Tuesday, July 6, 2010

think that because openly declared white supremacy is marginalized now, racism is dead

Comedian John Oliver of "The Daily Show" is at it again, making light of racism in Africa. Last year, he provided a pungent example of hipster racism during an interview with Zachary Muburi-Muita, the Kenyan Ambassador to the United Nations. In that skit, Oliver tried to get his Kenyan interviewee to admit he misses the good old days of white colonialism. Oliver's white hipster irony became insufferable when Muburi-Muita objected to Oliver's trivialization of such a serious and painful subject, and Oliver just kept going, with what amounted to a rude and (truly) ironic racist joke.

Yesterday, Oliver struck again. In the following skit, he rides the World Cup bandwagon to South Africa, pretending to be a tourist on the hunt for "the good stuff" -- "vintage" racism, in the forms of hardcore bigotry and "real live race riots!"


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
www.thedailyshow.com


The joke here is that although Oliver seems to search high and low, interviewing both black and white people, he just can't find racism anywhere -- "No matter where I looked, I couldn't find a single racist!" Until, that is, he encounters the lunatic, far-right fringe, in the form of a whacky, self-declared white supremacist. Oliver then lets Dan Roodt, an "activist for an all-white, separate nation," spout some ugly nonsense about crime and IQ differences and so on.

The problem with this skit's central joke is that it's based on a false premise. Oliver is playing a fool who doesn't realize something that everyone else supposedly knows, but that something actually isn't true; the skit's false premise is that racism is now effectively dead in South Africa. It's not.

What this skit does, in typical white-liberal fashion, is individualize racism. The far more damaging and insidious form -- institutional racism, a form very much alive in South Africa -- goes ignored.

In 2008, the country's Commission for Employment Equity released the results of a study of institutional racism. The commission's chair, Jimmy Manyi, said then that racism in South Africa "still rages":

"The only difference is that previously it was more overt, but now it has assumed sophisticated forms in day-to-day work practices," Manyi said.

Handing over the annual 2007/2008 report to Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana, Manyi said the "finite data" received from large employers showed the "gross under-representation" of Africans, Coloureds and people with disabilities in the top three levels of management and that Whites dominated.

"Institutional racism continues to reign supreme," he said.

"The actual data we are getting from the companies is telling us that the people who are benefiting from recruitment and promotions in the majority are white," he said.


The report also shows that while South Africa's "Economically Active Population" is about 88% black, their proportion at top management levels in 2007 was only 28.8%. Affirmative Action policies have been in place as a corrective, in terms not only of race, but also disability and gender. However, Manyi said, "Only white women seem to be benefiting disproportionately in terms of this legislation [which allows for affirmative action] and black women are really lagging behind" (the report thus resembles results in the U.S., where the largest beneficiaries of Affirmative Action have also typically been white women).

I often enjoy the more biting satire of "The Daily Show," including that of John Oliver. However, when the topic of race comes up on the show, so do my hackles (though I do think their "Senior Black Correspondent," Larry Wilmore, consistently skewers white racism effectively). Laughing at hardcore racists might work to further marginalize them, but it's also a way of ignoring more refined, significant, and damaging forms of racism.

33 comments:

  1. Has openly-declared white supremacy been marginalized? I'm not so sure. In fact, coupled with the title of yesterday's post, and everything we've seen since Obama arrived on the national political scene, I think that these days "openly declared white supremacy" is pronounced "jingoism" or "patriotism". I think it's been absorbed into the fringes of the GOP and the mainstream of the tea party. Sure, nobody quite comes out and says they're for white supremacy, they just subtly hint at a them-vs-us dichotomy, and while they "don't hate Black people", there's just something about Obama they can't put their finger on.

    Even if we concede that openly declared white supremacy is dead/dying in the "real world", I think it's seeing a resurgence online. There's the obvious, in that the Internet has provided white supremacists with a larger audience than in the past. Whereas previously someone interested in White Supremacy would have to actually attend meetings, or sign up for print newsletters, or something like that, now all they have to do is go online. But there's also the YouTube comments and general chat forums, where participants take delight in using the N-word, and making racist "jokes" and comments. And frankly, this seems like the more disturbing of the two online aspects of white supremacy, because while the Stormfront-types truly believe all the crap they say, I think many of the YouTube commenters and others are doing it for shock value, to see how far they can go online (because they know what they can and can't say in real life). The difference is they get approval online; either tacit or explicit.

    The Internet has long allowed people to live dual lives: online and offline. And their personas need not be the same in both places. But I think we've created a subculture where racism-for-the-sake-of-racism* is perfectly acceptable online, and that's disturbing.

