Tag Archive | racist

Offended offenders — the joke is on who, exactly?

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

We hear it all the time: “How dare you call me racist! I don’t hate anyone! I was just making an observation.” And there’s: “It is so rude of you to call me a homophobe! I’m just advocating for my beliefs {that queer people don’t deserve legal rights/to exist openly in public spaces if at all}. You’re the real haters!” Let’s not forget: “Can’t you take a joke? You’re trying to silence me!”

People behave like jerks, make threatening remarks, harass people, advocate for policies and propositions that will cause actual harm to others, and then get angry if other people take offense. They try to hide behind the idea of free speech—they’re just expressing themselves, and everyone has a right to do that, right? But the defense is built on one or more false equivalencies. The most basic is equating disagreement with censorship. If you say that all Freedonians are criminals, and I point out that isn’t true, and show the statistics to prove it, you haven’t been silenced. If other people decide the don’t want to listen to your rants about the evils of the Freedonians anymore, they stop inviting you to their social events and if you show up uninvited they ask you to leave, that also isn’t silencing you. The right to express an opinion doesn’t obligate other people to listen. Then there’s the false equivalence that accurately describing some of their statements as bigoted is just as bad as the bigotry we’re decrying. And so on.

But the defense that really annoys me is the, “But I’m only joking!”

I have several responses to that. The first is: every bully and abuser who ever lived has tried to claim that they were only joking, or they were just playing around. They didn’t meant to cause those bruises or broken bones or to break that laptop or whatever. It’s a lie. Maybe the bully and the bully’s audience were laughing, but real harm is being done.

The second response is: the fact that you think a particular topic is suitable for joking demonstrates the ignobility of your intentions. They only way that one can think the sexual assault is a joking matter is if they either don’t think the sexual assault is a bad thing, or if they think the victims of sexual assault are worth less than other people. There are topics that go beyond the pale, understanding that requires moral fiber and empathy. Not knowing that tells us you possess neither.

The third response is that doing something like “ironically” pretending to believe neo-Nazi ideology is indistinguishable from actually doing it. In other words, if you’re pretending to be an asshole, it doesn’t sound or feel any different to your targets than when a “real” asshole behaves that way. It also has a very scary normalizing effect. The more people feel it is acceptable to express racial bias, for instance, the more likely some of them are to act on the racial bias.

And my fourth response is that jokes are supposed to be funny. Calling entire classes of people inferior, saying they are a waste of space and so on isn’t funny. The objection that is usually raised around this point is that they are just trying to make people think, and they have to shock people out of their complacency to do that. I’ll agree that good political humor pokes at us to get us to think outside the box, but these guys aren’t quite getting it.

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” “At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.” “'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in English. Could it be that 'I Do' is the longest sentence?”

Several classic George Carlin one liners. (Click to embiggen)

Let’s look for a moment at the work of a comedian who was often characterized as offensive. The Late George Carlin said things that shocked some people’s sensibilities. Go listen (many recordings abound) to his notorious “Seven words you can’t say on TV or the radio” routine and tell me that wouldn’t give people in the Religious Right conniptions. And sure, you can pull out individual lines from his routines and make him sound almost like some of this current generation of jerks with their racist or homophobic or misogynist rants on their Youtube channel. But that’s taking him out of context. Look over the classic Carlin corpus (excluding the last few years where he seemed to turn into a prophet of doom and things got a little weird) and you’ll find the most prevalent underlying theme is summed up in one of his best one-liners:

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”

While the line works great on its own, it was actually the introduction to a longer bit, where he went on to make humorous observations about foolish and dangerous and weird things that people do while driving. It ranged around for a bit, and the audience laughed. You could certainly characterize the routine as making fun of bad drivers. And that doesn’t seem all that different from someone else having a comedy routine where they make fun of women, or immigrants, or queer people, right? But that’s not what the routine does. Every version of it I ever heard him perform varied a bit, but all stuck to one underlying theme. And it’s in that line I quote. That line isn’t just a joke, it’s a thesis statement.

Read it again: “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” Explicitly it says that we classify and judge people in categories like stupid and maniac by extremely subjective criteria. But implicitly it is also saying that sometimes all of us are idiots, and sometimes all of us are maniacs. Because implicitly everyone that we observe is an idiot for driving too slow, knows they we are maniacs. And every person that we can see is a maniac for driving too fast, can observe that we’re driving slow and therefore we are idiots.

Yes, the point of his routines is that some people do very foolish things and isn’t it ridiculous that such people exist? But by the time he has covered the subject, there is a point where he says something that hits close to home. We, the listeners, see ourselves in some part of that routine. In that way, his routines adhere to the classic definition of political humor: to hold a mirror up to society.

