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Oct 02 2012

If it’s a joke, it can’t be racist

You’ve all seen this before: an in-group culture that celebrates itself with joking insults, that denigrates the outgroups with insults which they pretend to be mere manly rough-and-tumble play. It’s the locker room grown up and metastasizing in the board room. Try to picture being one of the targets, being told to lighten up and take persistent racism as just joshin’ around.

“Let me tell you, it’s ok to make jokes about slavery because that’s over.”

Yeah, receiving that felt like a bolt of energy striking the center of my head and slicing my body in two.

“Are you a slave? Is anyone you know a slave? No, so jokes are fine because that’s in the past.”

I almost begin to cite the multitude of ways slavery still exists, from the lingering effects of institutional racism to the real life plantations we commonly know today as prisons, but I reel myself in quickly. This is in essence the trauma SF [San Francisco] has given me, that ran me out: white men always telling which way is up because they feel they are the “authority” when it comes to any and everything, most often when they don’t know shit about shit except how to protect their privilege by telling me my life experience is false.

“Also, you should be grateful that your ancestors went through slavery.”

Oh

“Because that’s a lot worse than anything that’s happening now.”

My

“So you should be grateful that your ancestor went through that to get you here where you are today at this company.”

Goddess, please restrain me from jumping out this chair and kicking him in his giant red neck.

I go back to the image of my split body and imagine a swarm of tiny demons flocking from the halved flesh and descending upon him; flaming eyes and five rows of shark teeth parting open to reveal mouths filled with the trauma of millions of black memories of rapes, lynchings, torture, experiments, castrations, disfigurements, poisonings, false charges, divestment, profiling, appropriation, theft, murders: memories of genocide.

“And I’m from the south, so believe me, I know what racism is like.”

Well of course, thanks for brining it all the way here into this conversation.

“And, well, I know people say you don’t know about something until you walk a mile in their shoes, but I can tell you again there’s no racism here.”

95 comments

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  1. 1
    md

    yea I hate when Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy make jokes about white people too. Durn that Steve Harvey for his ‘Redneck news’ segment

  2. 2
    Worldtraveller

    Some of my best friends are racist…wait, I don’t think that’s how he wants to start a conversation.

  3. 3
    oolon

    Crommunist has a great post on why/how he stays calm in the face of such awfulness. How this guy did not punch him in the nose I’ll never know.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/10/02/black-rage-and-self-restraint/

  4. 4
    joed

    White Privilege is the United States culture.
    Most white folk are so unaware of their white privilege they sound to some degree like the southerner in this article.
    Find out about WP. Ask your white friends if they are aware of their privilege.
    WP is real and so very easy for white folk to deny.
    Tim Wise, video On White Privilege
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UJlNRODZHA

    WHITE PRIVILEGE SHAPES THE U.S.
    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/whiteprivilege.htm

  5. 5
    unclefrogy

    I would like some help here. I am not trying to justify any of this at all but is there a distinction between humor of this nature that does not belittle the “subject” and humor that does belittle the “subject” or am I trying to find distinctions where there are none.
    I can’t tell jokes or I would use examples.

    Are there jokes that are about race or gender relations that are not sexist or racist?

    The writer of the quote has way more patience than I ever did, it hasn’t me any good but I can’t change any of that now.

    uncle frogy

  6. 6
    joed

    @1 md,
    that is a racist reply–believe it or not. It shows no empathy or respect for other humans.
    It is your idea of a joke! It is the same joke the article refers to!

  7. 7
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    There is a ring of fire around my heart and it tightens. It is burning and suffocating simultaneously. I want take this lasso from around my organ and tie it around his neck,but I also want to pay the rent for the new room I have just moved into,so I swallow that bitter taste of powerlessness.

    Remember how with Obama’s election, the US supposedly became a post-racist society? Funny how you only heard white people claiming that.

    I don’t know anything about this author except for the linked blog post and I so so so want him to write a book.

  8. 8
    Crommunist

    #5 – here’s the tip I use: all jokes are inside jokes. If and when they’re based on a premise that both the teller and the audience finds funny, you’re on safer ground. I will yuck it up with my white friends when their jokes skewer racist attitudes; I have a harder time doing so when those jokes suggest they share some of those attitudes.

    I’ve also run afoul of “jokes” that I told that it turned out weren’t funny. I used to make “kitchen” jokes with my friend who is a PhD candidate in women’s studies – the whole premise was based on mocking those who sincerely hold those beliefs. After a while I noticed she never joined in the jokes, so I asked, and she told me how deeply troubling those attitudes were to her and how she didn’t find ANY of it funny. Same response when I tried to crack an ‘elevator’ joke with Rebecca Watson a few months back.

    So yeah: all jokes are inside jokes, and if the audience isn’t laughing it’s because YOU don’t have a sense of humour; not that they don’t.

  9. 9
    chigau (違う)

    I think I get it.
    It’s Racism only if there are actual signs that say “Whites Only” and lynchings.
    Otherwise it’s just … um … joking …

  10. 10
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Crommunist has a great post on why/how he stays calm in the face of such awfulness.

    How this guy did not punch him in the nose I’ll never know.

    Crommunist told you, right there in that post you linked.

  11. 11
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    “The problem is that you’re too sensitive. You need to check all that at the door before you come here to work.”

    0.o

    “We don’t even tolerate people brining up concerns of racism here.”

    There were a lot of parts where my jaw threatened to hit the desk, but this was… what the hell!? oblivious … *incoherence*

  12. 12
    Chris Clarke

    Are there jokes that are about race or gender relations that are not sexist or racist?