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  2. @Jon R re: 'Sure, nobody quite comes out and says they're for white supremacy, they just subtly hint at a them-vs-us dichotomy, and while they "don't hate Black people", there's just something about Obama they can't put their finger on.'

    I read an interview (sorry I don't have the link) of a Ku Klux Klan leader not long ago, and he stated the Klan position as something very similar: they don't hate black people, he said, but they just don't want them around. To me, that shows how marginalized open white supremacy really has become; even the Klan avoids inflammatory white supremacist language.

    At the same time, I agree that the internet has become a kind of toilet stall wall for the hard-core race haters. And their putrid comments are posted alongside more thoughtful ones, giving them an air of legitimacy that the bathroom stall never did.

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  3. South Africa no longer racist.... hmmm... interesting concept. Kind of like saying the US is "post racial" because we have a Black president. One of the MAIN REASONS that apartheid "ended" is South Africa is because Nelson Mandela (and other leader since) made the idea of Black leadership of the country palatable to the white supremacists who controlled the nation. How often do you see a marginalized group "overthrow" their oppressors, and then go on speaking tours and accept Nobel Prizes with them?? No disrespect intended, but a large number of people of see Nelson Mandela and his predecessors as accomodating the minority white population and giving them a lot more power than they deserve. White supremacy in the US, and in South Africa is not dead, it has simply been refined. The racist tactics of the white supremacists have been made more palatable, and thus more "acceptable" to the non-white population in South Africa, in the US, and throughout much of the world.

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  4. The Oliver piece does have a kind of congratulatory pat on the back feeling to it. And I think Macon has it right when he attributes that to the belief that racism is a problem of individuals. We've all (OK, mostly all) learned to curb our tongues, and we think that doing so is all that's required to bring about the death of racism, as if name-calling were responsible for the denial of GI Bill benefits to black veterans after WWII. Or as if racist jokes could account for the gap in real wages, job promotions or health care delivery.

    Another myth that Oliver purveys is that racism goes both ways. He asks black people if they hate white people with apparently no distinction between races in terms of who has oppressed whom. Racism is just irrational hate and invective in this fantasy world, not a force and a system that continues to enforce a racial hierarchy.

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  5. I had to take a break from this place, because there was way too much comment fail for me to handle, but I decided (today) to come back and share this article (please read and note the irony of where it's been posted):

    http://race.change.org/blog/view/making_the_term_racist_mean_something_again

    How ironic that the latest post talks about the exact same thing. I tell you, it's catching!

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  6. How does an official from the Office of Race Relations in South Africa say "we don't have a racism problem."?

    Macon said: "Laughing at hardcore racists might work to further marginalize them, but it's also a way of ignoring more refined, significant, and damaging forms of racism."

    Yeah I mean, this bit is just further evidence that the mainstream idea of racism and the understanding of racism on this blog and in AR circles are totally different. John Oliver is definitely coming from the definition that racism is anyone hating anyone else because of their race, which unfortunately is how 99% of the worlds population thinks of racism. (otherwise bloglogger and others wouldn't have to reiterate on every post that the problem isn't racists.)

    Part of the whole daily show thing with these pieces is to get the story totally wrong as part of the joke. Asking WP on the street if they hate BP is obviously not the way to "investigate" racism. Missing the point and oversimplifying things is kind of a running joke with these bits because it's ultimately a parody of the way real journalists operate.

    Here Oliver gets it wrong twice though, his wink and a nod is that there really isn't much racism in South Africa anymore but as the sensationalist reporter he's trying to stir it up for a story.

    Sure that's kind of funny but ultimately the bit fails because Oliver never presents the audience with the reality that there really is a huge racism problem in South Africa. WP watching this will walk away feeling that racism isn't a big deal anymore, all that's left of racism is just a few nuts who refuse to get with the times. TBH I expected more from The Daily Show.

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  7. I recently read something explaining why the non-white world cares so much about Gaza. The Western world remembers fascism and communism as two ugly genocidal episodes of recent history. Most of the world remembers a third, colonialism, as an equal horror. That is why Israeli atrocities create such rancor. That is why the questions to the Kenyan ambassador were so ugly.

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  8. As the Australian daughter of a white (English) South African, I must concur. What actually would have made for a far better piece would have been to speak to white South Africans (here I'm talking about most of my family, plus friends of theirs that I've met) about their "staff"... There's an interesting sort of self-edit white SAers do around whites from other countries, where they don't openly express racist opinions because they assume we'll object, but it comes out anyway in the form of little lines about how Sally the Maid - sorry, "housekeeper" - needs to be kept an eye on because, you know, they need to be told, the poor dears.