That is humor with a purpose. That is how you jostle people out of their complacency. You hold up a mirror, so that we look into it and see our own foibles and flaws. But what these other guys are doing? They aren’t working with mirrors. No, they are putting targets on other people, aiming their fans at those targets, and encouraging the fans to pull their triggers.

That is why the rest of us don’t listen to their rants. We disinvite them from our events. We tell them that their behavior is not welcome at our conventions or on our forums and so forth. That isn’t censorship, that is making a choice of who we will associate with. It’s deciding that we don’t need jerks and abusers in our lives.

If he talks like a racist, tweets like a racist, defends other racists…

The so-called President of the United States thinks that the angry, violent, racist men on the left who advocate genocide are “fine people,” but the men on the right exercising their right to peacefully protest injustice are “sons of bitches.”

The so-called President of the United States thinks that the angry, violent, racist men on the left who advocate genocide are “fine people,” but the men on the right exercising their right to peacefully protest injustice are “sons of bitches.”

Most of the news media seems to be talking about the #TakeAKnee hashtag because Donald Trump went on a rant last night calling for NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to be fired. And a certain number of the deplorables are chiming in and angrily calling for those football players to stop injecting politics into football.

And of course I have some opinions on that.

First, insisting that people stand for the national anthem? That is injecting politics into sports. The act of playing the national anthem and unfurling the flag at the beginning of games has been injecting politics into sports for decades. There are many Americans whose religion, for instance, forbid standing for the anthem or saluting the flag. And that’s their right, as humans and as Americans. And I say that as a former Boy Scout who gets angry at people flying their flags in the rain, attaching flags to they car ariels and letting them get ragged and dirty.

Second, you want to talk disrespecting the flag? Anyone who has ever defended the Confederate Flag is disrespecting the U.S. flag each time they do it. That’s right. So, Donald disrespected the flag when he defended the Confederate Flag-waving people. He disrespected the U.S. flag each time he defending the swastika-waving neoNazis. He disrespected the U.S. flag each time he criticized people calling for the removal of Confederate monuments.

Third, the brave men and women of our armed forces who risk their lives, and in far too many cases gave their lives, did so not to defend a piece of fabric or a song. They died defending the ideas that flag stands for. When I cry during the national anthem (and I do every time I hear it), I do so not because of that piece of fabric or the song itself, but because of the ideas that flag and that song are supposed to stand for. And among those ideas are that people have a right to protest. People have a right to petition their government. People have a right to demand justice. People should expect that their lives will be valued equally no matter the color of their skin. And the reality is that our society doesn’t do that latter. Men of color are at least nine times more likely to be shot and killed by police than anyone else. That is neither justice nor equality. It is unAmerican to claim otherwise. So, no, taking a knee during the anthem doesn’t disrespect members of the military, either.

Fourth, Hurricane Maria just devastated Puerto Rico, which is an American territory inhabited by 3,411,307 U.S. citizens. The hurricane wiped entire towns off the map, knocked out electricity to the entire island, has disrupted the public drinking water system. That we know of 13 people died during the storm, but with so much of the infrastructure wiped out, the death toll is probably higher. But even worse, many more could die because of things ranging from a dam that is failing and continued flooding, not to mention what the destroyed roads and lack of power means about deliver of food, medicine, and other essentials or getting sick and injured people to medical attention. ‘If anyone can hear us … help.’ Puerto Rico’s mayors describe widespread devastation from Hurricane Maria What with more than 3.4million Americans in imminent danger, what has the so-called president said about the devastation or how the federal government will respond? Not one single word. He can go on rants about sports figures and reports who say things he disagrees with, but can’t be bothered to comment on millions of his fellow citizens in danger.

And why, exactly, has he been silent on Puerto Rico? Could it be because in the minds of most the people there are just a bunch of brown folks and therefore not “real Americans?”

The President of the United States doesn't think the the 3.4million Americans in Puerto Rico who are without power, safe drinking water, and more because of Hurricane Maria deserve even a mention on Twitter.

The President of the United States doesn’t think that the 3.4million Americans in Puerto Rico who are without power, safe drinking water, and more because of Hurricane Maria deserve even a mention on Twitter.

One of the other things people were talking about this week was a commentator on ESPN calling Donald a White Supremacist. And a lot of people who think they are being open-minded are arguing that that isn’t an appropriate label. But Donald himself said so. Remember in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests? When Donald was defending his ludicrous “both sides” claim, he got into an argument with a reporter who pointed out that all of the violence recorded was from the neo-Nazis. Donald said, “but what about when the Black Lives Matter folks came at us… I mean, when they came at them…” Loose lips sink ships, as my Grandpa used to say. Donald said himself that he was one of the neo-Nazis… (and that isn’t the only time).

