what went wrong
But the obvious answer always remains the same

From most who stay in Omelas, unperturbed in their day-to-days
That unmentioned given the comforts the oppressor’s unease
And soothes their aching conscience
That no matter how bad it gets, sooner or later
they’ll forget anyway

Celebrity Activism: Helpful or Harmful?

by Laura Moldoveanu

Who has the power to change the world? Oftentimes, fans put pressure on celebrities to speak out against or in support of global issues. But this does not take into account whether celebrities have an obligation to get involved or what exactly is expected of them. Does fame equal power? On one hand, simply spreading awareness to their large audiences can be helpful. However, celebrity activism can also come across as tone-deaf at best and actively harmful at worst.

Celebrities are public-facing; people idolize them. This comes with certain expectations from their fans which manifest as parasocial relationships. A parasocial relationship is characterized by close relationships between celebrities and their fans, with the fans closely following the celebrity’s media persona. The fans then develop a “sense of intimacy, perceived friendship, and identification with the celebrity” (Chung and Cho, 2017). It sounds innocent enough, but viewing a celebrity as your “comfort person” can lead to mass disappointment when the celebrity does something that does not align with their fanbase. For example, the rise of “cancel culture.” Through social media, “public figures adopt a sense of authenticity that often allows them to act as surrogates for real-life friends and mentors” and the fans feel very real betrayal when their carefully constructed perception of the celebrity is shattered (Schacter-Brodie, 2021).

Cancel culture often dredges up old controversies, with current events like activism, the risk of “cancellation” is heightened. If celebrities speak out, then their statement is picked apart. They can be seen as butting in where they don’t belong or getting involved in something they don’t understand. If they stay silent, then they “don’t care” and fans are disappointed. It seems to be a lose-lose situation. However, this does not mean that there are no good examples of celebrity activism that had a positive impact.

In 2021, singer and businesswoman Rhianna spoke out against Asian hate to her over 150 million Instagram followers. She attended protests and partnered with Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s #StartSmall initiative through her Clara Lionel Foundation to donate $3 million to Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations (Nakamura, 2021). Other examples from different social issues include singer Alicia Keys, who frequently speaks out about political concerns and police brutality, and actor Elliot Page, who advocates for LGBTQ+ rights (Compendio, 2023). These are just a few examples of celebrities who use their platforms to educate and advocate.

But speaking out is not always taken positively. Accusations of performative activism, promoting misinformation, and taking attention away from actual activists are common critiques against celebrity activism. For example, in 2017 when the #MeToo movement, which was coined by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, in 2006, gained mass popularity only after the hashtag was used by actress Alyssa Milano, a White woman (Ohlheiser, 2017). This led to criticism that the movement was commandeered to amplify the voices of privileged, wealthier, cisgender, white women and left other identities behind. It’s a complicated situation. While the #MeToo movement still spread awareness about sexual assault and allowed people to share their stories, it drifted away from one of its original intentions of supporting marginalized groups in favour of supporting celebrities.

Apart from this, celebrity activism can certainly do more harm than good in some cases. For example, actress Jenny McCarthy who, in the process of speaking up for medical autonomy, is spreading the disproven notion that vaccines cause autism (Specter, 2013). Or in March 2020, when Gal Gadot and multiple other celebrities banded together to put out a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” to support people during the COVID-19 lockdown, which was labelled as tone-deaf, performative, and generally useless (Caramanica, 2020). Lastly, in September 2023 when Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher (who is a long-time fighter against human trafficking) provided a character witness for convicted rapist Danny Masterson describing him as “an outstanding role model and friend” (Associated Press, 2023).

For many fans, staying silent is not acceptable either. This leads to public pressure to speak up. Take Selena Gomez who, in response to backlash about not speaking up regarding the Israel-Palestine war, wrote via an Instagram story: “I wish I could change the world. But a post won’t.” (Gomez, 2023). Her statement is an interesting take, considering her 430 million Instagram followers. It brings up the meaningful question of whether celebrities have to involve themselves in social issues. Getting involved just to save themselves from backlash isn’t exactly a worthy reason.

But why do people target celebrities instead of those who create or have the most power to affect such issues, like lawmakers? In a way, celebrities are accessible. It’s easy to leave a comment on an Instagram post or make a TikTok “calling out” their actions. It also goes back to the idea of parasocial relationships. Fans feel like their idols have the responsibility to support the same issues they do. There are more worthwhile people to target for support. The question becomes how to find them and how to contact them. Aside from key figures, many government representatives are faceless and even nameless. It’s difficult to involve lawmakers when you don’t know where to look for them. Look up the representative for your constituency online. For example, the federal governments of the United States and Canada have lists of representatives along with their contact info. So people shouldn’t waste their time and energy harassing celebrities on social media (unless they are calling out actively harmful information).

That’s not to say celebrities should be doing nothing. They have huge platforms that can be put to use to spread awareness. Education and involving people who are actually involved in the issue avoids some of the controversies outlined above and allows celebrities to get involved in a meaningful way. However, celebrities are not the be-all and end-all of powerful figures. What about putting pressure on lawmakers instead? Use your voice, or your keyboard, to make a difference in your own right.

https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en/constituencies

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Works Cited

Caramanica, Jon. “This ‘imagine’ Cover Is No Heaven.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/arts/music/coronavirus-gal-gadot-imagine.html.

Chung, Siyoung, and Hichang Cho. “Fostering Parasocial Relationships with Celebrities on Social Media: Implications for Celebrity Endorsement.” Psychology & Marketing, vol. 34, no. 4, 2017, pp. 481–95, https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21001.

Compendio, Chris. “50 Celebrity Activists with a History of Protesting Injustice.” Good Good Good, Good Good Good, 25 Mar. 2023, www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/celebrity-activists.

Gomez, Selena. @selenagomez. Instagram, October 30.

“Kutcher, Kunis Apologize after Penning Character Letters for Former Co-Star Convicted of Rape | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 9 Sept. 2023, www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/ashton-kutcher-mila-kunis-danny-masterson-letters-rap e-trial-apology-1.6962093.

Nakamura, Kate. “10 Inspiring Moments of Celebrity Activism in 2021.” Global Citizen, Global Citizen, 8 Dec. 2021, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/celebrity-activism-2021/.

Ohlheiser, Abby. “The Woman behind ‘Me Too’ Knew the Power of the Phrase When She Created IT – 10 Years Ago.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Oct. 2017,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/10/19/the-woman-behi nd-me-too-knew-the-power-of-the-phrase-when-she-created-it-10-years-ago/.

Schacter-Brodie, Zoe. “Celebrities Are Not Your Friends: The Danger of Parasocial Relationships.” University Wire, Uloop, Inc, 2021. http://myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2 Fwire-feeds%2Fcelebrities-are-not-your-friends-danger%2Fdocview%2F2522426307%2F se-2%3Faccountid%3D14771

Specter, Michael. “Jenny McCarthy’s Dangerous Views.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 16 July 2013, www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/jenny-mccarthys-dangerous-views.

Upholding Human Rights: Safeguarding Public Service Workers Amidst Civil Unrest

by Viana Sadeghi

A bus engulfed in flames on Dublin’s O’Connell Street illustrates the chaotic disruption of civil unrest (Malone, 2023).

The recent harrowing incident involving Sailesh Tupsy, a bus driver caught in the chaos of civil unrest in Dublin, lays bare the terrifying reality faced by essential workers amidst societal upheaval (Malone, 2023). This report delves into the profound political issue of safeguarding public service workers during such tumultuous times, stressing the dire need for robust measures to protect their rights and safety. The distressing attack on Sailesh Tupsy serves as a chilling reminder of the immediate necessity to fortify policies and mechanisms that shield these workers during civil unrest, demanding stringent action, training, and unwavering advocacy to safeguard their rights.

