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Have to laugh, or I’ll cry

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing funny about racism. The existence of racism in our society means that black people are paid less, have poorer health outcomes, are more likely to be harassed or murdered by law enforcement, are less likely to be educated or employed… the list goes on. None of that is a laughing matter, which is why I really don’t care for racist ‘jokes’ that make light of the issue. I think we can derive a lot of humour from pointing out racism, in the same way that we can find humour in pointing out hypocrisy or vice or any other folly of the human condition. It helps us learn about ourselves, and draws attention to issues we might otherwise ignore or misunderstand.

That being said, reading this story made me laugh my ass off:

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull on Wednesday admitted to sending a racially charged email about President Barack Obama from his courthouse chambers. Cebull, of Billings, was nominated by former President George W. Bush and received his commission in 2001 and has served as chief judge for the District of Montana since 2008. The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: “A MOM’S MEMORY.”

The forwarded text reads as follows:

Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine. A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’”

Cebull admitted Wednesday to sending the email to seven recipients, including his personal email address.

GET IT? Because the president’s mother is a wanton slut who conceived him at an orgy where she might have fucked a DOG! GET IT?

Yeah… that’s not the funny part. This is:

The judge acknowledged that the content of the email was racist, but said he does not consider himself racist. He said the email was intended to be a private communication.

Now THAT’S comedy! “I know that instead of having a normal human reaction to something extremely racist, I thought it deserved to be spread to my friends. That doesn’t make ME racist though!”

The depths of moronity to which people will sink in order to prop up the “I’m not racist but…” meme never cease to amuse me. There’s even a website about it. It’s entirely understandable, too. It comes from a flawed understanding of what racism is and how it works. Racism is not a personal character flaw that is obvious and detectable through casual self-scrutiny (or, at least, not most of the time). It is an attitude, it is an idea, it is a stance. The extent to which an individual agrees with or accepts those ideas can be revealed through analysis of behaviour, but that doesn’t make the person “a racist”. It just means they have racist ideas.

The funniest, and paradoxically least funny, aspect of this story is that this man is a high-ranking judge. This is a person who is well-trained in critical thinking, appraisal of evidence, and a man upon whose judgment the interpretation of law rests heavily. Whether or not he thinks that the racist content of the e-mail is acceptable (and he says he doesn’t), he thinks that it is sound judgment to forward the message along to others. Even he knows how stupid it was:

“This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part,” Cebull said. “I did not forward it because of the racist nature of it. Although it is racist, I’m not that way, never have been.”

Judge cites self for act of poor judgment. You’ve got to laugh – the alternative (seeing it for what it really is) is, frankly, too depressing.

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