    Q: Why are jokes about race or gender relations usually one-liners?
    A: So that straight white men can understand them.

  13. 13
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    “We don’t even tolerate people brining up concerns of racism here.”

    Well, that couldn’t be clearer, could it. Translation: You’ll be fired if you don’t shut up.

  14. 14
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    They are so much past racism that mentioning racism is actually racist.
    Brilliant logic, that.

  15. 15
    richardelguru

    “Let me tell you, it’s ok to make jokes about slavery because that’s over.”

    Actually there is still a HELL of a lot of slavery about. Just mostly not African-Americans now-a-days.

  16. 16
    unclefrogy

    Thank you Chris I could not tell if I wanted to laugh or cry!

    uncle frogy

  17. 17
    lilith

    Something similar happened to me a while back when I refuse to lough at a friend’s joking remark about a rape victim. I stated that I don’t find it funny, and immediately found myself on the defense: I was the buzz-kill with no sense of humor, and what do I want anyway, can people speak freely in front of me? It was just a joke, after all.

  18. 18
    glennedwards

    Wow. Is there a racial form of the verb, “mansplaining”? Cause that sounded an awful lot like it.

  19. 19
    Crommunist

    “Whitesplaining” Yes, it’s a word. It gets used.

  20. 20
    Ichthyic

    I go back to the image of my split body and imagine a swarm of tiny demons flocking from the halved flesh and descending upon him


    look anything like this?

  21. 21
    Worldtraveller

    Chris Clarke@12. Now that was funny. Thanks, I was trying to come up with something.

    Beatrice @14

    They are so much past racism that mentioning racism is actually racist.
    Brilliant logic, that.

    I know some atheists like that, sadly.

  22. 22
    carlie

    So yeah: all jokes are inside jokes, and if the audience isn’t laughing it’s because YOU don’t have a sense of humour; not that they don’t.

    And to follow up: it’s only funny if the teller and listener are both on the same side, either inside or outside. It’s when the teller is in and the listener is out that it’s really, really not funny.

  23. 23
    Forbidden Snowflake

    Accusing people of having no sense of humor because they don’t like your jokes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The accusation runs on the assumption that the better your sense of humor is, the more things you find funny. But IMO, having a sense of humor is similar to having a sense of fashion: people who have it actually find more things to be tasteless than people who don’t.

  24. 24
    Gaebolga

    unclefrogy wrote:

    Are there jokes that are about race or gender relations that are not sexist or racist?

    As Crommunist noted above, all jokes are inside jokes – so this is hardly a universal rule – but in general, if the joke “punches up” (i.e. is at the expense of a privileged group) then it’s usually considered tolerable, and if it “punches down,” then not.

    Especially if the person making the joke is in the privileged group.

    Exceptions abound, of course, but it’s a start.

  25. 25
    demonhype

    lilith @17:

    My mom did something similar years ago. She had bought some Benny Hill tape and insisted I watch it with her to see how wonderfully funny he was. After the tape ended, she asked me how I liked it and I said I didn’t. She demanded to know why and I said I didn’t find it funny. She demanded to know why again, and I finally gave it to her: I said that nearly every “joke” seemed to be a convoluted effort to get hot nubile sex kittens to put their hands all over a fat little man who, with his red skin and wispy white hair everywhere, looked like a ham that had rolled under a dresser and was covered in dust bunnies, and that the rest of the jokes seemed to involve women who had committed the “crime” of being un-bonerworthy being assaulted, murdered, or otherwise humiliated or punished, after which the dust-covered ham man would again be rubbed all over by hot young sex kittens.

    So she started “mansplaining” to me (yes, from my mother!) that “men like sex” and “men like hot girls” and that I just couldn’t see the hilarity because I was some evil, shrill feminist harpy trying to ruin everyone else’s fun–never mind that she was the one forcing me to watch this stupid video and that I didn’t go into a three-hour feminist rant the moment the tape ended but only told her my thoughts when she had imperiously demanded that I do so. I pointed this out, and also pointed out that it’s not really “comedy” to create a scenario where the punchline is merely a statement of how “guys like hot girls”, and also pointed out that some of the “jokes” seemed to be about punishing non-hot girls, which is an attitude I have suffered from all my life (being a not-hot girl), that I nearly committed suicide over several times from 12 to 13 1/2 years old, and continue to struggle with suicidal issues stemming from that time in my life, so I kind of have a good reason not to find jokes about how “girls who are hot have value as sex toys, girls who are not hot deserve a shotgun blast to the face” unamusing and even offensive.

    Not that it mattered. She just kept mansplaining to me about how it was totally hilarious comedy and some day I would “grow up”, accept the “way the world worked” and stop being such a horrible feminist buzzkill who refused to laugh at jokes about how women only have value as sex toys for men.

    Funny thing is she applauded me when I refused to laugh at my one uncle’s racist joke at one point. We all just titter dutifully usually, because you know how it is with privilege and not wanting to be “the buzzkill”, but at one point I decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore. He tells me this hideous racist joke, and I stared at him deadpan. He got this look on his face like a dog that got hit with a newspaper and doesn’t know why and started repeating the punchline and asking if I got it, and I said “yes, I got it”. I didn’t get the same reaction from him though–he’s not the sharpest crayon in the box to begin with, and I think the fact that someone didn’t laugh at his “hilarious” jokes about black people just confused the hell out of him. He just walked away with this bewildered look on his face, like he didn’t know what happened.

  26. 26
    shripathikamath

    “Are you a semen drinker? No? How about your family? Any of them semen drinkers? No? Then chill, and if you took offense, hey, I am sorry for cracking a joke, because that is all it was. Gee, sensitive asshole”

  27. 27
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    “And I’m from the south, so believe me, I know what racism is like.”

