Civic Pride

There were several cranky responses to a story in last week’s issue. Let’s start with the story, from the edition dated 5 July 2009:

Deceiving Diversity

The city of Toronto, Ont., Canada, published a brochure on things to do around town. The “Fun Guide” showed a family having fun on the cover, but it was a family of “indeterminate ethnic background” — the family “looks maybe Latino,” said city spokesman Kevin Sack. To be more “inclusive,” the city pasted a black man’s face over the father figure. “You won’t find a more inclusive organization than us,” Sack said. (National Post) …And black people are welcome to have fun in the city, as long as they only visit virtually.

Now, before we get into the discussion, it might help to have the photos involved, yes? Well, of course I have them for you!

Original Photo

Fun Guide Cover

My favorite part isn’t the pasted-in face, but rather that they felt it necessary to darken the fingers wrapped around the kid on the left — they assumed the guy had freakishly long arms that wrapped around the entire family, rather than realize the fingers were from the mother’s hand. Duh.

Reader Reaction

The story — or, at least, the tagline — brought a number of complaints. The least vitriolic letter is from Richard in Toronto, who wrote:

I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but the phraseology used in your Toronto story implies blacks are not welcome as visitors, i.e. “only if they come virtually”.

I know you didn’t mean it; that it was, as we say in the business, an infelicitous turn of phrase. But it is open to offensive misinterpretation.

So when you do set out to clarify matters, please first check out your favourite search engine for material on the Caribbean Festival that turns the city half black for a summer weekend every year, and note that the city’s new motto is “Diversity our strength”, as any resident knows we have the most ethnically diverse city in the world – by far.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some comments to this page will choose to debate the “the most ethnically diverse city in the world” point, but I’m not. Richard is “sure [I] didn’t mean it” but the “phraseology implies blacks are not welcome.”

He misses the point: I’m not saying that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if racial “minorities” got that impression from the city’s actions. They couldn’t find a black family for the photo? Really? And what of the “maybe Latino” guys in the city: the photo implies what? That Latino dads are absent, and some other guy has to step in?

The Message

Photographs send powerful messages, and the amateurish doctoring of this one sends a message too — whether the city meant to or not. That is what the story is about: their thinking they needed to fake diversity. What a slap in the face of the people who are living it every day.

So yeah, I “meant it” when I implied that people can be rightly offended by the city feeling it needed to fake diversity.

But I’m happy to say that not all Torontonians are as clueless as the city’s employees. Nicole in Toronto:

This isn’t a criticism – I totally get the joke. We’re a politically correct bunch up here and our bureaucracy is as goofy as you’ll find anywhere, but I did want to say that we really are a diverse city. Don’t quite know why they had to fake the photo, but please let everyone know – regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, you can have a great time in Toronto. The city’s two best summer events are the huge Gay Pride Weekend (unfortunately, you’ve just missed it) and Caribana – the biggest Caribbean celebration outside of the Islands, which starts next week. Okay, we’re a bit stinky right now with a garbage strike, but it’s still a pretty fun city to visit. And it’s not nearly as WASP as you’d think, so come and check out the city in person – a virtual visit just isn’t the same!

Now that’s an “inclusive” attitude!

Speaking of Civic Pride

I also got a lot of complaints when I mentioned several weeks ago that I was traveling to “Pittsburg” when, in fact, I was on my way to Pittsburgh, Penn.

Most said or implied I was stupid for making such a mistake. I don’t consider it stupid: I’m from California, and spent a good part of my life near Pittsburg, Calif. So sue me that I got used to a different, not a “wrong,” spelling.

It could be worse — much worse. The first skyscraper in Pittsburgh (the one in Pennsylvania) is the Grant Building, constructed in 1928. To make it even taller, they put a tower on top for KDKA radio’s broadcast antenna. The then Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, asked the city to put a flashing beacon on the tower for airplane safety, and city fathers decided if they had to have a flashing beacon, it should “say” something.

So the beacon flashed in Morse Code “PITTSBURGH”. Well, it did until the current building owners made a change. Now, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it says “PITETSBKRRH”.

So before you go around calling someone from out of town “stupid” for being in too much of a hurry to notice he used a variant spelling, maybe you should stop to first realize the impression you are flashing out to the world! Because let me tell you, not everything you write is perfect either.

