Ignoring the context

Here’s a link to get you up to speed.

White people often bring up “context” in defense of racism.

Miley Cyrus made the “slant-eyed” face but protested that people took it wrong and “out of context!”

The Tribune discontinued running a much “beloved” illustration called “Injun Summer” and noted its “innocence of context.”

A Villa Park council member, Deborah Pauly, was videotaped stirring the racist pot to a boil.  When confronted, she said the tape was edited to “completely change the context.”

Murray State University professor Mark Wattier thought two black students were late to his class.  His comment:  “Do you know why you were late? There’s a theory that a way to protest their master’s treatment was for slaves to be late.”  (Click the link to read the students’ version.) What did he say in his own defense? “My comment was inappropriate. I regret having said this out of context and bluntly.”

We’ve heard the “satiredefense numerous times before as well (see We Heard It Before #18).

Of course, I think that context is often difficult to understand.  When I was a young teenager, my history teacher showed numerous films about the Holocaust.  Despite this, I don’t think I understood the magnitude of what happened.

I just had no context for understanding such an atrocity.

I’m not sure I ever will.  Somebody told me he did not have a single relative left after the war.  Grandparents.  Parents.  Sisters. Brothers.  Cousins.  Aunts.  Uncles.  A large, formerly happy family.  All dead.  Every one.

And as much as that thought overwhelms me, can I ever truly understand his experience?  I cannot.  So any understanding of  “context” I think I have achieved is filtered through my own experience.

With regard to racist jokes or “satire,” I can’t find any humor in promoting racism as entertainment.  Precisely because of the context:

What is the context in our society?  We live in a society in which people of color are routinely and regularly disparaged and demeaned.  This is the context for racial jokes–one in which the “humor” relies on laughing at somebody else.

Our historical context:  exclusion acts,  lives not worth “a Chinaman’s chance,” inability to hold land, denied citizenship by law, Rock Springs, U.S. concentration camps, atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, My Lai.

We live in a society where dehumanization will often lead to death.  And these deaths are also often seen as “fair game” for “humor.”  Because it’s hilarious when a j*p is stabbed 47 times by a guy who brags about it later.  Or when a Chinese American is held down and beaten with a baseball bat like the attacker “was going for a home run.”

In pushback against the racism directed towards the first Asian American president at Dartmouth, one student opined thusly:

… in our estimation [it] scores somewhere between the Rape of Nanking and Japanese internment on the Richter Scale of injustice.

Yeah, the concentration camps and the Rape of Nanking were hilarious.

But white folks (and people longing to be in the White Club) love to get their ching-chong on.  You can’t really blame them for not acknowledging that ching-chongery is a white supremacist tool.  Because most people learn their lessons about racism by rote.  So they learn the N-word is bad, but the C-word or the R-word (unless you’re calling a white person “racist”)?  Not so much.  The concept that everybody should be treated respectfully escapes them.

They learn it from a young age, when teachers say racist behavior is just “kids being kids.”  No big deal.

And they learn that it is acceptable, often socially rewarded behavior.

So is it any wonder that any pushback against racism begets more racism?  Take a quick and dirty stroll through the #cancelcolbert hashtag.  You see “ching-chong” liberally applied, as well as “ch*nk” and “g*ok” and “sl*pe.”  Whitesplaining.  References to Pearl Harbor.   We should have nuked them all.  As well as outright threats of violence.

Simultaneously they fight the cognitive dissonance between being a good person and being racist.  Because they’ve learned all their lives that what they do is acceptable.  Desirable, even.  It’s encouraged and reinforced by our laws, through our media, and even through our television.  Maybe especially through our television.

So white people and others longing for club admission can tweet about “context” all they like, even though they’re the one’s missing the picture.  In the context of anti-racism, lying on the sofa watching television means nothing.



Oh, and to the two brothers at Deadspin who thought it was hilarious to put two racial slurs in one headline?  Fuck you for choosing to reinforce white supremacy with your ethnicity.


One thought on “Ignoring the context

  1. Another excuse when white people hero-worship racist historical figures (eg, Francis Drake or Rudlof Steiner) is “He was a man of his time and values were different then – everyone thought it was OK” Yeah, right – everyone…

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