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May 08 2012

Damn it, Jar Jar Binks!

So, this conversation ensued after I asked someone about the Jar Jar Binks doll on her shelf.

Me: Jar Jar Binks was your son’s baseball team’s mascot? With all the issues surrounding that charcter? That’s an odd choice.

Her: What? Why? What issues?

Me: (Danger danger Will Robinson) You know, all the hulabaloo about Jar Jar being racist…err…that is (how to explain this) how he was a racist caricature of Jamaicans or of black people who use ebonics.

Her: WHAT? Are you kidding me? I’ve never equated Jar Jar Binks with racism.

Me: Well, you’re white – you’re not subjected to a lot of the stereotypes that non-white people are faced with. Go home and google “Jar Jar Binks Racism” and you can see the reasons why some people feel the way they do about him.

Her: But, Jar Jar doesn’t act like a black person.

Oooo girl! Dafuq you just say?

Me: What!? How does “a black person” “act”? (Yeah I did air quotes. Twice.)

Her: Huh?

Me: Never mind. Listen, a lot of the criticism about Jar Jar came from people who have had to deal with the kind of stereotypes that the character embodied.

Her: You mean black people think that Jar Jar is racist?

Me: Well, I’m sure that some of the people who objected to him were black.

Her: I don’t believe in playing the race card.

Me:  Yeah, well, you’re white.

Her: I don’t think anyone should play the race card.

Me: Umm…you don’t have a race card to play, so what you’re saying is that you don’t think black people should complain about things that they find offensive to them?

Her: No, it’s just that people are so sensitive. It’s like they’re looking for anything to get offended about. I mean (looks around the room and points to a pot of purple and pink flowers), look at that flower pot. There’s no yellow flowers in there. Next thing you know, someone’s going to say that I’m discriminating against Asians.

Me: (jaw hitting the floor, stuttering). You, umm… I don’t think that’s a good example of what… I don’t think… you…

Her: So do you think I should take Jar Jar off of my shelf? I don’t want to offend anyone.

Me: (Why stop now?) No. Noooo. Nah, Jar Jar’s just a character from Star Wars, right? Hey, I gotta get going.

Her: (Sensing something is awkward) Hey, you know, I don’t like the “N” word, just so you know.

Me: (Brain splattering inside of my skull) Well, that’s good.

Her: But if we’re going to say that, then I don’t think anyone should use it, regardless of skin color.

Me: (Brain, which had started to reform, liquefies) That’s a thought. Well, see you later.

This is just one more case that shows how Jar Jar Binks is the root of all that is bad in this world.

Also, I bet you didn’t think I could re-introduce the Jar Jar Binks racism conversation this late in the game, didja? I’m just that good.

38 comments

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  1. 1
    Cuttlefish

    Meesa think yousa done good…

    Ok, just hurt me now.

  2. 2
    Tâlib Alttaawiil (طالب التاويل)

    “Her: But if we’re going to say that, then I don’t think anyone should use it, regardless of skin color.”

    got that, black people? you shouldn’t use that word because white people find it offensive…

  3. 3
    shouldbeworking

    Yeah, that hurted my feelings!

  4. 4
    sithrazer

    Just tell her to ask ‘Yo, is jar-jar binks racist’ (or a walking racist stereotype) at Yo, Is This Racist?.

    Actually, that one might already be answered. I haven’t made it through the entire history yet.

    1. 4.1
      StarStuff, a soulless cunt

      I fucking love Yo, Is This Racist?

      Also, yeah, someone already asked that: http://yoisthisracist.com/post/12515384069/i-know-you-said-star-wars-is-alright-but-what-about

  5. 5
    lupinella

    Because as someone who has racial privilege, she obviously understands the life experiences of those who do not possess such privilege.

    The monolithic Black People… grr.

    Yellow flowers representing Asians… must reach for brain bleach.

    Not liking the ‘N’ word… er, have a cookie?

    Auditing others’ use of an offensive other-ing term directed at them; people who have real-life experiences with racist language… nope, can’t even.

    Mad props for pointing out that she had no race card to play, for managing to escape her presence with a liquified brain, & for bringing up the EVIL that will always be Jar-Jar.