    Dude probably thinks the Confederate flag “isn’t racist”, too.

  28. 28
    Anthony K

    “Are you a semen drinker? No? How about your family? Any of them semen drinkers? No? Then chill, and if you took offense, hey, I am sorry for cracking a joke, because that is all it was. Gee, sensitive asshole”

    Generally, I don’t see that it’s better to imply that someone engages in fellatio as an insult. Or are you insinuating that they’re secretly Sambian?

  29. 29
    No Light

    Chris @ 12 – I think I love you!

    Homophobic, sexist and ableist jokes burn me up inside, but racist jokes make me want to scream until I puke, even though I’m not personally affected by the latter.

    It betrays such a toxic, corrupt sense of privilege and supremacy that I cringe at the thought that they’d think I share those views, just because I’m white too.

    It’s the reason I cut my brother out of my life, because I do not ever want to be associated with his active racism.

    “Humour” that punches down is indicative of lazy, bigoted attitudes. People who append “I’m only joking, I’m not really a [flavour of bigot]! Lighten up!” are not only bigots, they’re pathetic , snivelling cowards who lack the backbone to even defend their racism/misogyny/homophobia/transphobia/ableism/classism.

    The story above makes me rage, because bigots utter a constant filthy stream of “Group X has equality now, we’re post X-ism, so it’s all good!” They know that’s a. lie, but they know that their privilege protects them. If the marginalised person doesn’t react the bigot thinks he can get away with it, and if they do react the bigot gets (at minimum) the satisfaction of causing it. Worst case being that the target is the one punished for being pushed over the edge.

    Win/win for the privileged, as usual.

  30. 30
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Dude probably thinks the Confederate flag “isn’t racist”, too.

    Oh, it’s totally not racist. My brother’s friend told me so. It’s just cultural! it’s just pride at being born in the South!

    when i asked this friend why, if its not a racist symbol, is it only ever white people who display it, despite there being plenty of non-white people also born in the South.

    he didn’t have an answer, but I was a bitch for saying the thing he couldn’t respond to.

  31. 31
    paulburnett

    “…people say you don’t know about something until you walk a mile in their shoes…”

    Remember, it’s okay to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes – because when they realize what you’ve done, you’re a mile away and they don’t have any shoes.

  32. 32
    hyperdeath

    The thing that gets me is people who fly the Confederate flag in the UK. I’ve seen it on several occasions. What the fuck?

  33. 33
    skeptifem

    wow I haven’t cringed that hard in ages.

  34. 34
    Anthony K

    The thing that gets me is people who fly the Confederate flag in the UK. I’ve seen it on several occasions. What the fuck?

    I have a war drum from my time with the development set. Perhaps it’s much the same type of thing; a traditional batik from their trip overseas.

  35. 35
    Ichthyic

    “Are you a semen drinker? No? How about your family? Any of them semen drinkers? No?

    actually, semen drinking has become something of a popular pastime during certain events here in Hobbitton:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/4673865/Horse-semen-shots-on-Wildfoods-menu

  36. 36
    Ichthyic

    looked like a ham that had rolled under a dresser and was covered in dust bunnies

    LOL

    actually, I’m sure Benny Hill himself likely would have laughed at your portrayal of him too.

  37. 37
    oolon

    The thing that gets me is people who fly the Confederate flag in the UK. I’ve seen it on several occasions. What the fuck?

    Hey there is nothing racist about being a Dukes of Hazzard fan… I’m saving up for my own General Lee replica myself.

  38. 38
    Anthony K

    actually, semen drinking has become something of a popular pastime during certain events here in Hobbitton:

    Wait, what?

    The shots will be provided by racehorse owner Lindsay Kerslake, of Christchurch, who says he came up with the idea after hearing about people drinking bull’s semen.

    “I thought, horses are all testosterone, they have hardly any cholesterol, so the idea is you’ll have as much zizz as a stallion for a week afterwards,” Kerslake said.

    I’m not sure which is Lindsay’s bigger problem: his abysmal knowledge of basic biology or his difficulty with English phonemes, but in either case I recommend he take up a diet of tongue sandwiches and pay close attention to the results.

  39. 39
    unclefrogy

    funny that Benny Hill should come up today, I thought of him and is unfunny show watching the video of the octopus steeling the bait bucket.
    his show was just cheap jokes and dumb video effects
    uncle frogy

  40. 40
    skeptifem

    actually, semen drinking has become something of a popular pastime during certain events here in Hobbitton:

    this thread has taken a very odd turn.

  41. 41
    Gaebolga

    WMDKitty wrote:

    Dude probably thinks the Confederate flag “isn’t racist”, too.

    I’ve got to say, I’m kind of on the fence about this issue – which is a statement that simply begs for context, so please allow me to clarify.

    When I moved to the South, I felt as you do, that the Confederate flag was an inherently racist symbol, especially given it’s past and present use by the KKK and various anti-civil-rights groups. And, to be sure, it usually is used as a convenient marker for racism, particularly (though certainly not exclusively) against African Americans.

    Which is why these little bumper stickers on some of the trucks around here that sported the Confederate flag next to the words “heritage, not hate” struck me as a weird conceit; as if simply declaring that something isn’t racist could possibly make it so.

    But here’s the thing that got me: if language is based on common agreement about the appropriate definition and usage of words and phrases, then why can’t people (Southerners, in this case) change the appropriate definition and usage of the Confederate flag as a symbol?