Public service workers are the backbone of our society, thrust onto the frontlines during crises to ensure the continuity of essential services. However, their visibility exposes them to heightened risks amid civil disturbances, as witnessed in the recent violence in Dublin (BBC, 2023). Tupsy’s terrifying ordeal epitomizes this vulnerability, subjecting him to intimidation and violence that not only jeopardizes his safety but also disrupts crucial services. This distressing reality emphasizes the immediate need for robust protective measures to shield these workers.

The incident involving Tupsy glaringly highlights systemic shortcomings in safeguarding public service workers during civil unrest. It underscores the urgency for proactive measures, including specialized training and stringent security protocols, to equip these workers with essential support and resources necessary to navigate volatile situations effectively.

At the heart of this discussion lies the flagrant violation of fundamental human rights experienced by public service workers (Malone, 2023). The appalling attack on Tupsy and similar incidents blatantly disregard their right to a safe working environment, free from intimidation and violence. Governments and stakeholders are duty-bound to implement policies aligned with international human rights standards, prioritizing the protection of these workers.

Collaboration between civil society organizations and authorities, notably Amnesty International, is pivotal in advocating for policy changes that bolster safety measures and rights protections. This collaboration is essential in enforcing policies that ensure the safety of workers and monitoring their effective implementation during periods of unrest.

Sailesh Tupsy’s traumatic experience underscores the immediate need for fortified protective measures for public service workers amid civil unrest. It unequivocally signifies the urgency for immediate action to strengthen rights protections, training, and collaborative advocacy efforts. Upholding the rights of these workers transcends mere political obligation; it is an urgent moral imperative to preserve human rights standards and societal resilience in times of crisis. Amnesty International’s proactive involvement will be indispensable in spearheading policy reforms that guarantee the safety and rights of public service workers, creating an environment where they can fulfill their duties without fear or threat.

Works Cited

Dublin violence: Vehicles set alight and fireworks thrown at police. (2023). Bbc.com.

Malone, E. (2023, November 24). Dublin riots: Bus drivers “in fear” after events on Thursday

night, says union. The Irish Times; The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/crime-law/2023/11/24/bus-drivers-in-fear-after-events-on-thursday-night-says-union/#:~:text=Members%20of%20public%20intervened%20to,hijacked%20near%20O’Connell%20Street&text=The%20driver%20forced%20from%20his,up%20to%20him%20being%20targeted

The Femicide of Giulia Cecchettin and the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence

by Elsa Rollier

On November 18, 2023, the body of Giulia Cecchettin, a 22-year-old Italian engineering student at the University of Padua, was found with multiple stab wounds in a ditch around a lake in the north of Venice (Kassam, 2023). This discovery occurred after one week of search following the disappearance of Giulia and her ex-boyfriend, Filippo Torretta, a 21-year-old engineering student at the University of Padua, on November 11, 2023 (Kassam, 2023). Torretta, whom Giulia had recently broken up with, is allegedly responsible for her murder (Kassam, 2023). This has been backed by evidence of roadside cameras which captured Giulia’s ex-partner hitting her (Kassam, 2023). Torretta was arrested in Germany, on November 19, 2023, and was later extradited to Italy (Kassam, 2023). He arrived back in Venice on November 25th, 2023, and was due to be transferred to a prison in Verona for further investigation (Kassam, 2023). According to his family and some friends of Giulia Cecchettin, Torretta allegedly did not accept Giulia’s decision to break up their relationship (Kassam, 2023). He was also said to be jealous and possessive (Camilli, 2023).

This recent femicide has sparked a wave of outrage and anger across the country (Kassam, 2023). The murder of Giulia also contributed to bringing attention back to gender-based violence in Italy, where one woman is killed every three days on average (Kassam, 2023). A femicide “specifically refers to the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female” (Camilli, 2023). Following Giulia’s death, Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni herself reacted by expressing her grief, as well as denouncing gender-based crimes: “We all hoped in recent days that Giulia was alive. Unfortunately, our greatest fears have come true…Every single woman killed because she is ‘guilty’ of being free is an aberration that cannot be tolerated and that pushes me to continue on the path taken to stop this barbarity” (Kassam, 2023). Also, the Italian Senate approved on November 22, multiple measures to expand protections for women vulnerable to gender-based violence (Kassam, 2023). These include “stricter restraining orders and heightened surveillance on men found guilty of gender-based violence” (Bettiza, 2023). Giuseppe Valditara, the Italian minister of education, promised a campaign addressing gender-based violence in schools (Kassam, 2023).

However, feminist group “D.i.Re, the Women Against Violence Network” member Silvia Menecali points out that instead of working with anti-violence centres and feminist associations, this project is being coordinated by a psychologist known for having previously “negated the existence of gender-based violence”(Kassam, 2023). Furthermore, many critics were quick to highlight that despite Meloni’’s apparent voluntarism to help women’s cause, her party was one of those who abstained when the EU voted to ratify an international treaty aiming to prevent violence against women earlier this year (Kassam, 2023). Moreover, according to NGO ActionAid Prevenzione Sottocosto’s latest report presented on November 13: “Despite the increase in funds recorded in the last decade, the number of women killed by men within the family has remained essentially stable over time”, suggesting “the inadequacy of the anti-violence policies adopted” (Camilli, 2023).

As University of Bologna researcher Cristina Gamberi notes, Giulia’s murder is a scenario that feels familiar, “This is a script that we know very well” (Kassam, 2023). Indeed, 106 women have been killed in Italy since the beginning of the year, and the majority of them (55), were killed by their partners or former partners (Kassam, 2023). However, although cases of femicides are unfortunately common in Italy, Giulia’s death seems to have pushed for a different framing and consideration of gender-based violence and crimes compared to the traditional media coverage of such violence. This is due particularly to her older sister, Elena Cecchettin (Kassam, 2023). Indeed, as Gamberi notes, Elena has been “fighting back with a very strong determination and anger”, going as far as to say Giulia’s sister could be “giving voice to a new collective awareness that is really widespread among the younger generation.” (Kassam, 2023). Giulia’s sister has expressed herself through interviews and social media, highlighting the responsibility of the normalization of toxic male behavior, in Giulia’s death (Kassam, 2023). Elena exposed the roots of femicides and gender-based violence, roots that some officials and some people seem to (willingly?) ignore or disregard. She affirmed, “Femicide is not a crime of passion, it is a crime of power” (Kassam, 2023).

She also clearly highlighted men’s responsibility in fighting patriarchal standards and calls for their direct action to end gender-based violence: “No man is good if he does nothing to dismantle the society that privileges them so much”, and “It is the responsibility of men in this patriarchal society to call out friends and colleagues. Say something to that friend who controls his girlfriend, say something to that colleague who catcalls passers-by. These behaviors are accepted by society, and can be the prelude to femicide” (Kassam, 2023). As she puts it: “It is often said ‘not all men’. But they are always men”. She explicitly denounces the state’s responsibility in femicides and gender-based violence: “Femicide is a state murder because the state does not protect us.” (Kassam, 2023). Elena also opposed the idea that such crimes are exceptional acts of violence, being perpetuated by “monsters”: “Filippo is not a monster; a monster is an exception, someone external to society, someone society should not take responsibility for. But here that responsibility exists” (Camilli, 2023). As Camilli notes, Elena “turned private grief into a political movement” (2023). This is not insignificant, for it shows that gender-based violence and femicide do not come from nowhere, and do not arise from passion or “sudden outbursts”. Rather, they are “preceded by a crescendo of physical and psychological abuse, manipulation attempts, blackmail, stalking, gaslighting, obsessive and controlling behaviors that can go on for months or years, mostly tolerated by society” (Camilli, 2023).

Elena adds that violence is a way to “restore the hierarchy that some women have dared to question” and that “it is an expression of a millennia-old power system in crisis but still deeply rooted in everyday behavior.” (Camilli, 2023). Indeed, as feminist writer Lea Melandri notes in her book Amore E Violenza, Il Fattore Molesto Della Civiltà (Love and Violence, the Annoying Factor of Civilization): “This is why even the most independent of women can become victims of heinous violence: it is their “no” that triggers anger, breaking a pact of submission that has lasted for millennia.” (Camilli, 2023). Many Italian women agreed with and relayed Elena’s words. But Giulia’s sister also faced critics, accusing her of being “ideological”, for instance by League councilor in the Veneto region Stefano Valdegamberi (Camilli, 2023).