And while we’re at it:

He appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, a Republican Senator who, ten years ago, was considered by even his fellow Republicans too racist to be a judge.

He pardoned a sheriff who was convicted of disobeying court orders in order to racial profile and otherwise deliver justice by policy in racially-motivated ways.

On the same day that the African-American commentator called out the president for giving encouragement to white supremacists, the newly chosen Miss America called out the president for the same thing. But Miss America is white, so guess which critic the president went nuclear on in with twitter storms, and having his press secretary call for a firing, et cetera?

When addressing the United Nations, Donald literally said he intends to wipe out North Korea. A country that is home to 25million people, the vast majority of whom do not support the actions of their dictator, but rather are victims of the dictator’s regime. Killing 25million people (who happen to be asian) to destroy an entire country? That’s genocide.

He defends racists. As a businessman, he tried to keep black families out his properties. He has said multiple times that he “doesn’t want black people” counting his money, when explaining about some of his hiring practices. He attacks people of color for peacefully demonstrating or stating opinions. He appoints racists. He appoints white supremacists. He enacts (or tries to enact) racist policies. When talking about neo-Nazis and White Supremacists he sometimes refers to them collectively as “us”.

And I could go on and on.

Donald Trump is a racist. That is a fact. He encourages white supremacists. He has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Not only did he not disavow those endorsements, he accepted them and praised them. If Donald Trump isn’t a white supremacist, then why call them “fine people”?

We mistake our privilege for something earned, and think the worst of those without pedestals

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows...

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows… (click to embiggen)

My dad was the kind of racist that was almost too easy to spot. He threw around the n-word and other racial slurs not just casually, but with great frequency. It was impossible to talk to him without also hearing how all those people were the cause of anything and everything bad that he perceived was happening in the world. Friends and acquaintances didn’t always believe me when I would describe the phone conversations where I had to ask him, multiple times, to stop talking like that or I would hang up.It was simply toxic to talk to him, which is why I literally stopped speaking to him at all about seven years before he died. My dad was the kind of racist who made it easy for other people to congratulate themselves that they weren’t racist because they didn’t talk as crudely as he did. We look at guys like my him, or the people waving Nazi flags and throwing Nazi salutes in Charlottesville, Virginia this last weekend, and tell ourselves that we aren’t like that, so clearly we aren’t racist.

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men?

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men? (click to embiggen)

But we live in a racist society. We’ve been conditioned to believe all sorts of things about each other based on the color of their skin. Studies show that when we’re shown photographs of black teens of either sex we consistently over-estimate their age, for instance. We’ve been conditioned so that if we look at a young black man, we don’t see a kid, but a thug. We’re pre-disposed to believe that a young black man is not only capable, but likely to hurt someone. We see a video of a dark skinned person carrying a toy gun getting gunned down by police (even though he has dropped the toy and has his hands in the air), and say, “Well, he still looked dangrous.” Then we see video of hundreds of white guys showing up at a political rally carrying rifles and guns and say, “They’re just exercising their rights.”

It is impossible to grow up in a racist society and not absorb a lot of racism. It is also impossible to grow up in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from all that racism. Part of it is the generational thing: we lived in nicer neighborhoods than we otherwise would because our parents, grandparents, and so on benefited from preferential hiring practices, redlining of mortgages, and unequal distribution of resources for public schools. And it’s easy for us to say, “Well, that was the bad old days. Things have changed, now, and besides, I can’t do anything about it.” But it isn’t just the bad old days. Racist assumptions are baked into all of our social conventions, institutions, and business practices. Studies have shown again and again that changing something as simple as making a name look less ethnic on a resume substantially improves the odds that a submitted resume will get result in a call for a job interview, for instance. We see it in statistics of which people cops decide to stop and question, let alone the ghastly statistics about police shootings.

So if you’re like me, looking at this news this weekend and being horrified that an angry white man who drove his car into a crowd killing a woman (and wounding at least 19 other people), while people ranging from ordinary citizens to news anchors and even the president are bending over backward to say that bigotry isn’t involved—it isn’t enough to say, “Aren’t they terrible people?” We have to be willing to admit that these terrible people were enabled by a society which explicitly benefits white people, whether we individual white people think of ourselves as racist or not.

Some other folks have explained it quite well: How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy:

“For white people who don’t self-identify as disciples of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and/or the ancient demon Beelzebub, there is extreme anxiety around the accusation of racism. We see this fear of blame in Trump’s statement. “Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama” seems to say, ‘Hey, there’s been a tense racial climate in this country forever. It’s not anyone’s fault!’ Except the opposite is true. American white supremacy has been a problem forever, and it is all of our fault, fellow white people.