    I’ve certainly met a number of people with “heritage, not hate” bumper stickers who are rather obviously trying to cover some major racist issues, but I’ve also met some who are genuinely trying to use it to changed the flag’s meaning. Now obviously, anyone who claims not to understand why anyone would think it’s a symbol of racism is either unbelievably sheltered, ridiculously ignorant, or flat-out lying, but there are some people who genuinely want to reform the image of the Confederate flag.

    And I honestly can’t find it in me to consider that a bad thing.

    Illuminata wrote:

    when i asked this friend why, if its not a racist symbol, is it only ever white people who display it, despite there being plenty of non-white people also born in the South.

    Well, as a denizen of the South, I’ve seen some non-white folks flying the Confederate flag. Not very many of them, mind you, but they are out there.

  42. 42
    glennedwards

    @Gaebolga (#41)

    I understand your point, but as someone who grew up in Georgia, my take on this is as follows: There is no “Southern heritage” any more than there is a “Northern” one. I do not recall thinking that I had anything in common with folks from, say, Mississippi or Virginia. The only common denominator was the Confederacy and/or our oppression and hatred of black people. (I got better, thankfully.) I know many will take issue with me on that, but that was my experience.

  43. 43
    skeptifem

    But here’s the thing that got me: if language is based on common agreement about the appropriate definition and usage of words and phrases, then why can’t people (Southerners, in this case) change the appropriate definition and usage of the Confederate flag as a symbol?

    All the efforts aimed at taking back words have failed so far, though that isn’t really evidence that it isn’t possible. My gut says that it could be possible (though a huge pain in the ass), but then all they have accomplished is changing the meaning of a flag. ???what good does it do exactly?

  44. 44
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Headexplody. I was frothing and fuming and having fantasies just barely into the original narrative.

    I’m so pissed, I’ve got nothing non-emotional to say, because i can’t think. So I just looked for the asshole company.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/08/brogrammers_wanted_kixeye_s_hiring_strategy_caters_to_male_fantasies_.html
    http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/04/silicon-valley-brogrammer-culture-sexist-sxsw

  45. 45
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    The confederate flag is a secessionist symbol, and the secession was largely about slavery. That’s the only coherent meaning of the flag. I can redefine “nazi” to mean whatever I want (heritage, not hate!), but that is utter bullshit.

  46. 46
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Illuminata:

    Oh, it’s totally not racist. My brother’s friend told me so. It’s just cultural! it’s just pride at being born in the South!

    *snort!*

    I am dying to know why they’re so damned popular in upstate New York. It’s not unusual to see the stars ‘n bars flying in front of businesses up in the Adirondacks*, right beside the stupid yellow “don’t tread on me” flags.

    I mean, how ignorant do you have to be to not know what side NY fought for?

    *In the less touristy small towns, anyway.

  47. 47
    Anthony K

    So I just looked for the asshole company.

    Ooh, they’re the ones who made Battle Pirates. I can see why they’d need some badass programmers, given how awesome that game was in 1990 when it was called Rampart.

  48. 48
    jamiejag

    Goddess[???], please restrain me from jumping out this chair and kicking him in his giant red neck.

    Next time think about aiming a little lower. Those types have no vital organs from the neck up.

  49. 49
    otrame

    As for the Confederate battle flag, Aaron Sorkin, through one of his characters, said it best. I was looking for the Youtube of the quote and it looks like they’ve taken most of them down so they can rent the series. Bugger.

    It was roughly this: “In the history and culture of the South there is much to celebrate, and that flag is a desecration of all of it.”

    That flag is somewhat appropriate for the Republican rank and file, however. It marks another time when the very, very wealthy tricked the poor into fighting for increased wealth for the very, very wealthy.

  50. 50
    demonhype

    Ichthyic @36: Well, he has that privilege, and I don’t doubt he’d laugh. It’s easier to laugh at a joke about your appearance when your human value isn’t intrinsically linked to your appearance alone, or when your gender doesn’t limit you to the single possible human value of being a sperm receptacle.

  51. 51
    Usernames are smart

    He tells me this hideous racist joke, and I stared at him deadpan. He got this look on his face like a dog that got hit with a newspaper and doesn’t know why and started repeating the punchline and asking if I got it, and I said “yes, I got it”.
    —demonhype #25

    Either you are my alter-dimension twin, or we’re related, or your ass of an Uncle has a long-lost brother, because. The. Same. Exact. Thing. Happened. To. Me.

  52. 52
    Usernames are smart

    Which is why these little bumper stickers on some of the trucks around here that sported the Confederate flag next to the words “heritage, not hate” struck me as a weird conceit; as if simply declaring that something isn’t racist could possibly make it so.
    —Gaebolga #41

    As F(#45) alluded to, excusing the loserflag as “heritage” makes as much sense as me celebrating my German ancestry with a nazi flag.

    Oh, and I love otrame’s (#49) quote. I’m SOOOO gonna use that!

  53. 53
    Anthony K

    Either you are my alter-dimension twin, or we’re related, or your ass of an Uncle has a long-lost brother, because. The. Same. Exact. Thing. Happened. To. Me.

    Get the fuck out. Years ago, my sibling’s cranky-ass kids got all bent out of joint over a high-larious joke I made at one family dinner. I kept explaining the punchline to them, but y’know, the schools don’t teach shit these days.

    *Actually, my nephews and niece are pretty much 100 × awesome, and they do call out people for making racist comments. I’m just not one of them.

  54. 54
    Rey Fox

    Y’all better get off the world right now, I’m about to burn it down.

  55. 55
    demonhype

    This is too creepy, Usernames are smart. Does he also look–and act–like Carl from Aquateens?