  6. 6
    meeotch

    I lived in Jamaica for a few years, and honestly, I think that considering Jar Jar a caricature of Jamaican or Caribbean culture is a bit of a stretch.

    1. 6.1
      Daniel Schealler

      It’s a tough one, yeah.

      I still don’t see any racism in the character.

      But then again, my feeling that the character isn’t referencing any given racist stereotypes is indistinguishable from me just being ignorant about the stereotypes that are out there in the wild.

      The Dunning-Kruegar effect applies to me too.

      The question to ask is: Who are the people who can be considered qualified experts on the subject of whether or not a given cultural construct is racist?

      The answer is: The people who are the victims of that construct. Perpetrators or neutral third parties are significantly less likely to notice.

      So while I don’t see it either, I have to go with accepting the conclusions of the community of qualified experts.

      As far as JarJar goes, I’m not entirely sure if that community is in cohesive agreement or not… But it’s messy enough that there must be something going on.

      So I think that for the rest of us the best position is one of tentative acceptance: To be updated should the opinions of the community of experts change cohesively.

  7. 7
    Cafeeine

    It wasn’t Jar Jar Binks that made me think of racism at first viewing, but Boss Nass:
    “Wesa no like da Naboo. Tkk-tkk-tkk-tkk-tkk. The Naboo tink day so smarty. Day tink day brains so big.
    Mesa no tink so. Day not know of uss-en.
    Wesa no carrrre-nn about da Naboo.
    Wesa ganna speed yous away.
    Wesa give yous una bongo.”

  8. 8
    Blue Duck

    Your acquaintance sounds like so many people I’ve talked to over the years – merely pointing out the existence of privilege is somehow perceived as ‘playing the race card’ and some sort of personal attack.

  9. 9
    michael.brew

    It’s kind of a minefield when portraying any aliens as speaking English funny (which you’d expect, really). Odds are any kind of funny-sounding English will sound at least a little like the stereotypical accent of some group of people. Of course, Star Wars Episode I also had a Space Jew, so…

  10. 10
    unbound

    Even if there were no racist issues surrounding Jar Jar Binks, why, oh why, would you choose him as your mascot? Soooo many better choices…

    1. 10.1
      Brianne Bilyeu

      True enough! Where are Jar Jar’s inspiring qualities for a sports team?

      1. Aliasalpha

        That since even lucasfilm seem to pretend he never existed, they’re far less likely to sue over unlicenced use of the character?

        (I assume unlicenced, no idea how the law works for things like mascots but it seems hard to believe anyone would pay for the rights to use the most hated star wars character as a kids team mascot rather than say “Sod it kids, you’re having a woodchuck. Now start figuring out how much wood you would chuck…”)

        1. sithrazer

          Lucas’ various companies tend to be rather lax with license infringement so long as no money is changing hands.

      2. Konradius

        The Jar-jar binks character in the Lego Star Wars games could jump really high :D

  11. 11
    kraut

    You really think you got this post right?
    I am an immigrant from Germany to Canada, have lived here for over thirty years and I am in sales for technical products.
    I get ribbed about my still remaining accent on a daily basis, not so much by customers but by co-workers.
    And I am as “white” or Caucasian as you think a “white” person might be white to be recognized as such.

    I call bullshit on your labeling Binks as part of racism, it is making fun of certain speech patterns that some immigrant groups display.

    1. 11.1
      Leo Buzalsky

      And I am as “white” or Caucasian as you think a “white” person might be white to be recognized as such.

      That means you are still part of a privileged group, though. Even if you are an immigrant. Your coworkers might make “fun” of your accent, but, because of your skin color, you’re less likely to be discriminated against than someone with dark skin color with the same accent.

  12. 12
    peicurmudgeon

    I am a middle aged white guy and the racism in Star Wars Episode I hit me in the face. It was immediately ovbious to me that Jar Jar was modeled after the portrayal of blacks I had seen in so many mid-century American movies; especially those depicting the days of slavery.

    But then Lucas was never known for his racial sensitivity.

