In Defence of the Racist Warwick Swan

17:23Ciaran McCormick

Over the last week, an epidemic at my university has taken the media by storm. One of the swans at the University of Warwick was accused of racism. They are currently in their breeding season and so exhibit aggressive behaviour when disturbed. The footpath around which the focus has centered is a high footfall area for students between a major part of campus and key accommodation blocks. Therefore, the swans have had to contend with a lot of interruption.


This happens every year without much attention, except for last year when videos of aggressive geese on the Warwick campus ruffled the feathers of a few national newspapers. However, a student jokingly and flippantly commented on the swan story on social media. I will not repeat the comments since they have been retracted but the joke ran that they were racist because they seemed to pick on the Indian woman.


The university estate management team put up fences on the footpath affected. This is commonly done by local councils around the nests of vulnerable swans. The story, meanwhile, took on a life of its own. Understandably, it has been given coverage by the local student newspaper  The Boar and the Coventry Telegraph. I did not expect it to reach the national press though, including the Mirror, Telegraph, Mail Online and other outlets. It even went abroad, reaching the Washington Times and titles in New Zealand and Australia as well as television and radio features in the UK. In essence, it is a perfect example of modern media.

Newspaper attempts to dominate the online news landscape entails using the techniques more commonly associated with internet natives such as Buzzfeed, which also picked up the story. Clickbait is crucial. People must have their interest piqued and be enticed to click on an article and then coaxed into reading the story. A pun like 'white winged supremacist' is irresistible. This is an art form that few outside the Upworthy headline writers have mastered.

However, whilst demonising swans with accusations of racism makes for a quirky story gone viral, we must not overlook the themes that underly it. Firstly, it shows the power of social media. One person makes an off-hand social media comment that then gets broadcast to the world and unleashed on the trolls. The person that joked about these racist swans did not expect the onslaught and attention that they received. Calling a swan out for being racist does seem to trivialise the countless enduring issues of racism, even if it is printed in a newspaper's 'weird' section.
 
The real victims here: the 'evil' swans

It also makes me feel bad for the real victims of this story: the animals themselves. They have been demonised in the popular press, with students claiming that they feel 'bullied'. However, they have been put there as part of Warwick's built environment, in order to foster a natural landscape conducive to the happiness and pleasure of its students. As a result, swans and geese are exposed to a habitat that puts their nests at risk from pesky students. Their natural aggression in response to this is then demonised further. Remember, it is a legal offence to interfere with the nests of swans and prosecutions are becoming increasingly common. I could be accused of not taking this at face value as an innocent joke. But I feel the story here isn't the racism of swans but the anthropocentrism of humans.

You Might Also Like

0 comments

recent posts

Contact Form