Racism In America: Still Being Ignored

mediaracism

There must be a class somewhere for beginning meme-makers called “How to Lend Your Meme A Veneer of Edginess or Subversiveness Without Actually Saying Anything Edgy or Subversive”.  Its entire curriculum looks like this:

Use an image of a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.

If I had a nickel for every Guy Fawkes meme I’ve seen whose author believes he is laying down some woke truth, but is really just recycling stale old cynicism, I’d have…I don’t know…a couple bucks at least.  I suppose it is fitting that the likeness of Fawkes accompanies memes like this; after all, Guy Fawkes’s failed plot to overturn the hierarchy of English royalty is somewhat analogous to this meme’s failed attempt to blow the lid off of the media’s alleged complicity in promoting racial divisiveness.  Still, I have to laugh at the credibility boost that the author clearly thinks he is getting by using a picture of a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.  He thinks he’s glimpsed the truth.  I think the eye holes in the mask should be cut a bit wider.

The racial divide in this country is caused by racism, full stop.  You could argue that certain media outlets bear a fraction of the responsibility for increasing racial tensions in the United States, but it’s not like the media invented racism.  Racism has been a part of our national conversation since Day One.  Racism exists in every dark corner of our society, and there are a lot of dark corners.

When the nebulous entity known as The Media does what it’s supposed to do, it shines a light into those dark corners.  It exposes racism where it hides, and that’s a good thing.  Like vampires and other vitality-sucking monsters, racism withers in the light.  The media should not be excoriated for leading a national discussion on racism; it ought to be encouraged.  We the people should not look away and curse the media when it brings us stories of horrible human suffering brought on by bigotry; we should huddle close and listen as intently as we can.  We should ask how we can help, how we can be better, how we can end the cruelty.

People blame the media for promoting a racial divide because they want the media to stop talking about racism.  I can almost understand why: if you’re a person of privilege who has never experienced direct racism, it can be a very uncomfortable thing to talk about.  It absolutely should be uncomfortable – it is an unsavory topic – but that does not excuse us from talking about it.  Contrary to the implication of this meme and others I’ve dissected, racism will not disappear if we all ignore it.

In the interest of stymieing the meme maker’s effort to stunt racial communication, here is a brief list of talking points I think the media should encourage every American to discuss:

  1. Racism is a real and driving force in modern-day America.  It did not die with slavery.  It did not end with the repeal of Jim Crow laws.  It did not end when Barack Obama was elected president.  It continues to exist.  Denying the existence of racism, or claiming that racism is a myth propagated by the media to sell air time, is not helpful.
  2. Racism is present in both people and in institutions.  A person’s racism may be countered by thoughtful dialogue and education, but institutional racism can only be curbed by sweeping systemic changes from within.  Acknowledging one but ignoring the other is not helpful.
  3. Institutional racism is a power structure that can only be wielded by those who have historically held positions of power.  In this country, that includes white men and…that’s all.  Comments like “But black people are racist too!” or “All lives matter!” are not helpful.
  4. Minorities who claim to have been the victims of racism – in any form – should be listened to.  Their claims should not be discarded out of hand.  Terms like “playing the race card” are not helpful.
  5. Peaceful protests against racist institutions are not a threat to civilized society.  Making people uncomfortable is not a crime, it is exactly the point of peaceful protests.  Explicit or implied threats of violence against protestors – even if made in jest – are dangerously unhelpful.  Bringing up every bad thing that has happened during an initially-peaceful protest, as if that serves as some kind of argument against protest in general, is also not helpful.

It’s a start.  It’s more of a start than this meme’s author is willing to make, anyway.

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Sergeant Stupid

Goat Humpers

Happy 2nd Birthday to Stupid Bad Memes!  I can’t believe we’ve been around the Sun twice and I’m still doing this!

First, a gripe about spelling: in this context, the word is properly spelled “losing.  Not “loosing”.  It’s actually easier to spell it correctly.  You have to hit one extra keystroke to be wrong.

Here’s a fresh-off-the-griddle racism pancake for you, served with a side of douchebag (the meme’s author, I mean, although apparently actor R. Lee Ermey is a bit of a douchebag as well).  The phrase “goat humper” is a slur often targeted at Arabs.  So, if I read this meme correctly, the delightfully sophisticated author believes our nation is being overrun by Arabs (Actual percentage of Americans that are of Arab descent: about 1%).  He challenges us to “grow a pair” and act like Americans.

With all due respect, angry Drill Sergeant sir, I already have a pair.  My pair and I don’t want to act like the kind of American you’re talking about.  I don’t want to be an angry, bitter bigot, in other words.  Yes, that’s what we’re talking about…bigotry.  Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge it: this meme is one steaming heap of racist, bigoted, hate-filled, spiteful, ugly, paranoid nastiness.

At least the meme’s author acknowledges that his message will be perceived as racist.  I’m not sure whether he deserves credit for that acknowledgement.  He’s not actually owning the racist mantle, but he has essentially declared war on tolerance.

I would love to have a conversation with the person that made this meme, or with somebody that agrees with it, because i have a couple of questions.

