One of my articles from 2008 is republished in the third edition of Social Problems: A Canadian Perspective.
The article “York anti-racism rally goes off rails” is an unique news story about an anti-racism rally at York University that degraded into attacks on Israel, the provincial government, and the president of York University.
I remember well the process of writing the article. I took the GO bus up to York University for the rally with the story template complete – just needed a few photos, some quotes, and I could quickly file my story about York students rallying against racism on their campus.
Unfortunately, that was not the entire story. The rally went off the rails. As I wrote January 24, 2008:
The rally began with speakers calling for the York community to unite to combat racism on campus. The first speakers described the graffiti as an attack on them, their space, and their safety.
As other speakers took the microphone, however, they turned the focus to attacks upon Israel as a “racist and apartheid state,” Premier Dalton McGuinty, and York University President Mamdouh Shoukri.
McGuinty was blamed for the “racist actions” of the government for denying entry last summer to Malik Shabazz, the leader of the US New Black Panther Party.
The strongest attacks were saved for Shoukri. At the microphone, one of the rally organizers criticized Shoukri for “not caring about students,” claiming that Shoukri was not at the rally, and that by not being at the rally to address students, he was being silent in the face of racism.
Shoukri was in fact present and in the crowd, and in response to this criticism, he moved toward the stage. When he reached the front, he was seen speaking to the organizers. He was seen asking for the opportunity to address the assembled students but was apparently refused, after which he walked away. One of the organizers yelled that the rally was about “African issues” and for “Africanized people” to speak out against marginalization. Shoukri, whose undergraduate degree is from Cairo University, was born in Egypt.
Organizers then demanded that the media leave, accusing reporters of looking to sensationalize the story and “looking for the picture of an angry person for [their] front pages.”
No other media outlet, and every Toronto outlet was represented, included this in their stories.I spent a great deal of time debating if I would include these facts in my article, knowing that I likely be the only reporter to do so and that many emails would attack me for doing so.
I decided that I could not shy away from the truth of the rally and wrote this angle. While I received many emails accusing me of being a racist for highlighting these events, I also received emails from those present at the rally thanking me for writing what actually happened and not just the cookie-cutter story I came prepared to file.
The story reflected the complexity of the issue and the rally.
I’m honoured that the article found its way into an academic textbook.