    From io9, Jar Jar is at #1.
    http://io9.com/5789501/10-of-the-most-embarrassing-racial-and-ethnic-stereotypes-in-science-fiction

    I see a Jar Jar doll as part of a set of Star Wars figures as one thing, a Jar Jar mascot quite another.

  13. 13
    CT

    that was funny! Except, you know, the part where “white” isn’t a race. You mean, it’s not a color, right? wait, no it is a color. hm, still not understanding that. How again is white not a race? OH maybe you mean because white is a majority in the world. oh, well, maybe not. Oh, I get it, because white people are never discriminated against, they don’t count as a race. :: wipes brow :: glad I could work that out finally.

    1. 13.1
      Cafeeine

      Leaving aside how superficial distinctions of races by color is, nowhere does BB say that ‘white’ is not a race while ‘brown’ or ‘black’ is. What is said is that there is no race card to be played for whites, since there is no systemic racial discrimination against whites in the US.

      1. had3

        Is that true? Are hiring and educational admissions granted preferences based upon being a minority not systemic racial discriminations against whites? I know this is a minefield, but i’m in a constant argument with one of my conservative friends who argues that one can’t claim to be against racial discrimination if one supports it on some level. I always point out that it’s never the minority who’s saying, “now’s the time we should stop paying attention to race,” because the minority is usually in the inferior position in terms of economic well-being. Nevertheless, there is systemic race based discrimination in the US against caucasions. Most people just happen to think it’s a small price to pay for a long history the other way.

        1. Tyrant of Skepsis

          had3,

          Is that true? Are hiring and educational admissions granted preferences based upon being a minority not systemic racial discriminations against whites?

          Yes, by virtue of magic, everyone is discriminated against in the american job market.

          I know this is a minefield, but i’m in a constant argument with one of my conservative friends who argues that one can’t claim to be against racial discrimination if one supports it on some level. I always point out that it’s never the minority who’s saying, “now’s the time we should stop paying attention to race,” because the minority is usually in the inferior position in terms of economic well-being. Nevertheless, there is systemic race based discrimination in the US against caucasions.

          I would say it depends on how narrow your field of view is. Affirmative action looks like race based discrimination against caucasians in and of itself – if you ignore all the sociology. However, when seen in context with the general situation of racial minorities, much less so. It depends on how much weight you are willing to give to factors apart from the immediate hiring process. All the discrimination that happened in the time between the birth of said individual and now, that has severely impacted her/his chances of success. Conservatives tend not to be willing to do that, liberals or lefties or whatever they are called now, generally more so. Which one do you think is overall the more consistent position?

          Most people just happen to think it’s a small price to pay for a long history the other way.

          It’s not about retaliation as you make it sound here.

        2. WMDKitty -- Survivor

          Look at it this way. Affirmative Action is a reasonable accommodation for a perceived disability, in this case, the cumulative negative effects of a lifetime of being subject to racism.

          I’m all for reasonable accommodations.

  14. 14
    Cynthia

    Have to say, Lucas completely blew it with that stupid character. The movie itself was lousy, but that stupid ass Jar-Jar was the low point. So I really appreciate that you hate him, too.

    And what is with any sports team picking that for a mascot? Really? What, someone already picked Hitler or something? Aren’t sports supposed to teach kids something good? Not just bad grammar and racial stereotypes?

    Argh! The whole thing just makes you wonder how people can be so dumb.

    And, BTW, happy birthday!

  15. 15
    starskeptic

    Things were so much better when Gungans stayed in their own neighborhood…

  16. 16
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    I… kind of agree with your friend about “the N-Word”.

    If a word’s gonna be blacklisted and deemed so deeply offensive to a specific segment of the population that it needs a secondary appellation (such as “The N Word”), well, it strikes me as extremely hypocritical for that specific segment of the population to turn around and use That Word like some people drop F-bombs.

    1. 16.1
      Daniel Schealler

      It’s not the specific collection of syllables that’s the problem.

      It’s the history and context of that particular collection of syllables that’s the problem.

      Who is using the word is an important and relevant part of that context.

      It makes me uncomfortable too – but why should anyone care about that?