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31 Comments on “Civic Pride

  1. “the Caribbean Festival that turns the city half black for a summer weekend every year”
    And then it turns back to what for the other 363 days? And where do all those blacks come from? These stats are from the city’s own Web site:

    # The top five visible minority groups in Toronto were (in 2006):
    + South Asian at 298,372 or 12.0 per cent of our population;
    + Chinese at 283,075 or 11.4 per cent;
    + Black at 208,555 or 8.4 per cent;
    + Filipino at 102,555 or 4.1 per cent;
    + Latin American at 64,860 or 2.6 per cent.

    “Visible minority” is defined by Statistics Canada as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour”.

    Actually, that’s everybody except albinos and Aborigines.

  2. At one point around the turn of the 20th century, the federal government was trying to standardize the spellings of place names, and attempted to remove the “h” from the end of various places ending in “burgh”, including Pittsburgh. It didn’t stick, and soon the “h” was back. However, when I looked back at old archives of the Carnegie Mellon newspaper The Tartan going back to the early 1900s while a student and Tartan columnist there in the 1980s, I saw a few references therein to “Pittsburg”. (They also referred to “football” as “Foot Ball”.)

  3. Are KDKA the right call letters for a Pennsylvania radio station?

    Maybe it’s an urban legend, but I’d always heard that call letters west of the Mississippi started with K (like KTLA, Los Angeles’s oldest TV station) and east of the Mississippi they started with W (like WKCR – the student radio station of Columbia University).

    That is the general rule, but that rule was implemented in the 1930s, and KDKA got that callsign in 1920. Another exception to the rule is WFAA in Dallas. -rc

  4. Garbage strike? Good grief, is Toronto ever strike-free? I went there some years back and the cabbies were striking over fees to get to the airport (good thing they don’t work at DFW). Plus the meeting host, an engineer with Hydro One, was picketing outside the building in which we met. I can’t remember whether the Parks and Rec workers were about to strike or had just had a strike.

  5. Check out the kid on the left. In the original pic his arm looks like it ends in a stump somewhere around the elbow. Now this is most likely a trick of lighting, perspective and arm position but then check out the cover. Yes, they gave him his arm back… no disabled people in Toronto, no sir!

    I didn’t even notice that part! Good catch. -rc

  6. This is just like Toronto Tourism. Does anyone else remember the Miss Toronto Tourism Pageant fiasco? ( )

    They seem to come by it honestly, though. Ontario Tourism can’t seem to understand that having a jingle that doesn’t even once refer to the province is just plain silly.

  7. It is so much worse than you think. I say this as someone who used to be in the acting/modeling industry. About 25% of models are black (exactly one per photo), despite the United States being 11% black. But more revealingly, it’s disproportionately uncommon to find a black model with straight hair or full lips (especially female): straight hair isn’t “black enough” but full lips are “too black.”

    There is a very concentrated effort to market to white people who want to feel like they’re racially diverse. The ‘diversity’ advertising is not to attract minorities, it’s to make white people feel like they’re not excluding anyone.

  8. Commenter Dan from Florida is correct about the Federal government’s idea of standardizing spelling – but that’s only half the story.

    Before the government initiative, people hereabouts spelled our city’s name both with and without the final “h,” and nobody thought too much about it either way. However, when the government decided to tell people how to spell it, Pittsburghers (as we are wont to do) got their collective panties in a bunch, and demanded that we keep the final “h.” All sorts of protests, letter-writings, and so forth ensued, with Pittsburghers stubbornly refusing to spell the city’s name in the Feds’ preferred manner. And so it is today. 🙂

    We aren’t likened in character to Scottish border folk for nothing (even those of us of the decidedly Slavic persuasion!). It is, as you say, a matter of civic pride. 🙂

    And yaknow, I can’t think of a better reason to settle on that spelling! -rc

  9. The worst thing about this is how badly the retouching is done. The new face has a different focus, different lighting, and is shot with a different lens than the one it replaces, and practically screams from the page.

    Owning Photoshop does not make one an artist any more than owning a scalpel makes one a surgeon.

  10. The photo decision is funny, and unprofessional, we can all see. But the “new” dad is clearly looking at, and really into the mom, so let’s bless this new family!

