UPDATE: This is from 2006, but I figure it would be worth reposting.
It’s a few weeks after MLK Day, but Zach and I took a little time last weekend to respond to some of the things we heard from others in response to MLK Day.
We’d love to hear your reaction to our thoughts and the things we’ve heard from others. Be sure to email us.
[referring to argument’s that say if someone didn’t intended to be racist, then it is not racist]
These types of responses emphasize the majority-centric view that most people have towards racism. When intent reigns supreme, then the problem with racism is not about the victim of the racist action, but the perpetrator and their intent. This outlook on racism only benefits the oppressor, who no longer has to consider the victims of his oppression. Not surprisingly, it is the same people who belong to the majority who perpetuate this self-interested treatment of racism.
Racism does not occur in a bubble, but exists as an ongoing history of racism in America. When Michael Richards made his “fork up the ass” joke at the Laugh Factory, the racism was not that Richards actually wanted to find a Black person and stick a fork up his ass, but because this paralleled a racist American history that included numerous instances of popularized lynchings. The fork metaphor (i.e., equating a Black person with a food item) futher referenced the characterization of lynchings as Bar-B-Q’s.
Similarly, Rosie O’Donnell’s use of “ching-chong”-ery occurred amidst a history of oppression against Asian Americans and Chinese Americans in this country, which had already included use of “ching chong” as a form of degrading and dehumanizing Chinese people.
You should definitly read the rest of this blog post at Reappropriate.
I do think we do make too big a deal of situation’s like Rosie and Michael Richard’s making insane and racist statements. Let me be clear, I believe these issues and situations are big deals and need to be addressed. I’m also grateful in an odd way, for such big celebrities to do such racist things, because unfortunately, it seems like that’s the only way most common folk end up talking about these things.
So, I think we need to make less a deal of racist comments by celebrities, and start making a big deal of the comments, jokes, and structural injustices around us that discriminate on race or gender.
Video Links (Warning, many use inappropriate and racist language):
In 1970 a famous experiment was conducted concerning the construction of prejudice. Third graders where given different treatment based on their eye color. It was a landmark study in the effects of prejudice in our society.
I’ve mentioned demeaning t-shirts in the past, but I figured it was worth another mention. Shirts like the one here are becoming more and more prevalent, at least it seems that way from the number of online stores selling them and ads on sites. Fortunately I haven’t seen many people wearing the sort of demeaning and derogatory shirts I’ve seen mentioned in blogs online.
The terribly sad thing is these shirts target teenagers, youngins right at that age where they are developing their perceptions of themselves and all that. Here we are allowing them to be shaped and reinforced by t-shirts that embrace sad stereotypes and oppressive roles we’ve worked so hard to overcome. We are putting shackles on our own feet now.
In the summer of 2003, in preparation for working in the public school system, I read the book Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. To say that the book changed my view of the public school system would be an understatement. Initially it shocked me that inequalities like this still existed even 30+ years after the Brown Ruling and that I had not heard about these recent (copyright 1990) inequalities. He opened my eyes to this injustice and made me forever an advocate of just public schools. In 1990 Kozol wrote revealing decrepit schools, out of date textbooks, segregated schools, and basically little of the change we thought had come from Brown vs. Board of Education on May 17, 1954.
Kozol has recently published a new book that gives a current account of the public school system, and the picture is not pretty. The Shame of the Nation, with a subtitle that speaks volumes: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.
The stories, first-hand accounts from children in our education system, are moving and impacting. You must hear their stories. But, Kozol also writes deep and challenging words that challenge the way we discuss what is occuring in our school system. This paragraph took me a few reads to take in but it’s statement is intense:
“Perhaps most damaging to any serious effort to address racial segregation openly is the refusal of most of the major arbiters of culture in our northern cities to confront or even clearly name an obvious reality they would have castigated with a passionate determination in another section of the nation fifty years before—and which, moreover, they still castigate today in retrospective writings that assign it to a comfortably distant and allegedly concluded era of the past. There is, indeed, a seemingly agreed-upon convention in much of the media today not even to use an accurate descriptor like “racial segregation” in a narrative description of a segregated school. Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are repeatedly employed. Schools in which as few as 3 or 4 percent of students may be white or Southeast Asian or of Middle Eastern origin, for instance—and where every other child in the building is black or Hispanic—are referred to as “diverse.” Visitors to schools like these discover quickly the eviscerated meaning of the word, which is no longer a proper adjective but a euphemism for a plainer word that has apparently become unspeakable.”
To get more of a taste of Kozol before you go and check this book out of the library you can read Still Seperate, Still Unequal an article pulled from the first chapter of the book.