      1. WMDKitty -- Survivor

        And that just — what? — excuses the sheer hypocrisy of, for example, black people screaming about “OMG Whitey said The N Word” then turning around and addressing each other as “nigger”.

        Context? History? Irrelevant.

        That’s HYPOCRISY, pure and simple, and I refuse to participate in or perpetuate language policing based on a policy of “this word is okay for me, but not for thee.”

        If a word is just that offensive, if it’s soooo bad that it needs to be segregated and referred to in roundabout ways, it is a word that should be banned FOR EVERYONE, and NOT just select groups based on race and historical context.

        Otherwise, the word is fair game, regardless of race, religion, or historical (or societal!) context.

        (Incidentally, I don’t believe that there are “bad” words. Just bad actions, and occasionally bad food.)

        1. Daniel Schealler

          Context? History? Irrelevant.

          You’re wrong. But that’s okay, it’s a toughie to see for the first time – after that it cannot be unseen.

          History

          Think about it for a second: You really think that history is irrelevant to our contemporary abhorrence for the word ‘n*****’? The historic slave trade in native africans, the attitudes it entrenched in the slave-owning societies that provided the demand for slaves, and the associated connotations these historic realities append to the word in a contemporary setting, the general context in which the word ‘n*****’ came to be used to denigrate and dehumanize black slaves…

          You think these things are irrelevant?

          Seriously?

          You think the history of the way the word has been used in the past is irrelevant to how we regard it now?

          I find it hard to believe that. I must either be misreading you, or it must have just been an overstatement on your part.

          Because… You can’t seriously think that the history of the usage of the word ‘n*****’ is irrelevant to how abhorrent we hold the word to be now… Right?

          O_o

          I really, really hope not.

          Context

          The word was historically used as a method for privileged whites to denigrate and dehumanize blacks. That matters. It is important.

          So when a white person uses it, it evokes the connotation (note that intent of the speaker is irrelevant to the connotations a word implies to an audience) of denigration and dehumanization. There’s a status relationship invoked, because of the privilege of the white speaker as opposed to systemic racism against black people.

          When a black person uses it in relation to other black people, then – although the status relationship between them might be unequal in other ways, they are not unequal in terms of racial privilege and discrimination. So the usage of the word ‘n*****’ doesn’t have a racially-biased status relationship to play into. The connotations that are present when a white person uses the word are not present when a black person uses it because the context is different.

          That context matters. It is important.

          There’s also the notion that a collection of people that have been demonized by a label can reclaim that label as their own. I have mixed feelings on that one – but as I am not a member of those people, my mixed feelings aren’t relevant to how they get to dictate the terms by which they will make use of a word that has harmed them historically.

          Hypocrisy?

          I like your point at the end: That there are no bad words, only bad actions. That’s actually a very good point, and should form the basis of how we talk about this.

          There’s a difference between a word and a speech act. Words are not good or bad – but speech acts can be good or bad.

          And more goes into a speech act than the utterances involved. The speaker, the tone, the style of delivery, the emotional appeal, the audience, the greater context… All of these things are involved in the act of speech – and depending on the speech act in question, any one of them can be relevant to a greater or lesser degree. It’s entirely situational.

          So just because the utterance is the same when a white and black person say the word ‘n*****’, that doesn’t mean that the two acts are the same. Context and connotation renders the two acts very different.

          It is not hypocrisy to regard the two speech acts differently because they are different, and each should be regarded appropriately as the greater social and historic context demands.

          1. WMDKitty -- Survivor

            No, no, I understand the history just fine. I grok the “reclaiming” thing.

            I just don’t think that excuses the blatant hypocrisy often displayed by blacks in regards to the word “nigger”.

            C’mon, that’s like me telling an able-bodied chap not to use the word “cripple”, then turning to a fellow wheeler and going, “Hey, you old cripple! How ya doing?”

            NOW do you understand what I’m saying?

            (And NO, I will NOT censor words. Doing so gives the “taboo” more power.)