This reframing and reconsideration of the way gender-based violence is perceived is essential, for it influences the measures to be taken against them. In this case, by emphasizing and exposing the roots of gender-based violence, Elena Cecchettin highlights the need to implement preventive measures instead of only relying on punitive actions like has been the case for years. Indeed, according to ActionAid, between 2020 and 2023, only 12% of the 248.8 million euros allocated to resources against gender violence were dedicated to prevention (Camilli, 2023). But funds are not the only issue. Indeed, it is the whole system of patriarchal norms that harms women, and that needs to be dismantled. These patriarchal standards are symbolized for instance by the idea, very present amongst Italy’s judiciary and law enforcement that “survivors of violence are somehow to blame or not to be believed” (Kassam, 2023). Menecali also adds that Italian media needs to stop “emphasizing the point of view of the murderer, explaining what motivated him to kill a woman,” for that “carries on legitimizing femicide as a reaction to a woman’s behaviour” (Kassam, 2023). ActionAid’s report asserts that “Only cultural work that counters customs and patterns of violence against women and girls can reverse the trend,” (Camilli, 2023). It is not enough to reform or amend things; change has to be radical (Camilli, 2023). Giulia’s sister again illustrates this necessity: “We need widespread sexual and emotional education; we need to teach that love is not possession. We must fund anti-violence centers and provide opportunities for those in need to seek help. For Giulia, don’t take a minute of silence. For Giulia, burn everything,” (Camilli, 2023). This refusal to stay silent was followed by students of the University of Padua, who, instead of observing a minute of silence, spent that time singing, reading poetry, and clapping; to make their voices heard (Bettiza, 2023).

As Zampano notes: “Violence against women and girls remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world” (2023). Giulia Cecchettin’s recent femicide illustrates the traditional ways of considering and dealing with gender-based violence, i.e. often not tackling the origins of sexist violence and focusing on posteriori measures. Therefore, Giulia’s death also pushes us to reconsider the efficiency of current measures aiming to protect women and prevent gender-based violence. It illustrates the need to adopt different strategies and measures. We cannot continue to pretend we do not know where this violence comes from and what it is rooted in. The reframing of gender-based violence and femicides as acts entrenched in patriarchy and rape culture, illustrated here by Giulia’s sister Elena Cecchettin, needs to be more universally recognized. This starts by recognizing and institutionalizing the term “femicide”. Indeed, as Camilli notes: “This term is essential in highlighting the gender-specific nature of such crimes and advocating for awareness, prevention, and legal measures to address the underlying societal issues that contribute to violence against women” (2023).

Other measures that could be taken to better fight against and prevent gender-based violence and other femicides could and should take place on the institutional, educational and societal levels through the collaboration of governments with communities and non-profit organizations; in order to “challenge and transform cultural norms that perpetuate gender-based violence”, “hold perpetrators accountable while providing support and protection for survivors” and “create a society that actively rejects gender violence, ensuring that everyone can live free from the threat of harm and discrimination” (Camilli, 2023).

Works Cited

Bettiza, S. (2023, November 24). Giulia Cecchettin’s killing sparks Italian reckoning over

femicide. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-67514334

Camilli, A. (2023, November 27). Murder of Giulia Cecchettin: why Italy is finally saying ‘basta’ to violence against women. Worldcrunch. https://worldcrunch.com/culture-society/giulia-cecchettin-femicide-basta

Kassam, A. (2023, November 25). Anger across Italy as killing of student highlights country’s femicide rate. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/25/anger-across-italy-as-killing-of-student-highlig hts-countrys-femicide-rate

Zampano, G. (2023, November 25). Tens of thousands rally in Italy over violence against women. AP. https://apnews.com/article/italy-women-violence-demonstrations-protest-d89c05325c37ee4d802 14700533761c8

Is the Privatization of Public Transport Incoming?

by Peter Xavier Rossetti

In case you took a double-take, no, the title is not a typo. Despite the fact that the privatization of public transport is an obvious oxymoron, it is seemingly a real possibility that may eventually take our cities and towns by storm. Some may even be inclined to welcome the development, as just a rudimentary inspection of public transportation, especially in Toronto, reveals that the systems in place are in desperate need of change. The TTC’s subway lines are unpredictable at best and inoperative at worst, while the buses and trams can be slow, crowded and just as susceptible to traffic, stalls and accidents as any other vehicle on the road. However, the “solutions” being provided by private companies are simply not the answers we need to solve our transit problems.

Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon, has come forward with a new idea for transport called the robotaxi. Zoox’s robotaxi is a fully automated, self-driving taxi that can seat up to four passengers and, once fully operational, can take said passengers anywhere they want to go (Ludlow, 2023). It is essentially a 24/7 taxi service that can be summoned on demand and can take you wherever you want to go whenever you need to go there. And in the words of those at Zoox all, “the rider has to do is simply pay for the service” (Zoox). Simple enough, until you realize that this will not be like tapping your Presto card to enter the subway platform or bus.

The great thing about public transportation is that it is public, meaning it is subsidized by and held accountable to taxpayers. This ensures that no matter what, riders will never be priced-out from accessing their local transportation. In the private sector, however, no such insurance exists. Although Amazon may present Zoox and its robotaxi as a benign alternative to failing public transportation systems, at the end of the day it is a private company and its one and only goal is to make money. Neither Amazon nor Zoox is subsidized by the people and therefore not accountable to them either.

The implications of this privatization of public transportation could be huge. If Zoox was to ever grow big enough to corner the market to the point where city transportation services were no longer needed, many, many people would be in dire straits. There would be nothing preventing Zoox from pricing-out underprivileged areas from accessing its services, essentially trapping those who live there without a mode of transportation. Poorer communities, without access to their own reliable means of individual transportation, could see a massive loss of their freedom of movement – negatively impacting those living in the impacted areas’ ability to travel to work or school. Ergo preventing them from ever bettering their lives and the welfare of their community. Poor communities then stay poor and out-priced by privately run transportation. The negative feedback loop continues over and over again.

And this is why public transportation is so important. For all its faults it ensures that those who need it most will always, eventually, make it from point A to B. We have already seen the privatization of transportation gain its footing through companies such as Lyft and Uber. Their inception and the promotion of Zoox’s robotaxi could be troubling signs of what to come. We are to be ever vigilant. Or else our freedoms and rights to travel, our ability to move and live, could quickly be found to be under attack from a faceless, corporate, enemy. An enemy that does not care for you or I and the places we need to go to live our lives and better our situations. For this is an enemy that cares for one and one thing only – its bottom line.

Works Cited

Ludlow, E. (2023, February 13). Amazon’s self-driving car shuttles people on public roads for the first time. BNN Bloomberg. https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/amazon-s-self-driving-car-shuttles-people-on-public-roads-for-the- first-time-1.1883271

Zoox. (n.d). Company overview. https://zoox.com/about/

Outlawing LGBTQ+ Rights in 2023: The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda

by Shiva Ivaturi


Image: Sally Hayden/ZUMA/imago images

Introduction

“Of course, homosexuals are disgusting”, said President Yoweri Musaveni of Uganda to a CNN correspondent in 2016. The subject of much controversy, at the time individuals simply thought of this as an incredibly disparaging and blatantly homophobic remark. Yet, it has culminated into a law today that is believed to be the most oppressive modern-day law against LGBTQ+ individuals in the world.

The proposed 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in Uganda, that would have criminalized homosexuality with sentences of life imprisonment. The bill also targeted those who promote homosexuality or fail to report homosexual activities to the authorities, including medical professionals and human rights advocates. The bill generated widespread international condemnation, with many countries, including the United States, threatening to cut off aid to Uganda if the bill was passed (Al Jazeera, 2014).

