The Sensitivity Police: Where's American Multiculturalism Heading?

By now, many conservatives have heard of the Canadian Human Rights Commissions thanks to the decision by three CHRCs to investigate hate crimes complaints against Maclean’s magazine for printing — among other things — excerpts from conservative writer Mark Steyn’s book, America Alone.

While two of the complaints against Maclean’s have been dismissed, the CHRCs continue their jihad against their fellow citizens who dare to offend certain protected minorities. One of their ongoing cases is the investigation of a newspaper for publishing a cartoon of a Muslim woman dressed in a burqa even though the woman does, in fact, wear a burqa. Another investigation involves a stand-up comedian who insulted a pair of drunk lesbians after they began making out and heckling him during a performance. These and other bizarre cases are well-documented on the website of the conservative polemicist Ezra Levant, who is now in his third year of being investigated for the sensitivity crime of publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

Many Americans can only shake their heads at the nutty excesses of multiculturalism in Canada. Government investigations for insulting people? That kind of thing could never happen here . . . Right?

Wrong, probably. Multiculturalism may not be as advanced in America as it is in Canada, but it’s on the same path. The U.S. already has a number of federal multicultural policies, most notably the annual Diversity Visa Lottery. However, as the sorry lesson of Canada demonstrates, the key to pushing multiculturalist laws from the level of the mildly ridiculous into the rarified realm of the monumentally stupid is to advance them first on the local level, where action attracts little public scrutiny.

The infrastructure for this sort of action is already in place in many American cities which, though largely unknown to the public, have their own human rights commissions.

Take Philadelphia, for example. Although I am a native Philadelphian, I had never heard of the city’s “Commission on Human Relations” until 2006 when it began investigating Geno’s, the quintessential Philly steak joint, for hanging a sign asking customers to order in English. After spending nearly two years and untold amounts of taxpayer dollars investigating what some apparently regarded as a major hate crime, commissioners voted 2-1 to dismiss the complaint.

When asked if he thought it was appropriate for the CHR to investigate Geno’s (because  there were no allegations of actual discrimination by the proprietors), Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter replied, “That’s what they do (the Commission). I think that, based on the role and mission of the Human Relations Commission, which is to work on these kinds of issues, it’s appropriate for them to have taken that action and . . . (the case) should work its way through the system. At some point in time, we’ll all go back to our lives and try to work on really important things, like lowering the crime rate, getting kids in school, creating jobs and cleaning up the corruption in the city.”  

Incredibly, Nutter was serious. Philadelphia now has the highest poverty rate of any major U.S. city, with a murder rate that skyrocketed by over one-third between 2002 and 2007, even as the city’s police force was reduced by 500 officers in roughly that period. But for the mayor, those issues will be addressed “at some point in time,” after enough resources are allocated to pressing matters like the Geno’s “speak English” sign.  

And Nutter meant business. After the Geno’s complaint ended in ignominious dismissal, he cleaned house at the CHR. To head the commission, he appointed Rue Landau, a radical activist who had formerly co-chaired the Liberty City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club. Landau quickly got to work replacing eight of the nine appointed commissioners with more politically reliable people. Her stated goals include raising the commission’s fines and forcing employees of every city agency to undergo diversity training, especially for issues related to the “transgendered.”

Landau clearly believes that her constituents, and indeed, Americans in general, are in need of serious social reprogramming. In her words, “Most Philadelphians, like people in communities across the country, are suspicious of anyone who is not like them. It’s due mostly to ignorance of other cultures.”

There you have it. For Landau, “most” Philadelphians are ignorant, xenophobic rubes badly in need of state-enforced diversity enlightenment.

And Landau has learned from past mistakes. By investigating Geno’s, the Philadelphia CHR made the same mistake that its Canadian equivalents made when it took on Maclean’s and Mark Steyn — if you’re going to prosecute some outrageous case of political correctness, it has to be against a nobody, who doesn’t have the resources to fight back or marshal public attention. The Philadelphia and the Canadian sensitivity police had no choice but to dismiss these cases because everyone was watching.

Landau knows this — she insists the HRC should not have taken the Geno’s case, even though she argues that the “speak English” sign violated Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Act, which was the basis of the complaint in the first place.  

Landau’s position is clear — while Geno’s sign was actionable (in the bizarro world where the First Amendment is often trumped by multiculturalism), it was a tactical mistake to bring a ridiculous PC complaint against a popular city icon. You have to target people lower on the food chain. And this is exactly what we can expect to see from the Philadelphia HRC in the near future. After all, as Nutter declared about the HRC’s investigation of Geno’s, “That’s what they do.”  

Where is this mania for multiculturalism heading? Again, Canada points the way. As Ezra Levant notes, Canadian authorities recently disciplined an alleged white supremacist for sending her child to school with a swastika drawn on her arm. The penalty? The government took her kid away.

Such an extreme case is unlikely to occur in America for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the oppressive enforcement of multiculturalist diktats in Canada highlights the creepy, logical endpoint of this ideology when it receives state sanction.

America’s would-be sensitivity police certainly have their sights set higher than a mere cheesesteak restaurant in Philadelphia. The Geno’s case should serve as a warning.