– 9 –

 

“Stupid.” That’s something that should be added to the index of proscribed words. It should have been the first one on the list, Mackenzie thought. She’d bring it up at the next Female Victims of Oppression meeting. Most of the federal cabinet were members.

There were certain words you just did not apply to white women, at least those above the socio-economic line. “Bitchy,” “bossy,” “sulky,” “snotty” and “spoiled” were banned outright. So were “diva” and “prima donna,” but the Criminal Code allowed “princess” when it referred to a member of the royal family. “Precious” was out, apparently. Mackenzie didn’t quite understand at first. She always thought of herself that way. But Mr. Gold explained that, although she most undoubtedly was precious, it was better not to say so.

They knew these things, people like Mr. Gold. Mackenzie didn’t always understand them and wasn’t always sure she even heard them correctly. Once, after a press conference with an especially massive Canadian Broadcasting Corporation presence, she almost thought she heard Mr. Fertig say something like: “Those Frenchie divas are so precious they make you seem down to earth.” Although Mackenzie wasn’t quite sure what that would have meant, she had a feeling that it was somehow something that Mr. Fertig couldn’t have said. Much as she thought she heard it, she obviously couldn’t have. Could she?

But she was pretty sure what Mr. Caplan said this morning. He actually called her stupid. Well, maybe not her, but her idea.

It had been nearly a week since the Star’s last anti-racism campaign and Mackenzie suggested a program that she thought elegant for its simplicity. Three simple statements displayed on a set of three billboards, one after the other, placed all over the city. Three simple statements popping up over the Star’s web pages. Three simple statements repeated on TV and radio spots and throughout the Twittersphere. Three stark newspaper headlines repeating the three simple statements:

BLACKS ARE NOT RACIST
BLACKS ARE NOT SEXIST
BLACKS ARE NOT VIOLENT

Just three simple statements, utterly unarguable. Three basic ways in which blacks are superior to white guys. But for some reason Mr. Caplan didn’t like it.

He just sat there, silent for several seconds, seething. When he started to speak his throat tightened so much that the first few words sounded like an angry growl. All Mackenzie caught was the last part: “... too fffffffffsssshhhhffff stupid for words.”

That was more than enough to have a white guy attending to AIDS patients’ needs, medical and otherwise. But anyone who knew the first rule of Toronto journalism knew that no Toronto journalist ever, under any circumstances, challenged anything said or done by a member of the Canadian Jewish Council.

The rule made sense when you thought about it. At least, Mackenzie assumed it made sense. Actually, when it came right down to it, she didn’t think about it. No one in Toronto journalism did. Probably because they were too busy. It took all their time, all their strength and energy, every facet of their being to continually challenge the status quo, stand up to the power structure and fight oppression. They couldn’t waste themselves by questioning basic truths that everyone who was anyone knew were undoubtedly true — the basic truths expressed by the CJC.

As a matter of fact Mackenzie was grateful to the CJC, as was everyone else in Toronto journalism. Mr. Caplan, for example, didn’t even work at the Star, let alone run the place. But he and the rest of the CJC were always willing to spend their time and leadership skills directing the content of the newspaper. They did the same for the rest of the Toronto media too. As a result, Mackenzie could rest certain that what she was doing was right. If the CJC said so, it was so.

Again, Mackenzie didn’t always understand people like Mr. Caplan and wasn’t even sure she always heard them correctly, no matter how loud they were shouting. But as long as she did what she was told, she could continue to fight the status quo.

Like other Toronto journalists, Mackenzie was never without her special-issue cellphone featuring a distinctive ring tone that distinguished incoming CJC calls from the others. That ring tone couldn’t be muted.

Which could be embarrassing. One evening, just after putting the newspaper to bed, Mackenzie attended an emergency press conference given by Toronto Mayor Barinder Johal. That was before the disturbances became daily events, and therefore no longer emergencies. The media were listening in silence while Barinder was going on as usual, saying, “Oh no, no, no, nothing to worry about, certainly not downtown, no, no, no, everything very good there...” when that loud, piercing ring tone suddenly cut him off.

It came from Mackenzie’s phone. All the reporters, photographers, TV crews, government aides, the mayor himself, turned to look at a deeply embarrassed Mackenzie. Blushing crimson, she turned and rushed out of the room while answering the call in a voice that trembled almost as much as a newsroom white guy: “Mackenzie Tayler Mitchell speaking.”

“Don’t you understand anything, Mitchell?” screamed a voice from the other end. It was maybe Mr. Miller, Mr. Abraham or another mister. They tended to sound the same at that volume.

“It’s a ruckus, Mitchell,” the CJC voice bellowed. “Not a riot — a ruckus. A RUCKUS! Understand? There was no arson, Mitchell. A few fires, a few city blocks burnt down does not constitute arson, Mitchell. A few deaths, some injuries do not constitute swarming, wilding, random attacks or mob violence. Just a little ruckus, Mitchell. A few kids blowing off steam. Get your facts right, Mitchell, or get out of journalism.”

Click.

That was a night Mackenzie didn’t want to repeat. She discretely wiped away a tear and waited a minute to get her voice back to its usual tone of steely resolve. Then she started phoning around, giving out orders: Take down the website, stop the press run, trash anything that’s already been printed, get the white guys back from the camp, tell them to re-do the offending stories. Once back at the newsroom she kept a stern watch over them until they finished, scrutinizing the tired, frail-looking drudges for the slightest sign of negativity. Mackenzie Taylor Mitchell wasn’t someone who tolerated disrespect.

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