On March 9, 2023, Asuman Basalirwa, a member of parliament, introduced the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Parliament (Atuhaire, 2023). This bill is a revised and more extreme version of the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act. The 2023 bill, however, expands on the criminalization of same-sex acts and is considered one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the world (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Its provisions include criminalizing people for holding out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, or any other sexual or gender identity that is not in line with the binary categories of male and female (BBC News, 2023).

The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill follows months of hostile rhetoric against sexual and gender minorities by public figures in Uganda, as well as government crackdowns on LGBTQ+ rights groups, human rights groups, government critics, and civil society (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Uganda’s penal code already punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which is interpreted to mean homosexual relations, with a punishment of life in prison, although the provision is rarely enforced (Shaw, 2023). In introducing the bill, Basaliriwa said its purpose was to “look at this colonial law and have it in tandem with the current situation” (BBC News, 2023).

What is the law?

The maximum penalty for homosexual acts is life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for attempted homosexual acts is imprisonment for 10 years. Furthermore, people convicted of homosexuality or attempted homosexuality cannot be employed in childcare facilities even after their release. Knowingly renting premises to people who wish to engage in homosexual acts on such premises is punishable by imprisonment for 10 years. The maximum penalty for promoting homosexuality is imprisonment for 10 years. Purporting to contract a same-sex marriage, as well as knowingly attending a purported same-sex marriage ceremony, would also result in imprisonment for up to 10 years (Atuhaire, 2023).

Moreover, the bill would make it a crime to “promote” homosexuality, which could include anything from expressing support for LGBTQ+ rights to providing health care services to members of the community. This provision would have far-reaching implications, as it would effectively criminalize the work of LGBTQ+ organizations and healthcare providers who offer critical services to a marginalized community (Human Rights Watch, 2023).

The bill also contains a provision that would require individuals to report any knowledge of homosexual activity or risk facing imprisonment for up to six months. This requirement would apply to a wide range of individuals, including doctors, teachers, and parents, and could create a culture of suspicion and fear that would make it even more difficult for LGBTQ+ individuals to seek out support and care (Shaw, 2023).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has called the bill “devastating and deeply disturbing” and urged President Museveni not to sign it into law. In a statement, Türk said that the adoption of such a discriminatory bill was a “deeply troubling development” and warned that it would have far-reaching consequences for human rights and the rule of law in Uganda (Muhumuza, 2023; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2023).

What is the law based on?

The 2023 Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda aims to “protect the traditional family” through measures that, according to the bill, strengthen the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional, heterosexual family (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Literature evaluating the effects of changes in legal recognition of same-sex couples on heterosexual marriage in the U.S. found that same-sex marriage had no meaningful effect on individuals in different-sex households (Shaw, 2023). Additionally, studies from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and the Netherlands have shown that extending relationship recognition to same-sex couples had no obvious impact on the marriage rates or divorce rates of different-sex couples (Shaw, 2023).

In Uganda, there has often been a notion that homosexuality makes children and youth vulnerable to sexual abuse. Research suggests that most pedophiles who prey upon young people identify as heterosexual, and their victims are more likely to be female (BBC News, 2023). Moreover, research has found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as well-adjusted psychologically, emotionally, and socially as children raised by heterosexual parents (Human Rights Watch, 2023; Shaw, 2023). The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Sociological Association both agree that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by different-sex parents (Shaw, 2023).

Another major notion fundamentally assumed by the bill is that same-sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic. While there is little consensus on the exact reasons why an individual has a heterosexual or homosexual orientation, current scientific and professional consensus reflects the understanding that homosexuality is not a choice, but rather a complex interplay of genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural factors (Shaw, 2023). Therefore, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s recognition that same-sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic is not supported by scientific research.

The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a deeply concerning piece of legislation that represents a significant setback for human rights and the rule of law in Uganda (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Its provisions have now criminalized same-sex relationships and identities, stigmatized LGBTQ+ individuals, and created a culture of fear and suspicion that are already making it difficult for individuals across the country to seek out care.

International condemnation of the bill has been swift and unequivocal, with human rights organizations and governments around the world calling on Uganda to abandon the legislation (Al Jazeera, 2014; Muhumuza, 2023; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2023; Stout, 2023). Ultimately, these efforts were not successful as the bill was signed into law.

Conclusion

The anti-homosexuality law in Uganda will have devastating effects on the LGBTQ+ community, with individuals facing persecution, violence, and even death (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Frank Mugisha, Uganda’s most prominent LGBTQ+ rights activist, has experienced firsthand the dangers of being openly gay in Uganda. He explains, “The Ugandan population has been radicalised to fear and hate homosexuals” (Reuters, 2023). This anti-gay sentiment has been fanned by politicians and religious organizations, culminating in the passage of a bill that would criminalize even identifying as LGBTQ+ (Atuhaire, 2023). The bill, which Mugisha fears will be signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, would punish the “promotion” of homosexuality with up to 20 years in prison and impose the death penalty for so-called aggravated homosexuality, including having gay sex while HIV-positive (Atuhaire, 2023; Human Rights Watch, 2023).

Mugisha has received numerous death threats and has even had a colleague and friend, David Kato, bludgeoned to death in 2011 (Al Jazeera, 2014). Mugisha refuses to back down despite the dangers he faces, saying, “I guess I am going to be in trouble a lot because I am not going to stop” (Reuters, 2023). He feels a sense of obligation to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans, many of whom have fled the country or their homes for safe houses since the bill was passed (Reuters, 2023). Mugisha believes that the anti-gay sentiment is not Ugandan but is Western in nature, citing that homosexuality was first outlawed under British colonial rule and that Ugandan individuals were initially wary of homosexuality but did not have the intent to harm homosexual individuals under the full force of the law (Reuters, 2023).

Mugisha’s story highlights the immense bravery and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, who continue to fight for their rights despite facing immense persecution. As he explains, “Looking at this legislation, I do not think it will survive” (Reuters, 2023). We must support the efforts of activists like Mugisha and stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda and around the world, fighting against discrimination and hate.


Works Cited

Uganda: New anti-gay bill further threatens rights. Human Rights Watch. (2023, March 9). Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/03/09/uganda-new-anti-gay-bill-further-threatens-rights

Al Jazeera. (2014, June 20). Uganda Aid Cut over anti-gay law. News | Al Jazeera. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2014/6/20/us-cuts-aid-to-uganda-over-anti-gay-law

Atuhaire, P. (2023, March 22). Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Life in prison for saying you’re gay. BBC News. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-65034343

Muhumuza, R. (2023, March 22). Un rights chief calls Uganda anti-gay Bill ‘deeply troubling’. PBS. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/un-rights-chief-calls-uganda-anti-gay-bill-deeply-troubling

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2023, March 22). Uganda: Türk urges president not to sign shocking anti-homosexuality Bill. United Nations. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/03/uganda-turk-urges president-not-sign-shocking-anti-homosexuality-bill

Reuters. (2023, April 13). Ugandan LGBTQ activist readies for the fight of his life. Reuters. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ugandan-lgbtq-activist-readies-fight-his-life-2023-04-13/

Stout, N. (2023, March 22). White House threatens to pull aid to Uganda over anti-LGBTQ bill. Courthouse News Service. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.courthousenews.com/white-house-threatens-to-pull-aid-to-uganda-over-anti-lgbtq-bill/

Shaw, A. (2023, April 5). Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2023. Williams Institute. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/uganda-anti-homosexuality-2023/

Dehumanization: Archaic Immigration Policies Against Individuals with Disabilities

by Shiva Ivaturi


Introduction

Discrimination against individuals with disabilities is one of the most invisible forms of discrimination and takes place across societies, particularly countries that have publicly advocated for how open and transparent their immigration policies are. When learning about cruel injustices where families have been torn apart and individuals that are valuable, contributing members of society have faced the threat of deportation based on health, the same countries that are touted as progressive emblems for healthcare equity have significant room to
improve. I have highlighted cases in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to outline not only how outdated these immigration policies are, but how they fundamentally digress from the more equitable path that society is emphasizing in healthcare today yet are still being implemented.

