Monday, July 18, 2011

Let Me See Your Skin

Remember a while back when that lil' white chick from UCLA hopped on You Tube and decided to post a racist rant about how much she hates Asian people who talk too loudly in the library? In case you forgot, click here.

Anyway, the video caused some serious outrage, to the point where the girl had to leave school to avoid being a pariah every day of her life. Seemed fair to me. But, now, in an American tradition, certain folks have decided to capitalize on the woman's notoriety to make money. Some students from UCLA have partnered with a restaurant to take advantage of a portion of the rant that uses gibberish to represent an Asian speaking in a foreign tongue. Yes, I'm serious.

What I found curious in reading that story was that I couldn't tell the race of the folks running the business, and that made it impossible for me to decide how to react. I typically like to consider context when deciding whether to get pissed, and it's impossible for me to judge context in this case without clear information on the race of the folks in charge.

Some folks would call that racism. I prefer to call it common sense. Yes, I have different reactions to people based on their race. Yes, I consider certain things acceptable when done by people of a certain race, and unacceptable when done by folks of another race. At its simplest level, this may feel like discrimination. However, I think life is anything but simple.

Basically, minorities understand what it's like to be a minority. The weird feeling of unease that comes with being the only person who looks like you in a room. The inescapable certainty that every action you make will reflect back on everybody who looks like you. The sense of being other, and the sense that the only way to change this even marginally is to sacrifice anything that has not been approved by the dominant group.

Since minorities understand this, and they understand the dynamics within their groups better than most outsiders, I tend to let folks in their own groups give me some clues about whether stuff is disrespectful. And if I saw a whole bunch of Asian folks co-signing the name of this restaurant, I'd consider it on par with places like "Big Momma's House of Chicken and Waffles" and mind my own business. Unfortunately, without information on the race of the business owners, I'm left with vague speculation, and the sense that I should err on the side of caution.

Therefore, I'm left with the idea that somebody has crossed some boundaries, is trying to disguise racism as humor, and probably needs to have a Come to Jesus moment. Standard fare for America, I guess.

But, I think it is funny that such an unimportant issue like race can have such importance in a situation. Funny indeed.



spacemonkey said...

Yes, it is indeed common sense.

I think of it this way: By 'discrimination', we usually actually mean 'unfair discrimination'. 'Unfair discrimination' takes two forms -- discriminating based on irrelevant traits and NOT discriminating based on relevant traits.

A person's race is irrelevant when deciding whether, for example, they're a suitable candidate for a job. But, it's very much relevant in deciding whether they're likely to have been on the receiving end of unfair racial discrimination.

And, that of course, is relevant to deciding whether it's racism or humour. It sort of follows a more general rule -- making light of your own pain can be cathartic, and can show good humour and courage in the face of adversity. Making light of someone else's pain is just disrespectful.

It's, erm, 'funny' that it took me some time to reach my probably-still-fuzzy understanding. And 'funny' that saying that probably gives you a pretty good idea of my race.

Darth Whitey said...

The messenger DOES matter when determining whether a comment or act is racially motivated.

It's like when it was learned that Harry Reid described President Obama as "Well spoken" and not having the "negro dialect unless he wants to" when measuring him up for a candidacy for president.

The white house immediately dismissed it whereas if it had been say, Jim De Mint, that comment would have been quite suspect.

Senator Reid was instrumental in getting President Obama to run in the first place.

Raving Black Lunatic