Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Toronto Mayor and Mombassa Natives

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Toronto Mayor and Mombassa Natives

Article excerpt


Speech act theory and impression management are used as the analytical bases for declaring that utterances of a public official in Canada are racist. The exploration is applied to language emanating from the highly visible Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman. It is followed by an examination of radical democratic, corporate, and liberal multiculturalism, the latter two of which are prominent in Canada. It is argued that their presence, particularly the much touted liberal form, is ineffective in designifying the racism conveyed in the mayor's remarks.

La theorie de parole-comme-action et la direction des impressions sont employees comme bases analytiques pour declarer que les remarques d'un fonctionnaire public au Canada sont racistes. L'exploration est appliquee a la langue emanat du maire de Toronto, Mel Lastman. Elle est suivie d'une analyse d'un multiculturalisme radical democratique, de corporation, et liberal, dont les derniers deux sont particulierement important au Canada. On discute que leur presence, en particulier la forme liberale beaucoup favorisee, est inefficace en vue de << designifying >> le racisme transmis dans les remarques du maire.


My central goal in producing this paper is to analyse utterances of Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman, to determine if they are racist. I shall also explore implications of that analysis for Canadian multiculturalism, an approach to inter-ethnic and inter-racial relations whose official purveyors claim that its implementation designifies the offence of ethnic and racial intolerance. The steps in the analysis will take the following form: (a) identifying a methodological position for offering the analysis, (b) offering public reaction to the Lastman comments, (c) assessing the comments as racist and face damaging, and (d) locating Canadian multiculturalism as a retrograde development that facilitates racism.

Mel Lastman is the rather eccentric mayor of the Canadian city of Toronto, which competed with four other high profile urban centres to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Just before he departed for Mombassa, Kenya, to boost his city's bid, he uttered some caustic commentary about one of Africa's well known seaports. What did he say?

Mr. Lastman told a national newspaper reporter:

   Why the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombassa ... Snakes
   Just scare the hell out of me. I'm sort of scared about going
   there, but the wife is really nervous. I just see myself in a
   pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.


Three positions come to mind when I consider the mayor's utterances: conversation analysis, which emanates from interpretive sociology; speech act theory, which is derived from an anti-positivist tradition within the philosophy of language; and "impression management" or self-presentation, which also originates from interpretive sociology and is associated with views about strategies regarding politeness and impoliteness. I will use speech act theory and impression management to highlight the matter of racism.

The central aim of conversation analysis is to offer systematic accounts of the sequential organisation of naturally occurring talk by examining what speakers/hearers do while they take turns in talking. Some of the most notable and enduring work within this field is that of Coulter (1992a, 1992b); Cuff (1993); Sacks (1992); Schegloff, Sacks, and Jefferson (1977); Jefferson and Schenkein (1978); Wiley (1993); Watson (1996); Turner (1976); Hutchby and Woffit (2002); and Thornborrow (2002).

The framework for analysing speech acts is that of ordinary language philosophy as it is exemplified in the analytical works of philosophers, Austin, and his student, Searle, on speech acts. Searle (1982:164-165) correctly conceptualises his teacher's work on speech acts, an invention which "baptised" language use as speech acts (Searle, 1999:136-137). …

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