New Zealand

Just last year in 2022, in New Zealand, a 12-year-old autistic girl from the Philippines was barred from moving to the country with her parents because of immigration policies that reject people with disabilities or illnesses that may present a high cost to the health system (McClure, 2022). The country sets a limit on an immigrant’s cost to the health system and excludes people with a number of “high-cost” conditions, including physical disability, intellectual disability, autistic spectrum disorders, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and cancers (McClure, 2022). Arianna’s applications to come to New Zealand have been denied thus far, leaving her in the Philippines for the past six years while her parents have lived in New Zealand (McClure, 2022). The case is one of hundreds rejected under New Zealand’s rules. Juliana Carvalho was initially rejected on similar grounds in New Zealand, citing her lupus and paraplegia as concerns to the health care system (McClure, 2022). Carvalho spent seven years challenging the decision, and while the government granted her an exception to be able to stay in the country, there was no fundamental decision to eradicate the policy that resulted in this discrimination taking place to begin with.

Canada

In Canada, a policy known as “medical inadmissibility” due to excessive demand allows the government to deny residency to an entire family if even one person in the group has a disability or medical condition that could place “excessive demand” on Canada’s publicly funded health
and social service systems (Blackwell, 2015). In 2015, Asmeeta Burra, a physician in South Africa, and her architect husband had applied to be permanent residents in Canada, planning to settle in British Columbia. However, her son’s autism triggered a medical assessment that concluded the cost of special education for the boy would total about $16,000 a year, which exceeds the annually adjusted average social and medical cost for Canadians, currently about $6,300 (Blackwell, 2015). Immigration officials rejected Dr. Burra’s submission, which led to the denial of the family’s application (Blackwell, 2015). The Canadian government has since made some changes to its immigration rules in 2018, including amending the definition of social services and increasing the cost threshold at which an application for permanent residency can be denied on medical grounds (Fries, 2019). The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has called for the full repeal of the medical inadmissibility regulations, which it sees as discriminatory (Fries, 2019). Moreover, the revised rules have been labeled as only “timid moves” by some activists, such as James Hicks, the national director of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (Fries, 2019).

Australia
Seongjae was born in Australia and has lived there his whole life, but his family’s application for permanent residency under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme was rejected in July 2021 due to Seongjae’s medical issues (Chapman, 2022). He lost his hearing when he was two years
old and was diagnosed with autism at two-and-a-half. Although he regained his hearing after ear surgery at age four, the government still deemed him a burden on taxpayers and a threat to public health and safety (Chapman, 2022). Unfortunately, the case of Seongjae is not unique. In 2015,
Maria Sevilla, a nurse who had lived in Townsville, Queensland for eight years, had her skilled visa rejected because her ten-year-old son Tyrone was diagnosed with autism. The government eventually intervened to grant her son a permanent visa, but the migration regulations remained in place (Chapman, 2022). The National Ethnic Disability Alliance reported in 2018 that it saw 10 to 15 cases of families facing deportation every year due to these health requirements, but there are potentially many more (Chapman, 2022). A 2010 parliamentary inquiry that found the health requirement discriminatory to people with disabilities and in need of urgent reform (Truu, 2019). Dr Abdi, an officer at the Ethnic Disability Advocacy Centre in Western Australia, believes the health requirement is a “punishment for a person with a disability” and their family. The health requirement does not consider an applicant’s potential contributions to society (Truu, 2019).

Conclusion

These cases demonstrate the discriminatory policies and practices of countries that prioritize cost savings over the lives and wellbeing of people with disabilities and medical conditions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes the inherent dignity of all persons with disabilities and promotes their full and equal participation in society. It also emphasizes that persons with disabilities should not be discriminated against based on their disability, including in the provision of healthcare and social services. Countries like New Zealand, Canada, and Australia are obligated to uphold the principles of the CRPD and ensure that individuals with disabilities and medical conditions are not discriminated against in the immigration process. The policies and practices of these countries must be reformed to remove the discriminatory barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities and medical conditions from accessing care as well as the right to work and live in a place.

In conclusion, the cases of Arianna, Juliana, Asmeeta, Seongjae, and others highlight the urgent need for reform in immigration policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities and medical conditions. These policies and practices violate the principles of the CRPD and
perpetuate systemic discrimination against people with disabilities. It is imperative that governments take action to reform their immigration policies and ensure that all individuals are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.


Works Cited

Blackwell, T. (2015, January 12). South African doctor’s immigration bid rejected because her autistic … National Post. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/judge-upholds-decision-denying-entry-to-south-african-
doctor-because-her-autistic-child-would-cost-taxpayers-too-much

Chapman, E. (2022, December 29). Australia: Korean family threatened with deportation because son has autism. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/12/30/azkd-d30.html

Fries, K. (2019, April 19). How we can make the world a better place for immigrants with disabilities. Quartz. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://qz.com/1600200/why-disabled-
immigrants-are-one-of-the-most-invisible-populations

McClure, T. (2022, April 26). New Zealand denies entry to autistic daughter of immigrant couple. The Guardian. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/26/new-zealand-denies-entry-to-autistic-daughter-of-immigrant-couple

Truu, M. (2019, May 16). More than 15 families a year face deportation because of one relative’s disabilities. SBS News. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/more-than-15-families-a-year-face-deportation-because-of-one-relatives-disabilities/v77mmuvyt

FAST-TRACKING DISASTER: Industry Regulation and Environmental Disaster-Making in East Palestine, Ohio

by Emma Celeste Thornley

On February 3rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed by East Palestine, Ohio (Ebrahimji and Yan, 2023). 38 of its cargo-hauling cars jumped the rails, scattering its hazardous contents into the earth, air and groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would respond within a day; the Ohio National Guard would mobilize a day after that. By February 8th, the initial evacuation order issued to East Palestine and the immediate area would be lifted (Ebrahimji and Yan, 2023). As of March 17th, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine maintains that East Palestine is safe for inhabitation (Keller, 2023). Locals and EPA representatives disagree. Carcinogenic dioxides still permeate the earth by the initial spill sites at a density 100 times the legal limit (Perkins, 2023); 4.85 million gallons of toxic wastewater have been extracted from broader East Palestine in the month since the initial spill (Government of Ohio, 2023). Activists like Erin Brockovich, who previously uncovered a massive corporate coverup of water poisoning during her tenure as a paralegal at a law firm (Brokovich, 2023), warned that coverups and late-blooming dangers are likely to threaten the health of locals for years (Flesher, 2023).

Disasters like these are far from uncommon in the United States. The first seven weeks of 2023 saw 30 incidents reported by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters. The EPA performs, on average, 235 individual emergency responses to chemical spills a year (Gillam, 2023). Averaged out, across the United States, a chemical spill occurs once every two days (Bennett, 2023). Every spill, regardless of size or chemical composition, is dangerous. Injury and illness resulting from exposure can incite chronic or acute consequences (Gillam, 2023). In East Palestine, residents were flooded with vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, isobutylene ethylene glycol and ethylhexyl acrylate (Chow and Abou-Sabe). Vinyl Chloride is a colourless, flammable, carcinogenic gas that causes a range of neurological symptoms in those exposed. Butyl acrylate is similarly irritating, and triggers rashes and respiratory complications. The effects of long-term exposure to any one of these chemicals is unknown, let alone multiple (Chow and Abou-Sade, 2023). The issues emerging from this chemical spill will be further compounded by the EPA’s recent performance decrease, triggered in large part by budget slashes (Beitsch and Frazin, 2023).

