Bruce Arthur, BizNasty, Raffi Torres and Twitter

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.

Just minutes after the photo was Tweeted, Arthur replied with, “Blackface, really?” and then:

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.

7 thoughts on “Bruce Arthur, BizNasty, Raffi Torres and Twitter

  1. Very well-written article, Josh.

  2. Very reasonable article.

    A follow on perspective on the Twitter angle: I think Bruce Arthur is one of the best sports journalists in Canada, there are times (a lot of times, actually) where I disagree 100% with him, but still recognize that he is a top quality sports writer.

    However, when I started following him on Twitter, I started finding him annoying and smug. Look at how many of his tweets are of a political nature. Why someone who writes about sports would tweet on politics is beyond me – as inevitably you are going to annoy the 50% who don’t agree with you. I don’t care about what he thinks about politics just as I don’t care what Rex Murphy thinks of the Leafs chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

    He has the right to say whatever he wants on whatever medium he wants, but he should understand the implications of doing so. He’s right – I can choose to stop following him, but I can also choose to stop reading his articles, which is probably not OK with his employers.

    • That is soooo funny you said that about Arthur being ‘smug’ and ‘annoying’, I started following him quite awhile ago and after a few weeks in I basically called him out for both those points, I didn’t swear or didn’t insult just basically said exactly what you said and he ‘blocked’ me. Point is if your gonna throw grenades out there on twitter or in an article where comments are allowed ya better have thick skin, apparently he doesn’t!

    • It’s his personal Twitter account. I don’t see why he shouldn’t Tweet about things he finds personally interesting.

      If you don’t like it? Don’t follow. Simple. But I don’t know why you’d stop reading someone’s articles because you don’t like what they write on Twitter. That’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  3. Just wait and see how much back trackin ole’ Brucy does this Sunday Morning on the Reporters. Couldn’t agree more with this article and it’s opinion. I’d like to think my daughters are growing up in a world where they don’t ever have to raise that question, one where they would just look at it and say “what a cool costume, wish i’d thought of that”. Unfortunately it’s so called reporters like Arthur that continuously bring stuff like this back to race, myself if i were honest would say that when i first saw the picture with no headlines i just thought i wonder what kinda party there raising money for, cool costume, guess his mind is wired in a different way, kinda a shame really.

  4. this an example of ignorance about American history – if you know, you would have known that you’re crossing the line with a blackface Halloween costume

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