  56. 56
    Brian

    Am I the only one getting “Post not found” when attempting to view the tumblr article in question?

  57. 57
    A. Noyd

    Gaebolga (#41)

    [T]here are some people who genuinely want to reform the image of the Confederate flag.

    And I honestly can’t find it in me to consider that a bad thing.

    It’s a bad thing because doing that would require trivializing and/or rewriting a whole lot of very rotten history. The people trying to re-purpose it still want it as a symbol of heritage, which means keeping it in the context of the Civil War. They just want to ignore the bad parts of that heritage, like how the South was fighting to uphold their practice of slavery. It’s wrong to ignore those things, not the least because PoC in the South still suffer from the aftereffects of that heritage.

    It sucks for white people to find out that we’re so often the villains of history, but it sucks even more for everyone else when we insist on pretending we’re the heroes.

  58. 58
    Gregory Greenwood

    I have a few family members who get downright testerical whenever anyone mentions the injustices faced by black people. Apparently, one cannot talk about the evils of racism in our society, and any talk about white privilege is right out. And why? Get a load of this – because Mau Mau Uprising, that’s why.

    You see, these relatives of mine have what one might call a… less than complete grasp of history. They don’t recognise the brutal oppression suffered by ordinary Kenyans under the heel of the colonial authorities of the era – in their minds the Mau Mau were a bunch of indiscriminate baby murderers who were the real racists because they were supposedly motivated, not by any desire for freedom, but simply out of an inveterate and irrational hatred for the poor, innocent white people who had of course done nothing that could possibly be viewed as oppressive, having just come to help ‘develop the country’s infrastructure’ and bring ‘modernity to the natives’, dontcha know. Oh, and they also killed other black people who were happy slaving working for the white authorities because, you know, baby murderers…

    When I started expressing grave doubts about this version of events during my teenage years, and pointed out that the consensus among historians seemed to be somewhat different, I was told to hold my tongue, because I wasn’t there, and couldn’t talk until I had been under threat by ‘bloodthirsty savages’ (those being the very words used). They even claimed that the historians (I am not sure whether they meant individuals here, or just te profession in general) were all part of some kind of lefty plot to paint the ‘true victims’ in the worst light possible.

    Of course, I wouldn’t leave it at that, and every time the issue came up I would state that while the Mau Mau certainly could be brutal, that type of asymmetric warfare always is, and the colonial forces went far further than the rebels ever did. I wouldn’t back down from the position that their version of history was hideously skewed and rascist, and so the inevitable happened, and that arm of the family won’t even speak to me any more (which is no great loss, frankly). The rest of my family blamed me for this state of affairs – apparently, I just had to ‘escalate’ the issue when I should have just ‘let it lie’. Afterall, it is ‘all in the past’ (conveniently ignoring the argument repeatedly being made that modern racism doesn’t matter because Mau Mau) and my pasty dermis means that it ‘doesn’t effect me anyway’ so why do I have to make such a big issue out of nothing?

  59. 59
    Endorkened

    This has been bugging me for some time… why do we use terms like ‘privilege’ when it seems like we’re talking about the exact opposite? As I see it (and to use a hopefully neutral example that everyone here can identify with), the Christian isn’t assumed to be moral because they’re Christian; it’s me who gets treated like a moral degenerate because I’m openly atheist. X is the baseline, the basic human rights and dignity that, in a better world, would apply to everyone–saying that the majority (or just politically dominant) group has ‘privileges’ seems to imply that the aim is to take them away, when the real aim is to give those ‘privileges’ to anyone who lacks them.
    Framing it as the out-group getting shafted also has–please don’t punch me, I’m a harmless idiot who doesn’t know any better–a better tone. Like Mr. Jensen said, accusations of ‘privilege’ seem hostile, and put people on the defensive, because it bluntly implies that you only got ahead in life because (again, to use an accessible example) you pray to the right god. Saying that the atheist was unfairly passed over is less confrontational, and either lets the implications slide right over somebody’s head or allows them to figure it out on their own time–and I know from personal mansperience that whittling out the shape of your status from inside your own head is much more profound and revealing than just being told by some outsider that everything you’ve ever accomplished amounts to sheer luck.

  60. 60
    Pteryxx

    Update via Boingboing: the author’s taken the original post down, and asked BB not to link to it, pending legal action against the company.

    http://boingboing.net/2012/10/02/what-its-like-to-be-a-young.html

  61. 61
    d.f.manno

    @ otrame (#49):

    In the history of the South, there’s much to celebrate. And that flag is a desecration of all of it. It’s a banner of hatred and separation. It’s a banner of ignorance and violence and a war that pitted brother against brother, and to ask young black men and women, young Jewish men and women, Asians, Native Americans, to ask Americans to walk beneath its shadow is a humiliation of irreducable proportions. And we all know it.

    Sports Night, “The Six Southern Gentlemen”

  62. 62
    Ingdigo Jump

    Trying to “reform” the Confederate Flag is trying to “reform” the image of the Confederacy. It is revisionist history. You’re free to fly it of course, but don’t’ get pissed that I judge you by what it represents.

  63. 63
    d.f.manno

    Actually, that should be “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee.”

  64. 64
    Ingdigo Jump

    This has been bugging me for some time… why do we use terms like ‘privilege’ when it seems like we’re talking about the exact opposite? As I see it (and to use a hopefully neutral example that everyone here can identify with), the Christian isn’t assumed to be moral because they’re Christian; it’s me who gets treated like a moral degenerate because I’m openly atheist. X is the baseline, the basic human rights and dignity that, in a better world, would apply to everyone–saying that the majority (or just politically dominant) group has ‘privileges’ seems to imply that the aim is to take them away, when the real aim is to give those ‘privileges’ to anyone who lacks them.

