Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Merry Everyone!

So yesterday I met up with the Book Club and we discussed Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes. It is a terrific book, full of sadness, loss, history, descriptive prose (but not too descriptive) and smidgens of happiness relating to one Aminata Diallo, an African child stolen from her Village in Bayo (I believe present day Nigeria) during the 18th century and sold as a slave to America. The book, I thought, was eloquently summed up by a woman (eek, I can't remember her name, I'm terrible!) who said she fully grasped one of the many profound meanings of the book from church. 2000 years ago, people were looking for a saviour, and not much as changed from 300 years ago - people will always be looking for that saviour, that soul to guide them either to something better or away from something terrible. Beautiful. All in all, a terrific book!

Jamie, deputy leader extraordinaire of the Book Club, brought up a very interesting point that in the US and UK, The Book of Negroes isn't called The Book of Negroes but rather the bland and boring title Someone Knows My Name. Almost immediately, the entire group was in agreement this was a terrible substitution and Jamie asked 'why do you think Canada had one title while the US and UK, some of the free-est states in the world, had different titles?'

I said because Canada is, well, not ridiculous. And I was right! Lawrence Hill states that his New York editor sent him a nervous email informing him that even though he was promised The Book of Negroes would be a fine title in the US, they have now come to realize how sensitive the word Negroes is and asked him to change it to better appeal to the delicate sensibilities of Americans. The title of the book comes from a well-perseved document with the same title.

But Someone Knows My Name? Really? That sounds like a Nora Roberts romance novel, on par with something like Silken Hearts, The Bosom Fire, and Weeping Uteruses.

It also didn't surprise me that the sole reason for the name change was because the US was so scared of offending someone. And yes, I have to admit, while reading the book at work, during my breaks (of course), any time someone asked me what I was reading, I could see that some people were surprised I could say 'Negroes' so easily. But that's because of a little thing called context. Very few words still have their kick without context. I'm not a racist (you shouldn't be either) but I'm not silly enough to ignore the past. This book is about the past. This is how people spoke in the past. Get over it.

Was it any surprise that a New York Editor informed Mr. Hill his title was too risque and needed to be changed? Nope. New York, despite being the liberal mecca of the world, is still in a country that has groups that boycott stores because they refuse to wish someone a Merry Christmas. Or worse (because stores want to make all potential customers happy and therefore increase profit) by wishing someone a Happy Holidays. I've never understood why it's the norm to assume you're a Christian when 2/3 of the world isn't Christian. Logically it doesn't make sense but I'm getting side-tracked.

Here's some simple tips to avoid any boycotts of your own:
  1. Wish Christians a 'Merry Christmas' - if you know someone goes to church (ANY church) say Merry Christmas. That is what they're celebrating after all.
  2. Wish Jewish People a 'Happy Hanukkah' - it may not be their holiest of holidays (neither is Christmas for Christians) but I'm sure they'd appreciate the sentiment. Mmmmm Latkes...
  3. Ask Muslims if they had fun during Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha - why the change? Because these Muslim celebrations (celebrating the end of Ramadan) have already been celebrated earlier at the beginning of December.
  4. Are you not a follower of these Abrahamic religions? Well then ask what someone is celebrating! I'm fairly certain Hindu's have already celebrated Diwali so ask if they had a swell time! Otherwise, be like me, play the ignorant card, and ask someone what they will be doing during this holiday season and learn a little something about your co-worker or friend.

What's going on with Sikh's this time of the year? I have no idea! But I work with a gentlemen that is Sikh, so I know not to wish him that Jesus has a great birthday. It really is that simple. No need for over-reactions, no need for delicate sensibilities, no need for shifty eyes. Ask and ye shall receive or so I'm told.

May you all party-harty and party safely during this much needed break! Merry Everyone!