Monday, April 13, 2009

"That's Racist"

Too many of my students are too used to hearing a certain term. Upon alighting on any mention of race, several will call out, "that's racist."


Racism is having a prejudice against a certain racial group. Racism is harboring negative views towards a certain racial group because of their race. Pointing out something related to race, e.g. the ever popular "achievement gap", is not racist. While not smart to do in school, I'm not even convinced that telling a racially-themed joke is "racist". I think it's OK to laugh about such things; it becomes negative only when negativity is injected into it. Is anyone truly offended by blond jokes?

So imagine my surprise when I saw the following editorial cartoon in the most recent edition of our school newspaper:

Is it "racist" to mock the English-speaking style of a Korean? If you think it is, check out the name of the artist who drew the cartoon. Yes, she's of Korean descent.

Is this cartoon similar to black kids' calling each other "nigger", to women calling each other "bitch", or to gays calling each other "fag"? Is this cartoon inappropriate?

Is it "racist" to joke about how Japanese will sometimes, when speaking English, swap l's for r's ("Engrish" or "herro"), while Chinese will swap r's for l's ("flied lice")? Or is it just an observation? Is there any value judgement in such observations that makes them racist?

To me, "racist" is a very powerful word and a strong charge to make against someone. It's not a term that should be thrown around lightly.

I have no problems with the cartoon above. I'm pleasantly surprised that it didn't make a bigger splash than it did. Perhaps that's so because Asians aren't generally looked upon as an "aggrieved" class, especially in schools.

(I received permission from the newspaper adviser to reproduce the cartoon on this site.)


Stopped Clock said...

The only ethnic jokes that are offensive are the ones that are true.

Forest said...

I'm totally with you on this one. I tell my wife all the time how students over-react to anything remotely tied to race like its bad.

I was explaining in class to my students just the other day that if a student is black and you say that they are black, that there is nothing racist about saying what someone is. Why would anyone be offended by that?

I think being considered racist is just about the worst thing you can be in society. I tell my colleagues that it is worse to be a racist than a pedophile or criminal. They look at me like I'm a little crazy but I believe it to be true.

Don't get me wrong, I think its wrong to be racist and I'm not condoning hatred but it seems blown out of proportion.

I also agree that charging someone as a racist is VERY serious these days yet it is so easy to throw the accusation to get power.

Great post.

Mrs. C said...

Well, as a mom with several autistic children I can tell you that there's quite the to-do in the "community" about whether you call them "children with autism," autistics, neurodiverse individuals (yes, really), or even differentiate between "auties" and "aspies."

Blehh. Just... whatever you wanna say, I won't be offended so long as I don't see you sneer when you say it. :p

My high schooler tells me that calling someone "racist" is the ultimate putdown at his school, too.

Darren said...

We have a physically/mentally disabled program at our school--kids in wheelchairs for whom everything is done, things like that. One of my students this year told me he was chastised by a teacher or aide at our school (I don't recall which) because he referred to them as "handicapped" instead of "handicapable". To me that's just nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Right wingers are more concerned about being called racist than actual racism.

Suzanne Harris said...

A physically/mentally disabled program? Well that's just horrible. It should be referred to as the physically/mentally differently-abled program.

On a non-joking note, I wonder what would have happened if a non-Korean or non-Asian had drawn the cartoon. I can only imagine that there would have been a huge outcry if students are chastised for not saying handicapable.

Ellen K said...

It's odd, but I have far more problems getting African American kids to stop throwing epithets around than any other group. One freshman boy is constantly using the term "Jew" in a derogatory way. And I have explained the problem several times. He has to be hearing this stuff at home.

Darren said...

Left-wingers are too busy complaining about their perceptions of right-wingers to notice that their own emperor has no clothes.

Doug said...

Right-wingers are typically the only ones accused of racism, while left-wingers euphemise the terms, and look for right-wingers that aren't worried about being PC. Like Ellen K said, the most frequent offenders are the ones that would be offended by the term if it came from a different skin-tone.

Loni said...

I'm just pissed that this one made it into the paper and the one I did of our Principal getting a bikini wax as motivation for taking the STAR test got pulled (get it, pulled?, haha...ha)

Darren said...

You only drew that because the principal was a white male :-)

allen (in Michigan) said...

There are guys who bikini wax?

Dang, I just had my world expanded.

rightwingprof said...

I've had students object to the term "standard deviation" because it, well, I never did quite get why, but they didn't like the word, "deviation."

I'm not making that up.