    If everyone has something it isn’t a privilege by definition

    A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste. See synonyms at right.
    Such an advantage, immunity, or right held as a prerogative of status or rank, and exercised to the exclusion or detriment of others.
    The principle of granting and maintaining a special right or immunity: a society based on privilege.

    That’s the point. Christian gets the benefit of being the meter stick of morality, that’s a privilege.

  65. 65
    strange gods before me ॐ

    And I honestly can’t find it in me to consider that a bad thing.

    You should, because it means another 150 years at least of white people flying what most reasonable people consider a symbol of hatred and slavery — and the whole time emboldening white supremacists by signaling that there are even more white supremacists than there perhaps actually are — while lecturing any black people who say it makes them uncomfortable. And that is a bad thing.

    Also, what A. Noyd said.

  66. 66
    Endorkened

    But it’s not a privilege if it’s something that everyone deserves, and isn’t getting. It’s not wrong that the Christian gets treated like a good person–it’s wrong that the atheist isn’t. The goal isn’t to take away the rights and dignity of Christians, it’s to grant them to everyone, regardless of what they believe. In your ideal world, do all people get treated like atheists–that is, like they might decide at any moment to drill a hole in your head and have sex with it? No–they get treated like upstanding citizens. Being assumed to be moral isn’t a special privilege that should be taken away–it’s part of the basic dignity all human beings deserve to have. Do you ever hear the NAACP argue that white people are dumb thugs who need to be oppressed and segregated to protect the flower of black womanhood? Does feminism mean believing that men are hysterical children who need to have some sense raped into them every now and then? Of course not–what you want is for the out-group to be treated like the in-group, not the other way around. The problem isn’t in-group privilege, it’s the out-group being shafted by institutionalized prejudice.
    Incidentally, I love that we’re all such gloriously nerdy pedants that we can even debate about such a tiny point of semantics.

  67. 67
    strange gods before me ॐ

    privilege: a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.

    Yes it would be great if everyone had those privileges — and at such time as everyone had them, then and only then would they cease to be privileges. Privilege doesn’t mean something which not everyone should have; it doesn’t mean something something which definitionally should be taken away from anyone.

    But, in your own writing, if you prefer, substitute “unearned advantage” where appropriate.

  68. 68
    laurentweppe

    “Let me tell you, it’s ok to make jokes about slavery because that’s over.”

    Well, if that’s the case, making jokes about the necessity of killing more southern whites to teach’em a lesson are fine too, right?
    I mean, the time period when it was necessary to kill 20% of their young males to force them to behave was in the past, so one can joke about burning suburbia down and turning it into a graveyard honoring the people who did the burning down because it’s all in the past.

    *

    Most white folk are so unaware of their white privilege they sound to some degree like the southerner in this article.

    I beg to disagree: if they were so unaware of it, there would not be so many so desperate to preserve it, don’t you think?

    *

    I can redefine “nazi” to mean whatever I want (heritage, not hate!), but that is utter bullshit.

    European far-rightists have tried it for decades:
    Oh, you see, Nazi means National Socialism so it’s totally a left ideology and it’s the leftists who bash us for openly daydreaming about the good old days when everyone born south of Malta and East of Cyprus were either Cattle or living sex toys for the European Master Race who are the real racists
    Everyone knows it’s bullshit, but more and more often you see “moderate” right-winger pretending to take this seriously for the kicks of throwing what they know is an effective infuriating insult.

  69. 69
    toocoincidental

    Wow. Sometimes coincidences are amazing.

    I actually have an offer letter from this very company in front of me right now. I’ve been trying to decide if I really wanted to accept it. It’s less money and more time in the city away from family. So, I wasn’t really sure. But, I have been thinking about it.

    Then to have this coincidentally come up just now… if I was a religious man I’d say it was a sign from a higher power. But, I’m not. So, I just consider it damn lucky.

    Thanks for the link.

  70. 70
    SallyStrange

    So, the thing about the allegedly “Confederate” flag is that its particular incarnation hearkens back more to the Civil Rights era than it does to the Civil War. Its current popularity owes more to its adoption as a symbol of opposition to integration and civil rights than it does to playing any significant role in the Civil War – which, we should remember, was about slavery.

    So, no, I don’t think reclaiming it is a good thing. There are plenty of other symbols to adopt to celebrate one’s heritage, that aren’t marred by centuries of association with explicitly white supremacist ideology.

  71. 71
    randay

    I don’t understand the support for censorship from many–er–most commentators. Anything can be the object of a joke. Only it must be funny. Lewis Black, a Jew, makes jokes about Jews, but also about Christians and many other things. I see nothing wrong with that. Christians(are there any funny ones?) or unbelievers would be criticized for making jokes about Jews though.

    If I remember right, Richard Pryor was the first comic to make open jokes about race, both about whites and blacks. So why can’t a white make jokes about both and even about slavery–if it is funny. Louis CK was criticized for being racist in his program “Lucky Louis”. He had a black couple as neighbors and friends and made jokes about racial stereo-types, which many dimwits took as racist. Atheists like me make jokes all the time about god and religion.

    I could give many other examples. If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly. Furthermore, some schools want to ban books by Mark Twain, an anti-racist, on the grounds that he used now unacceptable vocabulary.

    You either have free speech or you don’t.

  72. 72
    microraptor

    Indeed.