          2. Tyrant of Skepsis

            I don’t understand why it is hypocrisy yet. If people in wheelchairs were used to address each other jokingly as cripples (I have no idea whether they would ever do that, but that’s not important), but would object against my able-bodied self saying it, I would be totally ok with that. Actually, it would be completely obvious to me.
            What’s your ffing problem anyways? Do you have a point besides “Bwaaaaa, someone somewhere is doing something that I’m not supposed to say! It’s Unfaaaaair!”

          3. Tyrant of Skepsis

            I guess my point is – it would be hypocrisy if they were doing exactly the same thing. They are not doing exactly the same thing – precisely because of the different context, as DS has beautifully laid out. It’s not just the words, it’s the speech act that has to be considered.

          4. Cafeeine

            Thing is, I think the manner in which the speech act is interpreted is not always the correct one. The connotation of whites using the n-word in the 70s is not the same one as it is 30 years later, and while racism still undoubtedly exists, I disagree that the intent of the speaker is irrelevant to the overall connotation, or that context is identical in every situation. This is a rather more fluid situation than DS implies. History is important, but the point loses its luster when the n-word is rampant in the culture, in music, movies etc. I’m 35, and I learned the term from Eddie Murphy, not during a lynching.

          5. Tyrant of Skepsis

            The context when a white person says it now may be different from 30 years ago, but, really, it’s really not the white folks who should decide whether the context has changed enough in the mean time. Also, there’s an objective criterion: people of color still have noticeably disadvantages in western society, and therefore the situation is still asymmetric. This is a strong indicator, that maybe the 30 years were not sufficient.

          6. WMDKitty -- Survivor

            Eh. You’re right about context, at least. And maybe the whole historical baggage thing.

            “Nigger” isn’t a word that I, personally, want to use. It’s not a word I particularly like — I find it cringe-inducing and crude. I’d really rather it didn’t exist. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna tell others “you can’t say that”. (Why? Because I don’t wanna be told “you can’t say that”!)

            Context.

            If, hypothetically, I were to post on Crommunist’s blog and call him a “nigger”, yeah, offensive for a whole boat-load of reasons beyond the word. (Would it be as offensive if we didn’t have our horrible history of slavery, Jim Crow, etc? This might be an interesting tangent to explore.)

            If I’m quoting from “Huck Finn” (or was it “Tom Sawyer”?), in regards to ol’ nigger Jim, we have context, notsomuch offense there. Ditto for discussion of other historical documents containing the word.

            Discussing the word “nigger” itself presents awkwardness all its own, but it’s not offensive. At least I don’t think it’s offensive — someone would clue me in if it was, right?

            But, you know, even with all that, I’m still not a fan of double-standards and hypocrisy, and reserving certain words, saying that certain words can only be used by certain groups of people, yeah, that’s still a double-standard.

          7. Cafeeine

            I don’t think there is ever going to be a monolithic decision on the subject. I think the process started decades ago, and its not going to be decided by any one or single group. I know situations where there is no taboo on the word within a mixed group. The in-group connotation there has already changed.

            The internet is a whole other peanut, of course, being open to anyone, including blacks that currently suffer racism and racists themselves. There should be a more stringent social standard for open online conversation.

            My overall point is that this will resolve itself through regular interpersonal interaction. Eventually, the need for the taboo will expire.

  17. 17
    Disagreeable Me

    Her: But, Jar Jar doesn’t act like a black person.

    Me: What!? How does “a black person” “act”? (Yeah I did air quotes. Twice.)

    Does it make me racist if I could have found myself saying this line too?

    I mean, this line may be phrased poorly, but I don’t think that it means she thinks black people act in a certain specific way. She’s just saying black people don’t act like Jar-Jar. She’s not necessarily assuming that they act in some other specific or stereotypical way.

    I never knew about the whole racism controversy surrounding Jar-Jar. I never associated Jar-Jar with any specific stereotype. Does this mean I’m racist or does it mean I just haven’t been sufficiently exposed to the racist stereotype Jar-Jar is supposedly based on?

    Ignorance of stereotypes doesn’t make you a racist. They’re probably inversely correlated if at all.

    Now, given the rest of the conversation I can see that she does seem to be racially insensitive in general.

    Neither am I denying that Jar-Jar is a racist character. I’m just saying that ignorance of this does not make one a racist.

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