Today I was unwittingly introduced to Paul Barby (aka Barby) and his YouTube series Geography Now! described on YouTube Wiki as, “an educational and vlogging YouTube channel. Through its main series and namesake, it covers the geography, history, politics, culture and diplomacy of a sovereign country per episode, through the alphabetical list of United Nations members.”
Uploaded in April 2017, the episode detailing Canada’s geography currently boasts 1.4 million views with 26,000 likes and 1,000 dislikes. After watching the video several times, I have to say I side with the dislikes and for some very good reasons.
Aimed at high school aged viewers, the host uses misogynous and outright racist material to inject ‘humour’ into this 13-minute video meant to educate viewers on the geography of Canada. Instead, it insults and degrades women, Indigenous communities, and a wide variety of racial and ethnic groups.
While attempting to explain the difference between Americans and Canadians, Barby describes Americans as the quintessential teenage boy, namely energetic, opinionated, and confident. Canadians, on the other hand, are like teenaged girls, “Polite to your face, then talk crap behind your back.” This comparison is not only an insulting stereotype, but completely unacceptable in the age of #feminism, #PressforProgress, #MeToo, and #TimesUp.
At one point, Barby throws out the interesting fact that Canada is home to the largest third order lake island in the world. That’s an island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. No harm there, except Barby takes the segment too far by stating that while no person has ever set food on this island he’s willing to do it. But, he might need a corporate sponsor to help him out — at which point he cries, “I’m looking at you Aunt Jemima!”
Immediately, the racist image of the woman’s face from the all too well-known pancake mix box appears on screen. Yes, I get the reference to pancakes and Canadian maple syrup. Yes, I’ll even cut Barby some slack and give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s unaware of the reprehensible history of this caricature. But, it’s still racist and it’s not funny!
Barby then unsuccessfully tries to inject humour into the fact that one in five Canadians is born outside of the country. He brings the statistic to life by imitating a casting call for an American movie or television show with the director shouting, “Toss in a black guy, an Asian Girl and throw in one of those Indian guys — their trending right now. But, make sure the lead is a good looking white guy.” Not humourous at all.
He references the fact that “Natives and Aboriginal” peoples make up a surprising five per cent of the population without explaining why this is even surprising? Missing was any discussion that First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples were here long before any settlers; a historical account of exactly why their populations had been in steady decline since colonization; and the fact that Indigenous peoples are the fastest growing population in Canada right now.
Barby adds insult to injury by telling his audience about the “Slavey people” who live around Great Slave Lake, but later admits these First Nations people prefer to be called Dene.
As for Inuit, Barby tells viewers that if they ever get to Nunavut to be sure to try whale blubber and experience a “Throat game song,” because, “It’s a great way to make friends.”
Barby’s references to Mexicans are also insulting. He mistakenly states Canada has lax immigration laws and routinely distributes flyers throughout South America in order to attract more immigrants.
In this time of women demanding equity, Black Lives Matter, and Idle No More why is this video that over simplifies complex issues until they’re nothing more than banal stereotypes and racial slurs allowed to exist? But, more importantly, the real question is why are teachers choosing to show this video to their students?
It’s unacceptable to relegate the responsibility of educating our youth to ignorant YouTube amateurs like Barby who are not held to the same standards as our teachers let alone being held at all accountable for the trash spewing from their lips.
This is not engaging, idle, youthful humour. This is blatant misogynous, racist, demeaning, and demoralizing content that undermines the hard work of teachers set on creating integrated, anti-racist, anti-oppressive, anti-xenophobic curriculum and classrooms that cultivate inclusion.
For Canada, and the world, to survive, ultimately, we need a team effort. Time to place a moratorium on showing Geography Now! Canada in our classrooms!
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