“White people benefit from white supremacy. Period. Peggy McIntosh spelled this out for us in 1989, but apparently we’re still not quite getting it. Her famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” lays out undeniable ways that it is simply easier to be white in this country, like always having a boss who is a fellow white person, or, you know, being able to eat Skittles at night without getting shot. Most white people didn’t ask for this privilege. Actually, that’s the whole idea. White privilege is an inherent advantage that easily goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. Rather than stuffing down the sense of shame associated with this obvious unfairness, why not work to even the playing field?”
—Lauren Duca

The referenced article by Peggy McIntosh is also a very good read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”
—Peggy McIntosh

We can’t just shake our heads and blame it all on those people. Society as a whole, including us, are to blame. The first step is recognizing that the problem isn’t something which was forced on our country. The problem isn’t something that just appeared recently. The problem has always been there. It has been growing and getting angrier for years. We are part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution. We have to find ways to oppose this racist authoritarian movement with more than just words.

If everyone ignores it…

The not-terribly detailed sketch local police released of the possible suspect.

The not-terribly detailed sketch local police released of the possible suspect.

Last week someone set off some kind of explosive device outside the office of the Colorado Springs branch of the NAACP. This happened the day before news broke of the shootings in Paris, which completely overshadowed any reporting on the bombing, so you may not have heard of it. A week later, we still know very little about what happened. The FBI is investigating. Local law enforcement is searching for a person seen fleeing the scene.

At least some people are arguing that the NAACP bombing doesn’t deserve more extensive coverage because no one died. But the firebomb didn’t kill anyone only because the main gas can didn’t ignite. Yes, that means the attempted terrorist is incompetent at bomb making (or at least at deploying the bomb), but incompetence can still kill. The incompetent often kill more people than the competent, they’re just more likely to kill unintended targets.

The effort to which some rightwing groups are going to in an attempt to claim that the bombing didn’t actually happen doesn’t jibe with claims that the story isn’t being covered merely because no one died. When known racists start claiming that the people of color are making it up, that’s a pretty good indication that a lot of less obvious racist forces are also at work trying to sweep things under the rug.

Not to say that there is a vast conspiracy. There are several reasons this story doesn’t lend itself to the circus-like atmosphere of a good 24-hour news cycle story.

  • No one died. Because no one died, the networks can’t show you pictures of the victims. There are no images of grieving relatives to exploit. There are no images of bodies in body bags they can show you. There are no images of ambulances gathered around the site of the attack.
  • The amount of damage done was minimal. There are no dramatic images of a burnt-down building, or smashed windows, or collapsed walls that they can plaster on the screen again and again.
  • Authorities don’t have a specific suspect, yet. They especially don’t have any images of a suspect that falls into any of the usual categories we like to trot out as the perpetrators of such a crime. No mug shot-esque photos of swarthy-skinned men with middle eastern-sounding names that the talking heads can repeat over and over.
  • No hate groups have taken credit. There is no dramatic footage of protestors on the streets. They can’t dig up old stories of past incidents involving the group to repeat again and again to fill up time on their broadcast.

The media has certain narratives it knows how to exploit, and at the moment this one doesn’t neatly fit into their favorite terrorism narrative. While there are reasons to believe it is a race-motivated hate crime, we don’t yet have the details that fall into the media’s typical narratives for those, either.

Those things all contribute to the lack of coverage, but they aren’t the only reasons. Race-motivated crimes against people of color, when the perpetrator is believed to be a white guy, are always dismissed as the actions of a single, disturbed individual. Even when a bunch of people die. So in case like this, when, thankfully, there are no casualties, hardly anyone is going to give it a second thought.

But if we don’t give it a second thought, we’re just enabling the next incident.

That’s not what conventional means

Willy Wonka meme about Richard Cohen column.

Everything’s better when Willy Wonka asks it.

Are you old enough to remember when the Washington Post was on Richard Nixon’s enemies list? Those days are certainly over.

If, somehow you missed the background story, you can check it out here: Washington Post Writer: Interracial Couples Make ‘People With Conventional Views’ Vomit.

So, Richard Cohen wrote an editorial at the Washington Post trying to prove that the Republican party isn’t racist. And in the course of that op-ed piece, he said:

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

This caused an uproar. The Post‘s editorial board has gotten defensive. Cohen has since claimed that he wasn’t describing his own feelings, but the feelings of some people.

Let me explain just how wrong that is…

Read More…

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