Amnesty International has held that humans have a right to a safe environment (Amnesty International 2022). While often couched in climate change rhetoric, it is equally applicable to toxic exposure. It is well established that racialized and impoverished communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards (Johnston and Cushing, 2020) akin to the East Palestine spill. In recent memory, the predominantly Black communities of Flint, Michigan (Almasy and Ly, 2017) and Hayneville, Alabama (Alcindor, 2022) were respectively victimized by gross state misconduct in the wake of environmental contamination. In both cases, the contamination was preventable. Flint’s water-pipes were a known lead hazard (Almasy and Ly, 2017); Hayneville’s sewage systems were improperly operated (Alcindor, 2022). The case of East Palestine may seem, on its face, equally tragic but comparatively less insidious. Train derailments are accidents, not state failures. East Palestine is predominately white and conservative. As the state’s failures to respond to the EasPalestine crisis mounted, Trump’s campaign utilized East Palestine’s demographics to accuse the present administration of “woke” virtue signalling (Pilkington, 2023).

In reality, Trump’s administration tabled policy exposing countless locales to industrial disaster, and all American citizens in marginalized social groups are resultantly at risk of similar disasters. The EPA’s 2020 budget reduction was executed by Trump; the already overwhelmed federal branch lost about half of its funding (Beitsch and Frazin, 2023). This drastic rollback on government funding to emergency response and toxic waste management research was further compounded by the former administration’s proverbial derailing of train safety regulations (Levin, 2023). The federal regulations expunged from practice included reducing braking system standards and safety audits of railroads (Levin, 2023). While preliminary reports suggest the East Palestine derailment was not a direct result of Trump’s regulation policy (Kessler, 2023), it is a warning as to what disasters may loom on the American horizon. In cases where the disaster releases toxic chemicals into the environment, as was the case in East Palestine, the legacy of Trump’s rollbacks may have catastrophic consequences. A grand total of 100 environmental rules were repealed, designed to protect American air, drinking water, wildlife and urban infrastructure (Popovich, Albeck-Ripka and Pierre-Louis, 2021). The EPA is subsequently facing stacking disasters with only a fraction of its resources.

Political science scholarship has long held that natural disasters are made by the state (O’Lear, 2022). Food shortages are exacerbated by global food systems into famines (International Rescue Committee, 2022); storms like Hurricane Katrina turn to deadly floods when institutions fail to maintain storm levees (Pruitt, 2020). Our human rights to life, security of person and adequate standard of living are increasingly consolidating with labour and environmental rights. When states fail to recognize the overlap between these spheres of human life, or otherwise ignore them for profit margins, disastrous consequences emerge. The circumstances surrounding East Palestine’s spill are a stark reminder that attaining any one of these rights is contingent upon pursuit of the others.

Works Cited

Alcindor, Y. (n.d.) In rural Alabama, raw sewage spurs investigation into racial inequality. NBC. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/rural-alabama-raw-sewage-spurs-investigation-racial-inequality-rcna25475

Almasy, S. and Ly, L. (2017, February 18) Flint water crisis: Report says ‘systemic racism’ played role. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/18/politics/flint-water-report-systemic-racism/index.html

Amnesty International (2022, July 27) Time to recognize that a safe environment is a human right. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/time-to-recognize-that-a-safe-environment-is-a-human-right/

Bennett, P. (2023, February 28) U.S. Averages One Chemical Accident Every Two Days, Analysis Finds. Eco Watch. https://www.ecowatch.com/chemical-accident-frequency-us.html

Brokovich, E. (2022) My Story. https://www.brockovich.com/my-story/

Ibrahimji, A. And Yan, H. (2023, March 10) It’s been more than a month since a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in Ohio. Here’s what’s happened since. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/23/us/east-palestine-ohio-train-derailment-timeline/index.html

Flesher, J. (2023, March 11) ‘We don’t feel safe anymore.’ Trauma, health concerns remain after Ohio derailment. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/we-dont-feel-safe-anymore-trauma-health-concerns-remain-after-ohio-derailment

Governor of Ohio (2023, March 10) East Palestine Update – 3/10/23. https://
governor.ohio.gov/media/news-and-media/east-palestine-update-3-10-23-03102023#:~:text=Hazardous%20Waste%20Removal,of%20through%20deep%20well%20injection.

International Rescue Committee (2022, August 24) What is famine? How it’s caused and how to stop it. https://www.rescue.org/article/what-famine-how-its-caused-and-how-stop-it#:~:text=Famines%20are%20caused%20by%20multiple,of%20action%20to%20prevent%20it.

Johnston J, Cushing L. Chemical Exposures, Health, and Environmental Justice in Communities Living on the Fenceline of Industry. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2020 Mar;7(1):48-57. doi: 10.1007/s40572-020-00263-8. PMID: 31970715; PMCID: PMC7035204.

Keller, A. (2023, February 18) Gov. DeWine reiterates air and water are safe in East Palestine. Spectrum News.https://spectrumnews1.com/oh/columbus/news/2023/02/18/the-ohio-department-of-health-helps-east-palestine-move-forward-with-clinic

Kessler, G. (2023, February 27) So far, Trump’s rollback of regulations can’t be blamed for Ohio train wreck. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/02/27/so-far-trumps-rollback-regulations-cant-be-blamed-ohio-train-wreck/

Levin, B. (2023, February 22) TRUMP FORGETS TO MENTION THE TRAIN SAFETY REGULATIONS HE GUTTED DURING VISIT TO EAST PALESTINE, OHIO. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/02/donald-trump-east-palestine-ohio-train

O’Lear, S., Masse, F., Dickinson, H., & Duffy, R. (2022). Disaster making in the
Capitalocene. Global Environmental Politics, 22(3), 2-11. https://muse-jhu-
edu.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/article/861825

Perkins, T. (2023, March 17) Levels of carcinogenic chemical near Ohio derailment site far above safe limit. TheGuardian.https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/17/norfolk-southern-derailment-east-palestine-ohio-carcinogenic-chemical-levels

Pruitt, S. (2020, August 27) How Levee Failures Made Hurricane Katrina a Bigger Disaster. History. https://www.history.com/news/hurricane-katrina-levee-failures

Megan Thee Stallion v Tory Lanez: Dehumanizing Black Women to Justify Violence and Victim-Blaming

by Jasmin L.K. Smith

Black women are the least protected group, I would argue, in the world. They are expected to be strong caretakers, and many view them through a lens of strength and survival through hardship. The latter, however positive, is more regressive than progressive, since it creates an idea that Black women should be viewed as a one-dimensional monolith. 

Black women have been discriminated against for centuries, not only by the misogynistic and racist outsiders within society, but in their own community, suffering at the hands of Black men and those that have more privileges than them due to lighter complexions. Black women are less likely to be attended to in hospitals, they are more likely to be viewed as aggressive and angry, and, most pressingly, they are less likely to be believed when they come out as victims.

On the night of the shooting between Tory Lanez and Megan Thee Stallion, I was involved in a groupchat of nearly 100 black women that were attending the same university as I had been. Within minutes the groupchat had gone from a simmer to a full-on kitchen fire, everyone sending details of what had happened and what the news had been saying. Over the following weeks, when discussing the case, our topics strayed away from Megan herself in favour of addressing the responses to her victimhood. Megan, a dark-skin Black woman, was called a cockroach, online personalities began to speculate that she was a man, and others simply said that she had made it all up. The responses were disgusting and abundant, and many of us in the groupchat were exposed to the true colours of our peers and loved ones; nobody was defending Megan like they had when white women cried ‘MeToo’, nobody was sympathizing with the pain that she must have felt, and she had been stripped of her identity in favour of people referring to her as a caricature. 

Black Women as Caricatures

In slavery-era minstrel shows, white people would portray Black women as one of two stereotypes: the Mammy, or the Jezebel. The Mammy is a character that possesses no personal life of her own, sacrificing everything to take care of a white family’s home or children, and she was supposed to be grateful for the space and privileges granted to her by the family that she ‘worked for’. A modern example of this caricature would be Viola Davis’ role in The Help, a film that, rather than focusing on the complex relationships of Black caretakers and the children that they watched over in the early 20th century, told the story of a white savior that ‘felt terrible’ for what she had to witness. The image of Aunt Jemima is also an example of the Mammy in popular culture, an image, and a false story, that was only changed after outrage in 2021 (Diaz).