  11. Actually, the so-called “original” photo was also edited, and the way it was cropped is what gives the impression that the boy’s arm ends in a stump. I think Mike is giving the editor too much credit in assuming that putting the arm back was deliberate. The length of the second picture was probably just needed in order to avoid having the text cover the faces. And our city officials are way too clueless to notice something like that. But if they did, they’d probably leave it, or even exaggerate it, as further proof of our “diversity”.

  12. This is similar to what Ford did in England. They removed, from a national advertisement, the image of an Afrocaribean and inserted the an image of a white male.

    When this was “discovered” all hell broke loose and there were first denials then apologies. It must have cost Ford a few thousand cars.

  13. The saddest thing about the story is that whoever it was who was in charge of the production of this brochure felt that they had to include a black man’s face. When can we stop messing about with regard to race and get down to the fact that we are all one family? Are we that paranoid that we can’t see PEOPLE having fun without thinking “There’s no Chinese or Asian Indian”? Where do we draw the line? Do I have to complain that there’s no adult there in the picture who is over 6′ tall? What is this Apart-height? I wish to register a complaint that your column never mentions gay, mutant Serbo-Croation babies. What have you got against them? Where indeed do we draw the line?

    Damn: Guilty! The closest I can come is a mutant Serbo-Croation toddler. I must learn to be more inclusive. -rc

  14. I have lived in Toronto and environs since December 31, 1978. At first I found it very difficult to adapt to this city. I was fifteen at the time and had been raised about a mile outside of a town of only 16,000.

    However, over the years I have come to appreciate the positive aspects of this city. It really is a special place for so many to live.

    I confess that I was put off a bit by your original item on this issue. However, I learned long ago not to flame, but to wait patiently for more understanding.

    That came when I read your next installment. I now “get the joke.”

    I thank you for the way you handled this, too, in your characteristically frank and respectful style. Well done!

  15. Dropping the trailing “h” from Pittsburgh is a very understandable mistake (let’s have everyone who complained about the mistake try to spell “Cincinnati”). The interesting part about your error is that you did it when mentioning that you were going to a Mensa meeting there – it made me hope that you hadn’t copied the spelling from something Mensa provided!

  16. Posted by Richard, Courtenay, Canada on July 18, 2009:

    “The saddest thing about the story is that whoever it was who was in charge of the production of this brochure felt that they had to include a black man’s face. When can we stop messing about with regard to race and get down to the fact that we are all one family?… ”

    I used to work with a Black girl who was wise beyond her years. One summer, with others nursing fresh sunburns, I asked her if she ever worried about excess exposure to the sun. She replied in the affirmative, and the conversation eventually wound around to ancestry. She asked me what race I was, and I fell right in to explaining: Mostly German, a little French, English, Irish, Scot, Welsh… She stopped me cold with, “Gee, I thought we were all part of the Human Race.” Like I said, wise beyond her years.

  17. But you still missed the funniest part – the brochure is about fun in Toronto but the two biggest events – Gay Pride Week and parades, and Caribana which has grown to two weeks now, are not even represented except by a clumsy retouch. Or maybe it’s supposed to represent the Toronto International Film Festival or something.

    I’m just commenting on a story about the Fun Guide; I wasn’t given one to examine, so I don’t have any idea as to the actual content. But if indeed they’re not included in the summer event schedule in the Guide, then indeed they’ve really fallen on their pasty white faces. -rc

  18. It doesn’t really matter what ones color is, we’re all human, but I can understand Richard, Courtenay, Canada’s question to a black girl, I once found myself asking the same question to a black male, do you get sunburned, and he said yes, and it hurts like a sonova(lady of the night) when you slap it. You just can’t see it on me.

    I’ve been to Toronto, I had tremendous fun there, the best part I like is that you can look each other in the eye, and stop someone for a chat, no matter who he is, and look them in the eye. The altering of the picture is a childish attempt at being PC (imho). But in my humble opinion, exposing people who are at least trying it is even more childish, you can raise other question extrapolating on what Randy told us, why aren’t the kids at least half black, why isn’t one darker than the other, why isn’t the mom black, were the kids adopted? Did the woman divorce and decided that her kids were in better care with a black male? isn’t it all just a bit silly, including exposing it?

    Did you ask for an official statement from the people issuing this folder Randy?