  1. Just to make sure: when you say “goat humpers”, are you referring to Arabs?  I want to understand which brand of ignorant, hateful racism you’re spouting.
  2. In what way are we losing (one “O”) the United States of America to Arabs, considering that Arab descendants make up a tiny percentage of Americans in general and have very little representation in local, state, or federal government?  (And before you even say it, no…President Obama is not a Muslim – just in case you’re conflating Muslims with Arabs – nor is he from Kenya.  And his Kenyan heritage on his father’s side does not make him an Arab, since Kenya is not considered an Arab nation.)
  3. In your opinion, what exactly does acting “like Americans” entail?  It sounds like you’re calling for some sort of ethnic genocide.  We’ve done something like that before, and it’s a sad chapter in our nation’s history.  Maybe we could try something new.  You know, something like tolerance and understanding.  We talk about liberty and justice for all – and those are lofty ideals; now let’s stop poisoning the well and strive to implement them in real life.
  4. Do you even care how others might feel about this meme?  Stop and think about it: What if a good, law-abiding Arab American citizen came across this meme on your Facebook wall.  How would it make that person feel?  Does it bother you at all that you might be making other people uncomfortable, perhaps a bit frightened?  Is that what you think a real American should do?   Or is your mind poisoned by the notion that every man is an island who shouldn’t be affected by the words, ideas, and actions of others?  Are you one of those “It’s not my fault if you’re offended” jerks?  Yeah, you are.  I can tell.

Look, if you want to be a jerk, I can’t stop you (obviously).  But I can rebuke you, and I shall.  Because you know what?  Your sentiments are not those of an American patriot, buttercup.  They are the thoughts of a person consumed by bigotry.  It’s not the “goat humpers” that have no place in America; it’s people like you.  I suggest you have a Scroogian turnaround double-quick, or else find a lonely island to inhabit by yourself.  There you can be just as racist and hateful as you want to be, and nobody else has to read or hear about it.  It’s a win-win.

A Real Philemma

Philemma

One of these days, a celebrity I actually like is going to say something stupid. When that day comes, I hope I don’t find myself thinking of ways to excuse his or her behavior.

As soon as I heard about the firestorm that grew up around Duck Dynasty patriarch and ZZ Top Fan Club President Phil Robertson, I knew I’d be writing about it. It’s not that I care about Duck Dynasty – nothing could be further from the truth – but this has all the makings of a Paula Deen style scandal. In fact, it’s bigger than the Deen scandal: Deen’s reprehensible behavior could only be hand-waved away by saying that she was a product of another era, but Robertson’s old-fashioned bigotry supposedly has the backing of the Big Man himself. Of course, that all depends on your reading of the Bible (Shh, don’t tell conservatives that there are different opinions on religious matters – it just upsets them), but the religious right is perfectly happy to conclude that anybody who finds Robertson’s recent comments in GQ disgusting must be violently anti-Christian, and therefore worthy of scorn.

What did Robertson say that was so appalling? Man, what didn’t he say? Robertson’s GQ interview is a veritable grab bag of ignorance and bigotry. Said Robertson:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Dear God. I simply don’t know where to start. Robertson is with the blacks, because his family is white trash? So does Robertson actually conflate black people in general with “white trash”? That’s not a flattering comparison by anybody’s standards. And if Robertson failed to witness the suffering of blacks under Jim Crow, then it was only because he was blind to it. I cannot believe that Robertson spent his entire life huddled in an isolated bubble where all the local black people were just as happy as they could be about the hand they’d been dealt. Robertson must know that was not the situation everywhere.

But racial insensitivity aside, what does Phil Robertson think about gay people?

Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical

You know how sometimes you realize you’ve said way too much but for some reason your mouth just won’t stop running? I think Robertson experienced that about the time he started discussing vaginas and anuses. I’m so sorry, gentle reader, to have exposed you to that. Nobody should have to think about the places Phil Robertson does or doesn’t want to stick his wang.

The first thing that’s blatantly obvious is that Phil Robertson doesn’t understand anything about homosexuality; or to be fair, he understands about as much as he thinks he needs to, which is nothing. He manages to work bestiality into his discussion about homosexuality, as if they are two sides of the same coin. Of course that isn’t true: a gay man or woman is no more likely to have sex with an animal than a straight man or woman is, but that distinction is not important to somebody who wants to make homosexuality sound as icky as possible.

Also, Robertson seems to think that human sexuality is driven solely by our attraction to various orifices. Unfortunately for him, this idea doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. A gay man is not gay simply because he wants to…you know. He’s gay because he is attracted to men, not their body parts. How does Robertson not understand this? Oh right, because he doesn’t want to.

Now let’s be honest: you don’t have to interview Phil Robertson to guess how he feels about certain social, religious, and political issues. I’m sure the bigwigs at A&E knew from the start that the Robertson clan would have fairly staunch Christian conservative values, including an open disdain for homosexuality. They took a chance on the Robertsons because they thought the show could be successful, and it has been. Robertson was just speaking his mind: no matter how abhorrent his beliefs are, he is still entitled to them. But just as with the Paula Deen kerfuffle earlier this year, people need to understand that A&E is a business, first and foremost. They are not bound by the Constitution to respect free speech, which means they can make their own decisions about which of their stars’ comments they will support. Robertson was either gutsy or foolish – depending on your point of view – for admitting to feelings that a reasonable person would know were controversial; now come the fireworks. Nobody should be surprised.