Sorry Not Sorry: Newfoundlanders and the Right to Take Offence

Last night, on Coach’s Corner, as part of the Kraft Hockeyville in St. John’s, Ron MacLean ate some seal. Don Cherry asked, jokingly, “What are you, a savage, a barbarian?” Newfoundlanders and First Nations people took offence and expressed as much on Twitter.

I don’t want to get so much into the content of Cherry’s comments. The guy has never been burdened with an abundance of intelligence. There’s also the possibility that he was trying to be ironic and it came off wrong. That happens. If he apologized and clarified, I think that’ll be the end of end.

However, what I do want to touch on his whether Newfoundlanders (I can’t really touch on First Nations, but I think it probably goes double for them) have the “right” to take offence.

Consider James McLeod‘s tweets: “Newfoundland and Labrador, I’m telling you this for your own good: Collectively, you get offended too easily” (link). After being taken to task, McLeod insisted he was “speaking as a friend.” But then he had enough and pulled the usual self-victimization card: “Awesome. Now some people are offended that I said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians get offended too easily.”

I take McLeod as an example because McLeod is a Come From Afar (CFA, also know as a “Mainlander”) working and living in St. John’s. He’s a journalist for the Telegram. This is important because Newfoundland has a precarious relationship with the rest of Canada.

In a word, Newfoundlanders have taken a lot of shit from Mainlanders. To give you a potted history, NL joined Canada in 1949. Apropos, it was on April 1st, April Fool’s day. We’ve been the buttend of many jokes ever since.

Ahh, the Newfie joke. However, some of them aren’t very funny. Like Churchill Falls, the collapse of the cod fishery and the battle for oil revenues.

The point I’m trying to make is that the jury is still out as to whether Confederation was a good idea.

For a long time, Newfoundlanders took all of this in stride. Mostly because we’ve endured an inferiority complex with Canada and didn’t have the guts to call out bigotry and bullshit. We were caricatured as a “Goofy Newfies.” A bunch of yokels who only knew how to fish, fuck, talk funny, and drink shitty rum.

That all seemed to change after Danny Williams. Not only did Williams’ premiership come at a time of unprecedented prosperity for Newfoundland, he also gave us the “right” to shoot back at CFAs. Seems like Newfoundlanders realized and took pride in the face that we have made quite the contribution to Canada, especially considering our greatest export was people and their labour. Newfoundlanders have been paving your roads, building your offices, and, most recently, extracting your oil.

Which brings me back to seals. I truly feel that Danny Williams’ appearance on CNN with Larry King and Paul McCartney arguing about the seal hunt was a watershed moment for the Newfoundland zeitgeist. For decades Newfoundlanders had been taking it on the chin over the seal hunt. Depictions of the hunt recalled Newfoundlanders’ reputation as a bunch of uncivilized neanderthals. But here was our premier, a Rhodes Scholar, taking celebrities to task for their bullshit.

Nowadays, Newfoundlanders are much less likely to take bullshit, which is what you see in regards to the backlash against Don Cherry. However, entrenched attitudes don’t change overnight. So when Mainalnders are taken to task over insensitive remarks that they’ve taken for granted for years, they get prickly.

Vis a vis, McLeod. His comments is typical of the way CFAs patronize Newfoundlanders. “Listen here, you backward folk, this is how you’re supposed to act.”

I don’t have a problem with CFAs coming to Newfoundland. Moreover, I’m very pro-immigration. I think newcomers contribute greatly to the province. And I do think Newfoundland can be too insular; we ought to be more welcoming sometimes. However, I do take issues with CFAs who come and condescend to Newfoundlanders. Leave your superiority complex at the door.

When Newfoundlanders take issue with our we are represented in mainstream culture, it has to do with something that you probably can’t appreciate or understand.

But I think this is true in all cases of subaltern cultures. Feminists and black activists are always met with resistance when they call out micro-aggressions. People don’t want to change their schema. But I think a simple, “I’m sorry,” is all that’s necessary.

Take Benedict Cumberpatch. A few weeks ago, he put his foot in his mouth by talking about “coloured actors.” He was called out for and instead of bitching and moaning about political correctness and thought police, he apologized.

Boom. Empathy. It’s that simple.

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~ by braddunne on February 8, 2015.

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