In the summer before I went to university I took a class at UCSD for minority students* that they used to put on, in this case the class it was kind of a overview of civil rights movements. It was in a big lecture hall but there was all kinds of discussion going on.
*OK, so you’re probably like, SatanicPanic is a minority? Well, sort of. My mother is Mexican American. My father is white. By most accounts I look like a white person (there’s really no PC way to put that) and nearly anyone who knows me probably thinks of me as one. I think of myself as mixed heritage, for what it’s worth. Just trying to provide some background.
It was my first time in that kind of setting and at one point I stood up and said “I think a lot of this is because of economic issues. If we solved those we wouldn’t have to deal with these things.”
A few people agreed, a few people didn’t. I felt really smart that I brought that up at the time, but if you asked 2014 me what I thought, I’d probably say “nah, that’s not really right- racism doesn’t need an economic rationale.” In fact, I might think, yeah that was kind of naive. I also realize now that probably a few people there were saying “easy for you to say white boy.”
I was thinking about that reading this interview with Suey Park on Salon. Mainly- good thing no one gave me a big media platform back when I was entering college- I’d have to live with all the things I said back then.
If you weren’t following the #cancelColbert deal (I wasn’t following it all that closely either) the brief summary is that Colbert was satirizing racial insensitivity on his show; someone from the show sent out a tweet with part of the gag, naturally resulting in said joke being out of context; people, in particular Suey Park, got mad at Colbert for making what appeared to be a racist joke; Colbert responded by pointing out that it was a joke and explaining the context; people responded to Park on Twitter, where there was allegedly a huge Twitter war, which I didn’t witness because I only use Twitter for food trucks.
Jay Caspian King’s response at the New Yorker provided for me the best context, in particular this:
There’s a long tradition in American comedy of dumping tasteless jokes at the feet of Asians and Asian-Americans that follows the perception that we will silently weather the ridicule. If I were to predict which minority group the writers of a show like “The Colbert Report” would choose for an edgy, epithet-laden parody, I’d grimace and prepare myself for some joke about rice, karate, or broken English. The resulting discomfort has nothing to do with the intentions of the joke or the political views of the people laughing at it. Even when you want to be in on the joke—and you understand, intellectually, that you are not the one being ridiculed—it’s hard not to wonder why these jokes always come at the expense of those least likely to protest.
I’m not totally endorsing his theory that Asians get the worst of it, because it seems like every time I watch Colbert (which is not often, since I don’t have a TV) there is a joke about some dude in a sombrero. But I’ll stop right there because discussions of who has it worst are themselves some of the worst things ever invented by man.
But it got me thinking. For white people racist is mostly just an analogy for dumbass. Haha, look at that uneducated fool! He doesn’t know people are all created equal!
Non-white people might not see it that way. I don’t want to speak for anyone but I wonder.
I talk about racism a lot on this blog, for several reasons. My mother’s family experienced it firsthand- not being served in restaurants in the 50s type of stuff. I grew up in a place where people were not treated equally. I want to understand why these things had to be. And the more I’ve learned the more I realize that racism played a giant part in American history, and I want to understand that too.
My personal experience with racism is pretty limited. Part of why I went to Japan was to experience what it would be like not to be in the position I am in the USA. Even there it wasn’t that simple- Americans are often held in privileged positions there, even while they were considers outsiders with ridiculous customs.
I had some uncomfortable moments in Japan- being refused service, being spat on (once), being treated like a child. Those things were rare. But if that were a regular occurrence I would have gone nuts. Just thinking about what I did experience makes me want to punch things.
So I wonder if, after having been treated rudely, I had gone home and turned on the TV and seen a Japanese guy parodying a racist/xenophobic person on TV if I would have laughed. I don’t know. It’s pretty much impossible to say because I never heard anyone discuss racism in Japan. That in itself was a learning experience.
Monthofsundays94 was kind enough to comment on this blog a few weeks ago so I’ve been going through posts over there and I found this one
I liked the context Monthofsundays94 provided in his post. I actually wrote on this question myself a while back. My answer for whether the song was racist was- maybe it is. I don’t know. Typical for me right? Well, that’s how I am- someone too broadminded to take my own side in a quarrel.
But I like Monthofsundays94’s point here:
But the absolute worst lyric in the song, the one that I find the most offensive, the one that makes me want to banish Lorde from the pop landscape for all time is this:
“We didn’t come from money.”
Do you think that the majority of rappers came from money? Do you really think that?
That paragraph made me laugh*- yeah, that’s a pretty stupid thing of Lorde to sing.
My problem is that I grew up in a place with a lot of racist people and I realize there are differing levels of racism. There’s burning crosses and lynching, there’s name-calling, there’s “I wish my child hadn’t married you”. There’s “I wish my child hadn’t married you, but now that you have children I’ll kind of forget about it because I want to play with my grandkids.” At a certain point, if you want to not be angry all the time in a rural area like where I’m from, you have to overlook some things. Or a lot of things, depending on who you’re around.
So when I hear Lorde I think well that’s dumb. But I said stupid things when I was her age. Maybe she’ll give it more thought. And when I read Suey Park’s angry interview in Salon I think, well, I said things in the moment at her age that didn’t make perfect sense, especially when I was dealing with racist people. I’m not agreeing with Park or saying she’s a great social justice crusader, I’m just saying I could see being in her shoes. Being treated unfairly stays with you.
And that’s another post on racism that goes nowhere and answers nothing. Someday I’ll have some answers, but not today.
*Oooh, internal rhyme in this sentence. If I rapped I would use that line in something.