    The swastika had a long history as a symbol for various things prior to the Third Reich, but it’s now become so heavily ingrained into the public consciousness as the Nazi symbol that no one will take it seriously if someone claims to be displaying it as a reference to anything other than Nazis.

    Likewise, the Confederate flag has been used as a symbol of oppression both during the American Civil War and during the Civil Rights Movement to such an extent that anyone claiming that they’re only displaying it as a symbol of standing up to the government or states’ rights should be immediately considered to be a person of complete dishonesty or complete stupidity.

    And I’m saying this as someone who was named after a direct ancestor who was a member of Jefferson Davis’s cabinet and apparently (judging by some family heirlooms) a friend of his as well. My grandmother, who was from Virginia, used the term “coloreds” all her life and was genuinely shocked when she heard me at age 8 complain about the inappropriateness of the Confederate wolf from the Droopy Dog cartoons.

  73. 73
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    randay,

    It’s not funny.

    You either have free speech or you don’t.

    Three comment rule.
    *deep breath*
    Three comment rule.
    Three comment rule.
    Three comment rule.

  74. 74
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    randay, you are a fucking idiot.

    I don’t understand the support for censorship from many–er–most commentators.

    You don’t understand not wanting people to make racist jokes? Yeah, you can make those jokes but there’s consequences. Like hopefully getting written up for being an insentive jackass if you do it at work, or people think you’re a racist jackass. Sure, do whatever you want. It’s not like we are going to physically make you stop or nothing, but you do have to live with people responding accordingly.

    Anything can be the object of a joke. Only it must be funny.

    This one wasn’t funny. This one was made by a white dude to a person of color. You have to be aware of punching up, instead of down. You have to be aware of your audience. Like everyone was talking about upthread, it all really depends. Jokes are in-jokes and must be done carefully.

    There are also jokes that no matter what are fucking racist and sexist and shouldn’t be made. Of course you can make those jokes, but I’ll call you out for it.

    If I remember right, Richard Pryor was the first comic to make open jokes about race, both about whites and blacks. So why can’t a white make jokes about both and even about slavery–if it is funny.

    This one was. not. funny.
    This one was done from a white dude to a person of color, who did not fucking appreciate it. This one was bad and contributed to a chilly climate. This guy then doubled-down and claimed racism was over, there were no racists here and made it clear that the offended cannot go and report the racist asshole.

    Sure in theory a white dude can make a joke about slavery. It has to be done correctly and carefully. If it’s racist, be prepared to be called a racist.

    Lewis Black, a Jew, makes jokes about Jews, but also about Christians and many other things. I see nothing wrong with that. Christians(are there any funny ones?) or unbelievers would be criticized for making jokes about Jews though.

    Do you not see a similarity between a white dude getting criticized for making a joke about slavery? Did you not pay attention to what people said up thread about making jokes when you’re not the race/ethnicity/gender at the butt of the joke?

    I could give many other examples. If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly.

    Riiiiight. Because they aren’t funny. Oh but if the joke is racist and get laughs, they stick around to spread around more misery.
    Why is racist in quote marks?

    Furthermore, some schools want to ban books by Mark Twain, an anti-racist, on the grounds that he used now unacceptable vocabulary.

    Oh so fucking what? That was what to do with not making racist jokes? Do you think Mark Twain would be okay with racist jokes? Does it fucking matter if he would be okay with racist jokes?

    Keep whining about free speech when all we’re saying is beware and be careful of being an asshole.

    If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly.

    1.) What’s with putting racist in quotes?
    2.) So it’s all okay as long as it makes someone laugh? Oh, people laughed at Tosh’s rape threat he made to a heckler so that makes it all okay, it’s totally not a rape threat or sexist or anything.

    Did you read nothing in this post or thread? Obviously you didn’t fucking comprehend any of it.

  75. 75
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    What comedy circuit? We’re talking about racist jackasses “joking” at work.

  76. 76
    chigau (違う)

    You either have free speech or you don’t.

    All white™ people should be killed and eaten.
    hahahaha kidding hahaha
    also
    polack jokes are fukin’ awsum

  77. 77
    Usernames are smart

    Does he also look–and act–like Carl from Aquateens?
    —demonhype (#55)

    Whew. No, more like a Buddy Hackett but with more trailer-park.

  78. 78
    opposablethumbs

    randay, you may have noticed a few comments around the place – indeed, there are some in this thread alone – containing the phrases “punching up” and “punching down”. I suggest you read them. Preferably for comprehension.

    Argh three comment rule … was that just a shade on the antagonistic side for posting within the three comment zone? Maybe. Well let’s just say that one determining factor is the power gradient between the group to which the teller of the “joke” belongs (or to which the teller is seeking to appeal) and the group to which the “joke” refers in derogatory fashion.

    Ah, fuck, Beatrice said it better. It’s not funny.

  79. 79
    Ms Anne Thrope

    The thing that gets me is people who fly the Confederate flag in the UK. I’ve seen it on several occasions. What the fuck?

    I’ve often seen people flying the old (apartheid) South African flag at rugby matches in the UK. I choose to believe it means that all the racists have finally emigrated.

  80. 80
    thetalkingstove

    Why does someone always have to go to “but free speech!”?

    Criticism is not censorship. Is that such a baffling concept?

  81. 81
    dobber

    randay

    I don’t understand the support for censorship from many–er–most commentators.

    How can discussions about what constitutes inappropriate and hurtful “humour” be described as supporting censorship?

    Also, aren’t we practising free speech by critiquing such jokes? There’s no rule that says only the first speech is free in a discussion.

  82. 82
    dobber

    Oops, thetalkingstove. You beat me to it.