During slavery, it was not rare for white women to express jealousy towards the slave women that would be sexually assaulted at the hand of white slave masters. This was not romance, yet it was interpreted as such by wives that longed for the attention of their husbands. The caricature of the Jezebel originated from such circumstances as these. White women believed that their husbands had been seduced by Black women and their sexuality, thus leading them to be victims of sexual assault. This, of course, is not the truth, and Black women suffered overwhelming abuses from slave owners, which is not reflected in the Jezebel stereotype. The Jezebel’s only influence is her body, which she offers in exchange for something that she desires, and though it is no longer common in media, the Jezebel caricature has left lasting traces in Hollywood films and series.

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the caricature of the Sapphire rose to prominence, and the public believed this to be a true representation of Black women. The sapphire is the stereotypical ‘sassy Black woman’, she is loud, overbeating, hard-headed, and rude, and has directly contributed to the stereotype of Black women being angry and aggressive. The Sapphire is the ‘Angry Black Women’ that the public is regularly exposed to, and she is masculinized by portraying her as the dominant person in her relationships. The most common caricature of Black women in modern media is the Strong Black Women, also a product of the usage of the Sapphire stereotype. The Strong Black Women is a two-dimensional, emotionally incompetent character that very rarely gets to express an emotion aside from determination.

With a handful of ways to portray Black women, “the audience, and the creators alike, are going to constantly think that [they] have represented Black women in the way they are. When really, they have represented the same racist caricature over and over” (3:38 Al Jazeera). Having played the role of another Black woman stereotype, the Welfare Queen, Babirye Bukilwa sees herself as having been complicit in propaganda targeting Black women (Al Jazeera 6:40). 

These stereotypes, even when put together, do not create a real character with personality and understandable motivations. None of these stereotypes or caricatures will ever be honest to the experience of Black women, because they lack depth and dimensionality. While there have been a few shows in recent years that have come out with honest stories about Black women, like Scandal, Insecure, and The Photograph, the startling lack of colour in media production has kept century-old stereotypes and caricatures alive, and these caricatures and stereotypes continue to thrive and work themselves into public opinions. 

Defeminizing Black Women

Michelle Obama is successful, her birth name must be Michael; Francine Niyonsaba has a hormonal disorder, she must be competing as a woman to cheat her way to a gold medal; Megan Thee Stallion has taken agency and embraced her own sexuality, she must be .Marcus Thee Stallion’. Do you recognize a pattern? Successful, dominant Black women are constantly torn down and defeminized, and Black women that identify with traditionally masculine traits are rumored by the masses to be men themselves.

The defeminization of Black women began, again, with minstrel shows and slavery. When Black women were stripped of their agency, or when they were only portrayed as being voiceless, or mothering, their ability to embrace their own sexualities ceased to exist. Black women, in the sense of the Mammy trope, were seen as being nurturing, without desire for anything themselves. At the same time, the only sexual experiences of Black women in slavery were those defined by their slave masters, creating a culture that connected victimhood and sexuality when examining relationships of Black women. 

Non-Black society has attributed masculinity as a whole to Black communities. They attribute perceived hypermasculine traits, such as violence and likelihood to commit a crime, to Black men, and both Black men and Women suffer as a result. Black men are more likely to be targeted by police violence, while Black women must suffer as they must prove themselves as being feminine beings to those around them. The default for femininity is the white damsel in distress, a character like Snow White, thus assuming Black women to lack femininity since they lack a light complexion (Blake). Even men in the Black community portray and discuss Black women as if they are lesser than because they have dark skin or because they have been brainwashed by the stereotypes of white society. 

Misogynoir

During the Womanism Movement in the 60s and 70s, Black women coined the word ‘misogynoir’ to encompass the extremely specific circumstances of which they are discriminated against. ‘Misogynoir’ is a word that not only captures the racism and misogyny that Black women endure at the hands of society as a whole, but also addresses, arguably, the biggest perpetrating group of stereotypes against Black women, Black men. 

Issues faced by Black women are usually not as bothersome to Black men as they should be. In Why Are Black Men So Quiet About the Things That Matter to Black Women?, Allison Wiltz talks about Black conservatism and how it directly affects Black women. Black conservative men have, for decades, described abortion as being a tool for Black genocide, however, they do not speak on the fact that Black women are more than three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women (Wiltz). Often times, these same men claim that Black women are living off of welfare or cheating the system, but they never bother to comment on wage disparities between Black men and Black women, or even Black women and White women. 

In recent years, books like Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall have addressed the way that ‘ratchet’/’hood’ women are viewed as ‘ghetto’ or ‘uneducated’. Books such as these suggest that Black men view Black women as being less than white women because they have chosen to use AAVE, or because they wear certain clothes. These mentalities and styles invented by Black women often end up in mainstream media, by which point they are deemed as being socially acceptable while Black women are still being labeled as ‘ghetto’ for trendsetting. 

Black men have, in the past, picked up many of the stereotypes towards Black women that have been created by non-Black communities. Rather than speaking out against them, many Black men have, instead, chosen disbelief or complacency in order to advance in life.

In one apology addressed to Megan, a Black man said that he initially could not believe it, and that is why he chose to be hateful towards her. The “everyday violence that [Black women] deal with“sounds so crazy”as to be met with incredulity,” but this is the type of violence that they are faced with everyday of their lives, including from their very own community (Lane 295).

Parasociality

The Oxford English Dictionary defines parasociality as “Designating a relationship characterized by the one-sided, unreciprocated sense of intimacy felt by a viewer, fan, or follower for a well-known or prominent figure” (“Parasocial” O.E.D). In other words, a parasocial relationship is one in which a fan believes that they have a realistic, everyday relationship with a celebrity or creator because of the accessibility of their content. 

Parasocial relationships can be dangerous, as the person that perceives a parasocial relationship may defend the celebrity, creator, or character, as if they are a friend, and they are unable to decipher that their relationship is one-sided. In a study published in Psychology and Marketing, Siyoung Chung and her team discovered that, the more a celebrity tweeted or interacted with fans online, the more likely they were to be endorsed by their audience (Chung). Not only is this excellent branding, creating falsified, and seemingly personal connections with an audience, allowing for significantly more successful marketing, but it is also a wonderful PR tool.

When celebrities with large, parasocial audiences get into scandals, any bad publicity can be easily overshadowed by their fanbase spreading other information, or simply polluting related hashtags with unrelated events/media. For Tory Lanez, his parasocial audience mixed with racism, misogyny, and misogynoir from members of the Black community, created a perfect storm to distract from Megan’s retelling of the events. Rather than finding conversations about what happened on the night of the shooting, or seeing evidence on your timeline, it is much more common to come across tweets calling Megan a liar, or claiming her to be a man.

So What?

In the midst of her trauma, Megan Thee Stallion was forced to relentlessly explain herself, blame and insults being spewed on every platform. At the time of the shooting, it is reported that she lied to a police officer regarding what had happened. Many ridiculed her for this decision, overlooking the historic relationship between Black men and police departments, especially in the United States. Others called her a snitch for saying anything at all, “as if she were involved with some crime ring with Tory Lanez” (The Takeaway 4:45). Megan, like other Black women, could not win, and this trial has grown to be as much of a minstrel show as the ones that took place 100 years ago. If Megan is a Sapphire, she can’t feel pain, right? If she is a Strong Black Woman, then she must not be a victim. 

If you have gotten this far, and you feel anger towards my defense of Megan Thee Stallion, towards my defense of Black women as a whole, let me remind you: Tory Lanez is not your friend. Why are you defending him? Why are Black women stripped of any talents and education, viewed as even subhuman, once they reach fame? Why must Black women suffer no matter their position in life?

This trial is about Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez, but it has never been solely about Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez. This trial is about society and Black women, about Black men and Black women, this trial is about Black Women and pain. Nobody believes Black women, because society, including Black men, do not view them as people. If Black women are supposed to be protectors, who will protect them?

