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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Layers of Racism...It's Like an Onion, Really

Look, I get it, I really do. Some poor schmoe who gets paid like two cents a tweet for The Onion made a bad decision.

And it was really bad.

But I see where he was going. Taking the sweetest, most innocent, freshest and possibly most talented face at the Oscars--someone who was beyond reproach (because that is what would make the joke funny)--and using the crassest language possible to point out the error in the ways in which the Oscars are both produced and reported.

Who looks the worst? Who's drunk? Who's gotten botox?

It's all garbage, and that's what the man behind the tweet was trying to say.

But that is not what he said.

And to those of you blathering about how no one can take a joke, and we're all clearly missing the intention of the humor and free speech and blah, I've just started this post with proof that, no, I get it.

And I still hate it.

And I'm not even going to defend Quvenzhane Wallis, not because she doesn't deserve to be defended, but because those who supported the Onion's tweet are saying it's not even about her.

It's not about a young child, it's not about a girl, and it's definitely not about a young black girl. People who think it is are just obtusely missing the point. In fact, the supporters of this humor didn't even notice she was black!

First of all, yes you did. Unless you are literally blind and had no access to media during the release of the movie, and during the Oscars and really for all of time (in which case, you wouldn't have heard about the tweet) you noticed her skin color.

What you meant to say was this: Her skin color didn't matter to you. You would have made the same shitty joke about a little white girl, you swear.

Okay, so let's give you the benefit of the doubt and say you would have. Even though you didn't.

The problem is this: It's not up to us to say skin color doesn't matter to us. While it can be a grandiose step in what might be the right direction, it erases centuries of pain, hardship, loss and despicable treatment that is not ours to erase.

As bell hooks said in 1992, white people cannot reach out to black people to combat racism saying, “we’re ready now, let’s be friends. Subject to subject contact between white and black which signals the absence of domination, of an oppressor / oppressed relationship must emerge through mutual choice and negotiation.”

We don't have the right to say when racism is over.

Here's a comment from my friend's blog, the post to which I linked above: "You clearly have not reached the stage of post-racial."

No. No, she hasn't. That's the point. Neither has the person making that comment, although he (or she) thinks he has. "Color blindness" not only minimizes incredible strain and hardship in the distant and recent past for minorities, it also implies that the problems they face today are not there. It subverts efforts to bring about true equality by saying that what we have now is equality. And it is not.

These paltry attempts we make as white people to make ourselves feel better, to allow ourselves to prematurely congratulate ourselves on wiping out racism, are exactly that: paltry attempts.

“[Modern racism] eschews old-fashioned racist images, and as a result, stereotypes are now more subtle, and stereotyped thinking is reinforced at level likely to remain below conscious awareness” (Entman & Rojecki 1992).

My point here is that the little girl is black, and we cannot go around saying we didn't notice or that it has no bearing on the situation, as spectators. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe she will tell us that, or her parents will. They're pretty much the only ones who can make that call. 

Actually, that's not my point. That was my side point. My point is, yet again, that words mean things. And even though you meant the opposite of what you said, you still said what you said. About a little girl. For a cheap laugh. And yes, we all know that no one, especially you, tweet writer, actually thinks Quvenzhane Wallis is that word you called her.

And no, it doesn't matter.

Think before you type. There are so very few lines in this day and age. Why would you cross one like that? And I realize that the joke is damn near impossible to pull off if you use anyone but a child as your vehicle. Because people will take you seriously. And I think now we've all realized that people will still take you seriously. Because words mean things and even if you didn't mean those words, meant the opposite of those words, that message is still being digested by millions of people around the world.

And if there wasn't this backlash of know-it-ally bloggers fighting what we consider "the good" fight? And if the Onion hadn't been forced to take down the tweet and apologize? Well, how many 12-year-old boys (or girls) would have seen it and assumed that kind of language and message was okay, was funny, was cute? Because talking doesn't ever lead to action, right? People, especially young people, speaking words that they've heard those they respect say, that doesn't subconsciously solidify opinion, right? That doesn't normalize behavior, set an example, enhance a point of view, does it?

But maybe it does.



  1. Ugh, I have been so disgusted with aspects of our society this past week (after all the racist and sexist "jokes" during the Oscars), and I adore you more than ever for this blog post.

  2. Thank you so much, lady. You took the words right out of my mouth. I shall be sharing this.




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