  83. 83
    DLC

    If you find yourself needing to tell a joke such as the one alluded to in the OP, you are not “beyond all that racism stuff”, and it is not okay.
    ===================================
    The confederate flag may have been marched under by man brave persons, but it was a false flag, used to rally people to an evil cause. The cause was nothing less than the right of a few to continue to own human beings as chattel. How much more evil do you need a thing to be before you show contempt for it ?

  84. 84
    Anri

    I don’t understand the support for censorship from many–er–most commentators.

    Please quote some posts calling for censorship.
    I suspect you are confusing calling someone who uses racist language as using racist language with censorship.

    Anything can be the object of a joke. Only it must be funny.

    If a racist joke is funny, does that make it less racist?
    Please explain why.

    Lewis Black, a Jew, makes jokes about Jews, but also about Christians and many other things. I see nothing wrong with that. Christians(are there any funny ones?) or unbelievers would be criticized for making jokes about Jews though.

    First of all, there is the concept of ‘punching up’ versus ‘punching down’.
    Secondly, there are women who apparently believe that women aren’t as smart as men, and shouldn’t be allowed to demand equal pay for equal work. Are they correct simply because they’re women?

    If I remember right, Richard Pryor was the first comic to make open jokes about race, both about whites and blacks.

    You remember wrong – jokes have been openly made at the expense of black people for hundreds of years.

    So why can’t a white make jokes about both and even about slavery–if it is funny. Louis CK was criticized for being racist in his program “Lucky Louis”. He had a black couple as neighbors and friends and made jokes about racial stereo-types, which many dimwits took as racist. Atheists like me make jokes all the time about god and religion.

    Quick thought experiment: switch from being an atheist to being a theist. Now switch back.
    Then, switch from being a white person to being a black person. Now switch back. That’s important – see if you can figure out why.

    Also, god and religion aren’t people. That’s also important.

    I could give many other examples. If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly.

    Blackface musicals were very popular in their time. Are you arguing that they weren’t racist because they were considered funny by the audience?
    Or might it be that they were considered funny because the audience had a much higher regard for racist speech then we (hopefully) do today?
    Or might it be said that they were clearly racist regardless of how popular or funny they were, then or now?

    Furthermore, some schools want to ban books by Mark Twain, an anti-racist, on the grounds that he used now unacceptable vocabulary.

    And people who conflate Twain’s writing with racist jokes are making a deep category error. Are there any examples in this thread? I suspect I could find one.

    You either have free speech or you don’t.

    Does free speech include the right to call a racist joke racist?

    More to the point, free speech does not protect the speaker from the consequences of that speech. You are perfectly free to assume blacks are slow-witted, hyper-sexualized criminal scum, and to make funny jokes while doing so. And I am perfectly free to presume you are a bigoted asshole for doing so. And to say so, loudly and repeatedly.
    See? Freedom.

  85. 85
    DLC

    FWIW : edit: me in 83 : ” . . . under by man brave persons . . .” should be “under by many brave persons. . . “

  86. 86
    Rey Fox

    If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly.

    Ah, so the threshold of acceptable speech is going to be whether or not it makes some critical mass of (majority class) yahoos laugh. We can do better.

  87. 87
    kayden

    @60 Pteryxx:

    Hope he wins his lawsuit. That type of racist speech is not acceptable — especially in the workplace.

  88. 88
    Anri

    I could give many other examples. If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly.

    Oh, and as a quick follow-up, what’s the threshold for something being funny for it to not be racist anymore? I understand if you can’t supply exact numbers, but just a general idea would be good. Is it a simple majority? Or does it require two-thirds?

    Does this metric change over time? Once something has been ruled to be Not Racist On Account Of Mirth, can it somehow end up in the You Know, That Really Was Racist After All category later? What’s the procedure here?

    Am I making things too complex? Is it just a matter of asking you – if you find it funny, it can’t be racist, (because otherwise, you’d be laughing at racist jokes and that’s unpossible!)

  89. 89
    lpetrich

    This makes me think. Has anyone thought of any good pro-North or anti-South jokes about the Civil War? Like what a great urban developer General Sherman was in Atlanta. Or how General Sherman didn’t go far enough.

  90. 90
    doktorzoom

    If someone’s “racist” jokes are not funny, that someone will disappear from the comedy circuit quickly.

    Probably worth noting that a tech job is not the comedy circuit, whatever the management might like to think.

    Context matters. Bette Midler tells a howlingly funny joke on her “Mud Will be Flung Tonight” album that, when delivered by a male judge at a luncheon, gained the judge an official rebuke.

  91. 91
    Ingdigo Jump

    This makes me think. Has anyone thought of any good pro-North or anti-South jokes about the Civil War?

    They don’t have to. They won

  92. 92
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Re: pro-North/anti-South jokes

    It’s kinda hard to top the giant joke that is “the Confederacy”.

  93. 93
    Aratina Cage

    Well, as a denizen of the South, I’ve seen some non-white folks flying the Confederate flag. Not very many of them, mind you, but they are out there.

    It used to be the state flag in Georgia. They have forced it on everyone there. Children have grown up not knowing it as a symbol of slavery but as a symbol of their state. I’ll never forget the anger I felt the day I saw a Black child point to the Confederate flag on a Civil War mural and exclaim to his father, “That’s our flag!”

  94. 94
    microraptor

    Well, you could make a necktie that looked like a railroad rail, but I’m not too sure how many people would actually get it.

  95. 95
    christophershelton

    @71 randay:

    If a joke is racist and you think it’s funny, that doesn’t mean the joke is not racist, it means you are.

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