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Scotland the Brave

by Stephen Lautens


March 1, 2002

The Scots have it tough.

In an age of ethnic and cultural hyper-sensitivity, the Scots are apparently the only people left who can be made fun of in public with impunity.

For any other ethnic group, the Human Rights Commissions are ready to jump on you if you so much as ask for a flesh coloured bandage. Last year Mayor Mel Lastman spent a month apologizing for his ridiculous comment about ending up in a pot if he went to Africa. If brains were considered a delicacy by Mel's imaginary cannibals, they'd starve.

In a case of reverse sensitivity, a couple of weeks back Alliance Senator Gerry St. Germain got into trouble for saying the Métis were cheated because "whitey stole all the land". Senator St. Germain is Métis but ended up sounding like a character on some lame Sanford and Son episode from the '70s. Still, everyone jumped on him using slang to describe an entire race.

Besides, as a whitey myself, I didn't steal land from anyone. I think the people we bought our house from were actually Greek.

The other day I found myself in the ridiculous position of correcting a Chinese friend who referred to her own son as "Oriental".

"We don't call people 'Oriental' anymore," I corrected her. "The proper term is now 'Asian'".

"Well, someone better tell us Orientals," she replied, "because no one mentioned it at our last meeting."

There will always be some real racist lunkheads who'll never learn, but the rest of us have become extremely careful about racial and cultural references.

Except for the way we treat the Scots.

In spite of all the cultural sensitivity lessons in the world, for some reason it's still acceptable to make fun of the Scots. Comedians put on red wigs and kilts to sell everything from oatmeal to golf courses. For some reason a grinning Scot can be a store mascot to show the value of saving a penny, but a high school production of the Merchant of Venice will draw an angry crowd.

How else could someone like Quebec Premier Bernard Landry stand up and say in a recent speech: "There are millions of Scots. Only one of them has marked the history of humanity in a decisive way. His name is Adam Smith".

Replace the world "Scot" with "black" or "Jew" and see how offensive it sounds.

Besides - Landry is phenomenally ignorant of the Scottish people's contribution to the world. There are the obvious examples, like James Watt's steam engine, or Alexander Graham Bell's telephone.

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but he never patented it in the hope that it would become as cheap and plentiful as possible for the good of all mankind - something those greedy bio-tech companies should remember as they patent the cure for cancer.

JJR MacLeod co-discovered insulin, James Young Simpson pioneered in the use of anaesthetics, and Joseph Lister developed antiseptic surgery and sterile instruments - something to remember the next time you have your appendix out.

Kirkpatrick MacMillan designed and built the first foot-pedal bicycle, and Hubert Booth invented the vacuum cleaner. Other Scots contributions to the world are television, radar, colour photography, tires and the thermos.

The Scots busted sod and helped build this country, but in spite of all this they remain the one and maybe only ethnic group that's still fair game for stereotypes.

So how many Scots does it take to screw in a light bulb?

One. You have a problem with that?.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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