Wednesday, January 31, 2007

who cares if you're a racist? you're stupid.

here is a post from Alas, A Blog commenting about a really ill-thought racially themed party at Clemson on Martin Luther King Day.

not only does the general ignorance of college kids stun me, their whole misunderstanding of satire (which just re-emphasizes they weren't paying that much attention in their english classes in the first place) frustrates me.

we've seen this excuse before. michael richards had his defenders who said his n-word laden rant was perhaps a misfired attempt to satirize ... something (it's unclear what exactly he would be satirizing); chuck knipp's drag character, Shirly Q. Liquor, is supposed to be (in his words) a satirical look at racism; the hipsters in brooklyn with their Kill Whitey club nights think they're satirizing 'ghetto culture'; and now, every frat boy/sorority girl, college or law school student who wants to wear a sombrero, put on blackface, speak in ebonics or 'run for the border' thinks they're engaging in satire.

but what they forget, or perhaps never knew or understood, is that satire is a punch in the eye of Power. satire's anger, it's needle, is directed upward - never downward. if it does, then it ceases to be satire and it's just another way for those in power to bully the powerless or to scream to the public that you're just another tool of the status quo.

so, for all you dumbass college kids and misinformed adults out there, this is satire:

it is a precise literary term (which means you have to have some measure of intellectual weight to pull it off)
it has a very specific target (i.e., a person or group of people, an idea or attitude, an institution or a social practice)
in satire, your target is held up to merciless ridicule that is often very angry, ideally in the hope of shaming your target into reform (again, critical faculties are necessary as well as a recognition of power and how it operates in society)
it has a strong vein of irony or sarcasm (parody, burlesque, exaggeration and double entendre are all devices frequently used in satirical speech and writing - again, pointing to intellectual rigor in the person who calls herself a satirist)
finally, it is strictly a misuse of the word to describe as "satire" works without an ironic (or sarcastic) undercurrent of mock-approval, criticism and an element at least of anger.

how does a privileged white boy in blackface poke fun or criticize or throw into instability the codes of racism or our racist history? how does a white girl in a do' rag holding a forty problematize the ways that race, sexuality and racial images are reproduced and disseminted in this country?

it doesn't. because all you have is a white girl in a do' rag holding a forty.

here endeth the lesson.

[and photo credit goes to The Smoking Gun]


Molly Malone said...

i don't know what's more distressing: the blackface or the decision that MLK day was a good time to hold this party.

Hope V said...

I stumbled on your blog via Feministing (I like it!) and was interested in this post. The same thing happened around October in Baltimore at a Hopkins frat party (it was a "ghetto party" or whatever and the frat got in trouble for it (although, not ENOUGH trouble). It was disgusting. Especially since it was in relation to a school that under represents African Americans as it is. Disturbing that these parties seem to be widespread- I don't remember any of them when I was in college, and that wasn't long ago. Yuck.

ding said...

if you google 'ghetto party' you can see just how many undergrads are throwing them. it's a little disturbing that these young adults (supposedly the future leaders of our society) are tinkering with racist stereotype (no matter where they come from.)

a few explanations, though none of them go far enough:

- racism and stupidity go hand in hand, therefore, it's an easy fit for these undergrads.
- racism supports economic privilege, therefore it's no surprise these undergrads find no problem with throwing a ghetto party. (or is it the other way around - economic privilege supports racism?)
- our communities are becoming less integrated so undergrads are more likely to see racialized images/stereotypes in an uncomplicated and unproblematized way.
- it's rap's fault and suburban white kids can't tell the difference between reality and what they see on tv.
- they have no home training about what's appropriate and what's not.
- our colleges and law schools really are becoming hotbeds for racists.
- despite the history of racism and racial conflict in our country, black still codes for 'cool.'

personally, i'm a big fan of the 'no home training' explanation.

(and i'm so glad you found me from feministing! i love their site.)