Says image “an extension of the … legacy surrounding people of color—particularly young men—being portrayed as violent”
“Microagression” is the latest craze in racial grievance, something we highlighted when a UCLA professor was accused of the transgression for correcting grammar on minority students’ papers.
The fake scenario of Obama kicking open a door after a press conference went viral after Jay Leno showed it on the Tonight Show.
It obviously was fake, but took on a life of its own on the internet, causing Snopes to issue a False rating and a video comparing the original and edited versions.
It also spawned a .gif of the key moment.
All fairly light-hearted humor.
Brian Farnan, Vice President for Internal Affairs at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) in Canada thought it was funny too, and circulated the .gif as part of a weekly mailing.
That got him in trouble with the thought police, who filed a complaint against him with SSMU’s Equity Committee, which enforces an expansive Equity Policy banning a broad range of supposedly “oppressive” conduct.
As reported by The McGill Tribune:
On Oct. 17, Farnan sent out a weekly SSMU listerv that included a link to a .gif file of United States President Barack Obama kicking down a door, originally a clip that was manipulated and aired by The Tonight Show.
“There was a complaint issued; [and] the process was followed—the public process as equity complaints are done,” Farnan said.
According to the equity policy, a submitted complaint can undergo either an informal resolution or a formal resolution, which Farnan explained as the cause of the three-month delay between the submission of the complaint and his apology.
“When you add the informal, the formal, getting both sides to respond—each side has X amount of days—it just starts to add up,” Farnan said. “The goal is to solve it in an informal process. If it’s gone to a formal process, usually one can deduce that the informal process was not sufficient.”
Under the formal process, the complaint in question was forwarded to a SSMU equity officer, who made a recommendation upon investigation of the complaint.
“Depending on the nature and severity of the harassment, the remedies for policy violations may include, but are not limited to: letter(s) of apology, suspension of the respondent from their position within the SSMU, and […] dismissal of the respondent from their position within the SSMU,” the policy reads.
The recommendation was then brought to the confidential session of SSMU’s Dec. 5 Legislative Council meeting, where, according to the policy, it required two-thirds opposition to be overturned. Equity recommendations at this point cannot be revised.
Although the SSMU process does not appear to be public, we do know the end result, Farnan issued a public apology for engaging in microaggression (emphasis added):
“The email in question contained the phrase “Honestly midterms get out of here” followed by a URL leading to a .GIF image of President Obama violently kick a door and storming out of a room following a press conference. The inclusion of the .GIF image was intended to bring a humorous tone to the email and use President Obama’s frustration with the press conference in question to mimic the frustration students feel when confronted with midterm examinations. Despite the innocent intentions influencing my decision to use this particular image, I have come to recognize the negative implications of adding the .GIF image within this given context.
Oppression, as outlined in SSMU’s Equity Policy, means the exercise of power by a group of people over another group of people with specific consideration of cultural, historical and living legacies. The image in question was an extension of the cultural, historical and living legacy surrounding people of color—particularly young men—being portrayed as violent in contemporary culture and media. By using this particular image of President Obama, I unknowingly perpetuated this living legacy and subsequently allowed a medium of SSMU’s communication to become the site of a microaggression; for this, I am deeply sorry.”
I emailed Farnan for comment and further explanation, but have not heard back.
An officer of McGill’s Post-Graduate Student Society noted how the Equity Policy and its enforcement is based on critical race theory and turns liability into a question of the subjective feelings of recipients of speech:
The actions SSMU takes in disciplining its members are always subject to legal challenge, though courts will generally not interfere if due process is followed and decisions are unbiased. But the Equity Policy inverts the burden of proof so that accusation and subjective experience becomes a valid basis of discipline and it considers matters of identity, rather than strict evidence, in determining culpability.
In this way, the policy unknowingly subscribes to the very principles of justice that would enable oppression by a majority group to thrive by renouncing rights traditionally guaranteed to defendants to prevent unjust persecutions. It is far from certain that courts would find disciplinary decisions made under the Equity Policy to be unbiased, and the very public nature of the disciplinary action taken in this case exposes the SSMU to significant liability for violating members’ Charter right to the safeguard of their reputation.
SSMU should keep its Equity Policy and further develop those elements which aim to educate and protect members, but it must scrap the disciplinary aspects of the code. Intellectual honesty requires making a distinction between theory and fact, and fundamental norms of equity require codes of discipline to be rigorous and self-consistent.
The Equity Policy at McGill is similar to the speech codes at many U.S. universities, where what matters is the subjective offense of the complainant.
This is what happens when critical race and other theories take hold, and evidence is deemed an inconvenience.
But not all offense is treated equally. Another McGill student is offended that Farnan apologized:
Brian, your GIF didn’t offend me, your apology did. I am offended that you think I’m so shallow and high-strung that I would be offended by this.
If a few people complained to you about this, you should have simply apologized only to them if you genuinely believed the GIF was offensive.
I’m offended that SSMU spent so much time reviewing this. They spent my student fees on this when they could have looked into other things that would have actually been useful to students.
By sending the second email to the McGill community, you have not only made the majority of us face palm and be ashamed of SSMU and its equity commission, but have also detracted from the true purpose of the equity council. I am forced to question SSMU’s legitimacy and objectivity.
Quite frankly, Brian, it’s going to be difficult to ever take you or the equity commission seriously after this. It is unfortunate that SSMU wasted time investigating whether or not a GIF was offensive, because there are real issues that students face.
I wonder if that second offended student can file a complaint against the Equity Committee?