Works Cited

Al Jazeera. “Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire: Stereotyping Black women in media | The Listening Post (Feature).” Youtube, uploaded by Al Jazeera English, 26 July 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2teqoyPe3TU&ab_channel=AlJazeeraEnglish.

Blake, Arana. The Masculinization of Black Women. Nubian Message, 14 April 2022, https://www.thenubianmessage.com/2022/04/14/the-masculinization-of-black-women/.

Chung, Sarah., & Cho, Hichang. “Fostering Parasocial Relationships with Celebrities on Social Media: Implications for Celebrity Endorsement.” Psychology and Marketing, 34(4), 481-495,  https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21001.

.Diaz, Jaclyn. Aunt Jemima No More; Pancake Brand Renamed Pearl Milling Company. NPR, 10 February 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/02/10/966166648/aunt-jemima-no-more-pancake-brand-renamed-pearl-milling-company.

Jim Crow Museum. The Sapphire Caricature. Ferris State University, 2023, https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/antiblack/sapphire.htm.

Lane, Nikki. “Ratchet Black Lives Matter: Megan Thee Stallion, Intra-Racial Violence, and the Elusion of Grief.” Linguistic Anthropology, 31, 293-297, August 2021, https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jola.12323.

“Parasocial, adj.” OED Online, Oxford UP, 30 March 2022, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/99961331?redirectedFrom=parasocial#eid.

Wiltz, Allison. Why Are Black Men So Quiet About the Things That Matter to Black Women?. Zora, 3 March 2022, https://zora.medium.com/why-are-black-men-so-quiet-about-the-things-that-matter-to-black-women-a8a5a865ec35.

Vega, Tanzia. “Megan Thee Stallion and Misogynoir in the Music Industry.” New York Public Radio, uploaded by The Takeaway, 31 August 2020, https://www.proquest.com/docview/2731268096?accountid=14771&parentSessionId=2YDtk50apX1Ex6Vp%2BiEgCQaImk5TT6JR8lJQanuITJQ%3D&parentSessionId=Q4gzv5f48uqTqetjiEQTYWS5JbSyG3BbLCKXgUIib0k%3D.

“Humanitarian Exceptionalism” and the Failure of Imagination in the Progress of Human Rights in Canada

by Hero Aiken

In their book, Refugee States: Critical Refugee Studies in Canada, Vinh Nguyen and Thy Phu describe the concept of Canadian “humanitarian exceptionalism” in some detail. They describe it as “a belief that what sets Canada apart from the US and other nation-states is its distinct benevolence and commitment to human rights” (Nguyen and Phu, 3). As a result of this belief, Canadians may think themselves morally superior to inhabitants of other nations, especially the United States. In fact, a 2016 survey from the Angus Reid institute found that only 15% of Canadians considered the United States to be a “caring society” (Canada Guide). In other words, it seems clear that Canadian society both prides itself on its perceived humanitarian excellence, while also defining itself through its ethical superiority in comparison to other nations. This means that Canadian society, as well as individual Canadians, may feel less pressure or duty to investigate the human rights conditions in our own country and brought about by our government’s policies. “As long as we aren’t as ‘bad’ as the United States”, we reason, “can we really be all that ‘bad’”?


I would argue that this is not only lazy but an irresponsible and dangerous view to take on the protection of human rights in Canada. Why, if we view the United States to be so thoroughly disrespectful of human rights, can we not imagine an instance in which we might surpass their moral standards, but still fail to demonstrate humanitarian efforts of which we can be proud? Surely, if Canadians can so unanimously condemn the human rights violations which we have recently witnessed in the United States, we can muster a more rigorous and objective scale with which to measure our own actions. Unfortunately, the abdication of moral appraisal in favour of an assumed humanitarian supremacy over a handful of conveniently placed international rivals cannot be seen as anything other than a failure in the advancement of universal human rights.


Last year, while writing for Amnesty International U of T’s Candlelight blog, I submitted a piece highlighting the discrepancies between Canada’s benevolent image on the international scene and the difficult realities faced by its unhoused population. This year, I’d like to elaborate on this same theme while turning my attention towards the plight of refugees seeking asylum in Canada. This in the context of the trap set by the idea of “humanitarian exceptionalism”.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s infamous policies regarding the treatment of refugees or migrants seeking entrance into the United States, it perhaps became easier in recent years for Canadians to ignore the mistreatment of refugees by our own government. In a joint report released on World Refugee Day in 2021, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch declared that “Canada incarcerates thousands of people, including those with disabilities, on immigration-related ground every year in often abusive conditions” (Human Rights Watch). However, when
compared to the more conspicuous abuses carried out by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agents during President Trump’s tenure, Canada’s mistreatment of immigrants and refugees has tended to fade into the background of our national consciousness. In 2017, Reuters reported that the Trump administration was considering the separation of Mexican children from their mothers upon “illegally” crossing the border into the United States (Reuters). The following year, the United States Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) publicly admitted for the first time to having separated 2 000 children from their parents as they
crossed the border into the United States from Mexico (CNN). Faced with this abhorrent example of human rights abuse, it became easy for Canadians to cease the examination of our own systemic mistreatment of immigrants and refugees. I would argue that much of the energy which would have previously been spent on the promotion of the amelioration of Canada’s humanitarian measures in these areas instead became focused on the derision of the United States’ methods. This is clearly detrimental to the progress of human rights in Canada, and is also only one example among many. As long as Canada continues to measure the morality of our humanitarian efforts in relation to the often gross human rights abuses levied by American institutions, we will be wasting energy and resources which could be better spent on the questioning and bettering of our own systems.

Finally, I would indicate that this is not an outright condemnation of Canada’s efforts in the realm of human rights. According to the Fraser Institute’s 2022 Human Rights Index, Canada ranks 13th highest among the nations of the world (Fraser Institute). This is above the United States, and other wealthy nations such as the United Kingdom and France. Instead, this article is meant to denounce the idea that human rights efforts can be reduced to the ways in which they compare to each other. Human rights efforts, whether they concern the treatment of vulnerable populations such as the unhoused and those seeking asylum as refugees, or whether they concern the status of marginalized populations such as racial or sexual
minorities, are inherently indicative of the ways in which we value the lives of our fellow humans. Is this pursuit not worthy of being measured in ways which transcend the petty temptation to comparison? If Canada wants to build a nation truly worthy of being deemed “exceptional” for its humanitarian pursuits, we ought to create an independent standard by which to measure our human rights efforts. If we seek “humanitarian exceptionalism” in the truest sense of the word, why do we lower ourselves to the standards of those nations we so readily condemn? The myth of “humanitarian exceptionalism” in Canada not only spells disaster for the progress of human rights in Canada, it also demonstrates a lack of imagination and belief in the true humanitarian potential of our nation.

Works Cited


Ainsley, Julia Edwards. “Exclusive: Trump Administration Considering
Separating Women, Children at Mexico Border.” Reuters, Thomson
Reuters, 3 Mar. 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children-idUSKBN16A2ES.

“Anti-Americanism.” The Canada Guide, 17 Nov. 2020, https://thecanadaguide.com/culture/anti-americanism/.


“Canada: Abuse, Discrimination in Immigration Detention.” Human Rights
Watch
, 20 July 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/17/canada-abuse-
discrimination-immigration-detention.


“Family Separation – a Timeline.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.splcenter.org/news/2022/03/23/family-separation-timeline#2017.

“Human Freedom Index 2022.” Fraser Institute, 26 Jan. 2023,
https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/human-freedom-index-2022#:~:tex
t=Selected%20jurisdictions%20rank%20as%20follows,)%2C%20China
%20(152)%2C.

Kopan, Tal. “DHS: 2,000 Children Separated from Parents at Border | CNN
Politics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 June 2018,
https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/15/politics/dhs-family-separation-numbers/
index.html.

Nguyen, Vinh and Thy Phu. Refugee States: Critical Refugee Studies in
Canada
. University of Toronto Press, 2021.