Twitter has become the new medium for instant sports reporting. Gone are the days where fans would only find out about stories 24 hours later when published in the newspaper. Now, Twitter is making the stories. There was no better example than Sunday night. Two of the best known Twitter users in Canada are National Post columnist Bruce Arthur and Phoenix Coyotes player (er, benchwarmer) Paul Bissonnette.
On Sunday night, Bissonnette attended the (last?) annual Phoenix Coyotes Halloween party; as a disclaimer, all NHL teams do these as a sort of break a month into the season. Bissonnette Tweeted a photo of follow Coyote Raffi Torres and his wife dressed as Jay-Z and Beyonce. The problem with the costume is Torres used blackface to make his skin the same colour as Jay-Z’s. This could be taken in two ways, one as a necessary part of a costume of someone with a different skin-tone (Dwayne Wade used whiteface when he dressed as Justin Timberlake a few years ago), or as ignorant and/or racist. Arthur choose the latter.
A firestorm ensued. Arthur received hundreds of replies, most disagreeing with him. People told him he was living in the past, it isn’t racist to use blackface anymore. Now here is where I interject my small amount of commentary on the Torres issue. Someone who is white (or Latino, or Asian etc.) who wants to dress as someone who is black for Halloween has three options. The first is to keep their original skin-tone and go as “White Jay-Z”, which might not go over very well with some black people. The second is to do what Torres did, use blackface, make the costume look authentic; as we know, this could also be considered racism. The third is the worst choice of all, to feel like you can’t go as someone of a different skin-tone. This is racism, no doubt about it. Torres, who wanted to give tribute to his favourite rapper, had a difficult decision to make – whether he saw it as a difficult decision is another matter.
There were two stories published on Monday Morning with very contrasting views. The first was by Greg Wyshynski in Yahoo’s Puck Daddy Blog. Wyshynski took the side of Torres, writing that no was no intent of racism. Later in the day, Arthur published his view on the issue on the National Post’s website. Within less than 24 hours of Bissonnette posting the picture, it became front page news on the top hockey blog in the world and other mainstream sites such as CBCSports.ca.
And the polarizing views on headshots and fighting in hockey were nothing compared to the polarizing views on blackface. If Arthur hadn’t responded to Bissonnette’s Tweet, none of the media attention would have followed. None of Canada’s other hockey writers took the decisive stance that Arthur did. Twitter made this story. It could not have happened five years ago. At the very least, Arthur (as well as Twitter for being the medium) deserves a lot of credit for shedding some light on blackface, something that many Canadians (myself included, until yesterday) have little knowledge of.
There is one last topic I’d like to touch on. It shouldn’t matter that Torres agent is black. Yes, it does show that Torres probably isn’t racist, but shouldn’t we be long past caring about what colour someone’s skin is in the first place? I don’t believe for a second that Torres is racist either, and that has nothing to do with him being of Latino descent or his agent being black.
Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message” and now more and more the medium is Twitter.