The issue: Controversial imagery
We say: Bearer beware
“I guess the world was a different place a year ago.”
Those are the pensive words of Brian Sundberg, owner of Yellowknife-based Rebel Welding, who suddenly found himself in the crossfire of a heated social media debate earlier this week.
Sundberg’s company name and logo drew a comparison to the Confederate flag. Then all heck broke loose on Facebook as dozens of people from our city and beyond weighed in on whether the depiction of such imagery is acceptable in this day and age. As internet disputes often go, some made civil and compelling arguments, others resorted to personal attacks.
There’s been growing momentum recently, at least within some circles, for the elimination of certain historical names, images, symbols and slogans. Some call it a “revolution” or a “paradigm shift.” Others refer to it as being “woke,” some complain of “cancel culture.”
It’s not entirely new, however.
Yellowknife has endured years of disagreements over whether our city’s main street should continue to be named in honour of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, who hailed from Britain. There are, it’s been persuasively asserted, many Indigenous leaders who are deserving of such an honour, some of whom predated Franklin.
Catholic missionary priest Emile Petitot, who lived most of his days during the 19th century, was commemorated by having a downtown park named after him. However, that site became known as Somba K’e Park in the late 1990s after it was discovered that Petitot was a pedophile. There wasn’t a hue and cry on Petitot’s behalf because sexually abusing children is considered despicable by any reasonable and compassionate human being.
But some of the more recent lightning rods are not so clear cut. Don Cherry being shown the door by the CBC after his “you people” rant on Coach’s Corner left many viewers insisting it was unnecessary to fire him. The Canadian Football League’s Edmonton franchise announced earlier this week that the name Eskimos is officially done. Some fans, including some Inuit, say that’s a shame.
Sir John A. Macdonald is constantly under fire these days for his heinous treatment of Indigenous people. Should any buildings, bridges and streets continue to bear his name, regardless of whether he was Canada’s first prime minister? Strong opinions flow from both sides of that discussion.
Sundberg says Rebel Welding’s flag isn’t the Confederate flag because his business logo depicts five stars as opposed to the 13 on the flag of the Confederacy. And it’s to his credit that he tried to explain himself online and in conversation with a Yellowknifer reporter. That said, it’s difficult to imagine what image inspired the design if not the flag.
It’s true that some residents of the southern United States associate the Confederate flag with pride in their home, but it’s also truth that its display resurged in popularity as part of a response to the civil rights movement in the United States in the late 1940s.
Sundberg is the owner of a private enterprise. He’s well within his rights to retain the name and emblem.
Likewise, the public, which would include potential customers, has the right to be vocal, critical and to avoid patronizing businesses that they feel are tone deaf.
In a growing number of instances, public pressure has been so great that commercial entities have bowed.
An era of societal reckoning is most definitely upon us and Sundberg is right, the world has changed immeasurably during the past year. The question remains how much each of us will change along with it.