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New Required Reading: How a Wound Heals

Did you watch the Oscars? I didn’t. I don’t have cable, and to be honest even when I did the Oscars seemed like a complete waste of time. Other people like them though, so my Twitter feed was absolutely SLAMMED with #Oscars tweets, which is how I learned that satirical news-site The Onion decided it would be hilarious to call 9 year-old actor Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt”. Yeah. Funny, right?

Now, The Onion executive went on to apologize for the tweet (to the collective outrage of a chorus of dudebros who think that publicly and misogynistically dehumanizing a 9 year-old is a ‘zero bad’ kind of situation), but the damage was done. The attempt, as far as I can tell, was to satirize the flood of people whose only joy in life seems to be publicly hating on Hollywood actresses, no matter how innocent of any wrongdoing they may be. The problem is that… well, it’s not really my place to explain it. Here’s the absolute best discussion that I’ve seen anywhere:

I’m not outraged about this one tweet. I’m outraged about the cultural disease that spawned this tweet, the one where certain people are devalued and denigrated for sport and then told to laugh it off because hey, you know, it’s humor.

Or I’m outraged because I was twelve the first time I was called a cunt and I didn’t even know what the word meant. I was nearly thirteen the next time, and by then I did know what the word meant. An old man told me he loved “fresh cunt” and was not shy in detailing what he was going to do to mine. I was wearing a jumper and tights. And that’s also part of the cultural disease, this need to explain to you that I didn’t ask for it, that I was dressed modestly. This particular incident is not even something I have ever spent too much time thinking about because, frankly, it’s one of the lesser offenses. It barely registers until something reminds me of it, like a poorly considered tweet. Cultural disease.

If you get too riled up about this sort of thing, you’re humorless. You’re easily offended. You’re told to “get over it.” You’re told to have a “sense of humor.”

I might be all laughed out.

Rarely does anyone stop to consider that certain groups of people are always the butt of the joke, and, all too often, the jokes are just stupid. Give folks a break, once in a while.

Once again, the problem that the defenders of the tweet think is to blame for the controversy is the fact that women (particularly black women) just don’t understand humour. That they’ve never faced jokes before. That they’ve never stopped to consider the nuance and clever sophistry at play when someone publicly calls a 9 year-old black girl a “cunt”.

The actual problem is that the defenders of this brand of humour are the ones who lack a sense of humour – they don’t understand that they are the only ones laughing. They’ve never faced dehumanizing harassment and verbal assault for the crime of existing while black and female before. They’ve never stopped to consider the horror and undeserved shame of failing to live up to some constantly-moving standard of acceptable femininity – a target that is small enough for white women but that is near-imperceptible for black women. They’ve never had to deal with the violent consequences of being a “cunt” when someone isn’t just making high-larious jokes.

I sincerely doubt there was a single person among the flood who immediately objected to the tweet that didn’t “get” the joke. We live awash in a culture that makes these sorts of jokes. That same culture also justifies violence against black women* by finding endless reasons to make that violence a consequence of “cuntiness” rather than misogyny. We live, floating perpetually in a sea of these kinds of comments, the attitudes that inform them, and the behaviours they lead to.

The Onion was right to apologize, and the people defending the original tweet need to really ask themselves how important the freedom to say things like that about a 9 year-old girl is to them.

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*And not just black women, as Edmonton Police so shockingly demonstrate. Trigger warning for violence, victim blaming, abuse by police.