A popular beer, Albino Rhino, will shortly undergo a name change after a threat of legal action. Thus we see once again that everything, eventually, becomes its own parody. The endless refinements of human rights—once the struggle, sometimes bloody, against segregation, lynching and other hate crimes, inequality before the law, discrimination in employment and housing—have degenerated into beer label wars and manufactured outrage.
This foolishness has been going on for a while. In the forefront at the moment is Ikponwosa Ero, an albino Nigerian-Canadian, but there in the background are the Ash brothers, one of whom founded a charity called Under The Same Sun, addressing the serious, and sometimes lethal, discrimination against albinos in parts of Africa.
Nigeria has its own homegrown foundation, too. As the above illustration indicates, there are subtleties and cross-currents: to my knowledge, no one has tried to force the popular Afro-beat group Albino to change its name.
But here we are, in Canada, where no such persecution has been reported. Instead, it all comes down to individual concerns. But even individuals, presuming to speak unaccountably for an entire group, can have their effect.
If you want an object lesson in the self-pandering that has led to this travesty, you have but to read this article by longtime activist Garth Mullins. The romance of victimhood finds here its near-perfect realization. What privileged Western radical (and I am proudly one) doesn’t merely make common cause with the damned of the earth, but secretly yearns at times to join their ranks? To speak with the authority of the oppressed, to possess a truer, more authentic voice? But this temptation is to be resisted: it is a self-indulgent liberal impulse, not a revolutionary one.
Mullins, it seems, is a member of a “marginalized group.” This translates into being bullied as a kid, and having the odd hurtful comment tossed his way as an adult. But it’s enough to attain oppressed cred:
People with albinism are simply trying to have a discussion with the broader society about how we are represented. It’s the same kind of conversation about labels and stereotypes that many other marginalized groups have undertaken. We all have a right to challenge those representations - in cinema and or at the local eatery.
…Before ever meeting a person with albinism, most people have experienced hundreds of negative references to albinism in popular culture. I have become an expert at defusing and deflecting — making it into a joke before someone else gets the chance. It has the effect of setting us apart, making us “Others.”
Good grief. “Hundreds of negative references?” Is he serious?
It would seem so. He offered to be a witness at the BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing, now aborted because the bar owner caved.
It’s time to be blunt. Albinos in Canada are not oppressed as a group, any more than are the short, the tall, the thin, the fat, the smart, the stupid, the ugly and, yes, the beautiful. Bullies find their targets, and targets there are aplenty. Any difference from an imagined norm invites the ridicule and derision of the ignorant and the vicious.
But this is simply not in the same league as the collective oppression of women, or First Nations people. The social dynamics are utterly distinct. Surely I needn’t go into detail on this. Suffice it to say that Idle No More, for example, is reacting to an historically brutal state policy: Garth Mullins feels oppressed by a beer label.
Step back for a moment. What are we dealing with? A pictorial representation of an albino animal, or, more accurately, an African white rhino. Ironically, perhaps, that species of rhinoceros isn’t much different from other ones: it is distinguished, not by its colour, but by its wide mouth. And this is a characteristic, it seems, not confined to those particular beasts.