    I don’t call my story subjects asking for statements; I do news commentary — I comment on news stories, and that’s it. That said, when a story subject sends me a statement, I publish it verbatim unless there’s a good reason not to (defamatory, urges illegal action, etc.) So far, there has never been a reason not to. -rc

  19. Being the uptight, politically correct bunch that Canadians seem to be these days, I’m surprised they didn’t have a picture cramming in every possible particular ethnic, racial, religious group and last but not least, people of various sexual persuasions that exists in most every big city everywhere these days. Aren’t bureaucrats amazing? Our tax dollars at work.

  20. In regard to your comment, “they felt it necessary to darken the fingers wrapped around the kid on the left — they assumed the guy had freakishly long arms that wrapped around the entire family, rather than realize the fingers were from the mother’s hand. Duh.”
    Did you stop to think that maybe the mother was half black?

    Apparently just her right arm. -rc

  21. As a former Torontonian (now living in Vancouver where political correctness is a blood sport) I got a good laugh out of this. Way too many City Hall employees with way too much time on their hands. It probably went through three committees and at least five aldermen before it hit the street and none of them were smart enough to stop it. Typically Canadian.

  22. The black face they used is SOOOOO Creepy! He’s leering at the mother!!! The real picture was beautiful, how unfortunate that they felt the need to change it. Hopefully, they will have learned their lesson on this one.

  23. I wonder if the man in the original picture still got compensated for using his photo, even though his face is covered. These pictures are usually posed with professional models who make their living by having their pictures used by different organizations. And did they then have to also pay the black man to use his face too? If so I think they got ripped off. That freaky looking face would not encourage me to want to go anywhere mentioned in the magazine.

  24. What I find interesting is the same picture is used at Wal-Mart for a sample picture for a frame….

    I assume you mean the original stock photo. Well, then, no wonder the Toronto folks were caught so quickly and easily! -rc

  25. What gets me is that politicians and government offices see a need to diversify like this when most people aren’t really going to notice in the first place. Has it gotten so bad that you think you have to add a Black person’s ethnicity to every single thing just to make it “fair”. What about every other race on the planet. Asian, Hispanic, Icelandic, etc etc etc. It’s not as cut and dry as black and white. And the sad thing is that most if not all other races have received equal criticism for being what they are instead of who they are. If you want to make it authentic stop taking stock photography and take a picture of a real flippin family. They live there for Christ’s sake. It’s their home and I’m sure any of them would be proud to be the face of THEIR community for the sake of the community. I give up. This world is steady on the way to its own miserable destruction.

  26. Wow, that pasted in face is pretty radical haha.

    Photos can be very deceptive indeed. I’ve been in the modeling business for 27 years now and believe me when I tell you: what is shot on camera and what ends up in a magazine is usually very different.

    Obviously there are people (marketeers) who decide that those images need to be changed even further to match the marketing message.

    Needless to say this is not fun for models either. Imagine going through all of this only to have someone else’s face pasted over yours…

    (Link deleted: the site has gone offline. -rc)

  27. Re: Pittsburg/Pittsburgh I lived for more than 40 years in Milwaukie, Oregon – named for Milwaukee, WI. The spelling was changed to avoid confusion, we’re told. It didn’t work.

  28. Saw this on your “Ten Years Ago” feature — which is great to have by the way, not just to catch things we missed or forgot or to drive traffic to great content, but also to help us reflect more deeply on things as time goes on. Reflection is a key component of thinking that often gets overlooked in the quest for new things, and it is right in keeping with True’s mission. Many times on reflection you discover mistakes or assumptions you made in the past, or some new aspect jumps out at you.

    As usual, you got me thinking here, too. This time about the widespread use of stock photos, and how it reveals our ideals. I am also feeling grateful for my own city (which is in no way perfect, but has Toronto beat in this regard).

    The local organization that puts together many of the fun activities where I live always uses photos taken from previous years of actual local residents participating in events. My daughter loves looking through their brochures and naming all the people she sees in there (including herself).

    It’s a small non-profit on an island with only a few thousand people, but they make the effort to photograph local people doing fun things (using a professional-grade photographer). Then they sift through those photos and edit them into usable brochures rather than just buying a stock photo. There are, naturally, other groups here that go the stock photo route, but they don’t engender the same amount of affection from us.

    This approach certainly avoids debacles like the city workers fell into in Toronto, and the amount of “diversity” shown in no way diverges from the reality since it just shows us. Why pretend to be different than you are, just to score points with an imaginary audience?

    I’m pretty sure it’s also better marketing. We always go through the brochures and sign up for some activities.


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