    The same people who will cheerfully slag off guys like Dan Roodt and tell you he doesn't represent them will also hold the most appalling opinions, and that's something I would like to see shown.

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  9. I'm glad you did a post about this, because the skit bugged me too.

    One problem I had with it was how it started off talking about racism in the USA, and then went on to, "but in South Africa...!"

    What exactly is meant by the comparison? Are American viewers expected to learn something from the skit? My feeling was that the piece was saying, "Why can't the USA get over its history of racial oppression the way that South Africa appears to have, based on the few random people Oliver talked to?" As a white person watching the skit, I got the impression that the black people that Oliver was talking to were implicitly being contrasted with the stereotypical angry black American. Especially the woman who lived through apartheid, and said that people have to forgive and forget; that made me think of white people who complain that slavery ended two hundred years ago or whatever, so why is race still a problem.

    I can definitely see the skit feeding racist attitudes towards African Americans.

    @ JenRB

    There's an interesting sort of self-edit white SAers do around whites from other countries, where they don't openly express racist opinions because they assume we'll object, but it comes out anyway in the form of little lines about how Sally the Maid - sorry, "housekeeper" - needs to be kept an eye on because, you know, they need to be told, the poor dears.

    I've only ever met one person from South Africa, and this was exactly what she did; she talked about her family's housekeeper in the most infantalizing way.

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  10. This post brings up an important point: White Supremacy is changing its nature to become more disguised and acceptable.

    In the USA for instance, it's not the KKK that is the true White Supremacist threat, it's Mainstream America

    The former has no real institutional power, while the latter is dominant, with its racism normalized through things like code words or even feeble attempts at humor (hipster racism).

    Welcome to White Supremacy 2.0

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  11. @jas0nburns. You wrote: the definition that racism is anyone hating anyone else because of their race, which unfortunately is how 99% of the worlds population thinks of racism.

    Don't you think that most POC, who are a rather substantional majority of the world's population, have a deeper understanding than this definition.

    Or perhaps you're getting at something else? As in POC recognise that WP continue to support systemic racism (and condone other forms) and that this belies the fact that WP really do hate POC based on their race(s). In which case, what's wrong with the definition?

    Anyway, who are these 99% of people you're talking about? Or what am I missing?

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  12. though i completely agree, i actually loved that piece. i thought it was a good way to break the stereotype of south africa being racist, like africa is some "other world" where people are racist and war mongering and kill each other with machetes.

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  13. I didn't bother watching the piece because I pretty much know the pattern of The Daily Show for some white liberal viewers. Wow, if racism really doesn't exist anymore in America then I guess the ugliness I see with the Tea Party and outright bigotry from the Republican Party against the first biracial President is something I must have manifest in my head. And God forbid if I discuss such patterns of insidious racism in the media from television to online articles. I would be cruxify as a race baiter playing the almighty race card or deem too sensitive and unintelligent. If there is one thing I have learn as a black woman, my opinions are devalue in any conversation pertaining to race and social issues. I am just whining about nothing. There is no honor in today's journalism. Then again, when I review journalism from the past throughout many significant events in world history, journalism has always been slanted to favor one particular perspective over another. And the online surge of racism is absurd. I don't even bother reading comments on Youtube anymore because race or racist comments somehow find their way onto 85% of youtube videos, regardless of the content's subject matter.

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  14. Speaking strictly from the perspective of one having been raised in the United States... As far as I can see, White people have not done ANY collective "purging" around Race to claim post-racial anything.

    Up until oh let's say 1960 (I'll be generous) Open White Supremacy was the norm. For 300+ years up until this point you would find White people claiming plainly and proudly that white was best and anything else was less. It was taken for granted as commonsense. It was enforced by law and by custom and it was considered madness to challenge the very concept that White people were not in fact the ideal outcome of the Human species.

    After the Civil Rights movement there were grudging legal changes made, essential changes but it was like pulling White teeth to be sure. U.S. mainstream culture soon transformed into the "We're all equal Race shouldn't matter" paradigm we operate under now.

    So. We are to believe that this transformation of White people's consciousness is complete, that it happened relatively over night and all without White People collectively examining their Racial Baggage at the cultural level? Really? Consecutive centuries of naked White Supremacy and BAM, its all better now?

    Maybe I missed something? Have white people, collectively speaking, ever turned to each other and said "Wow. What made us think we were so much better than everybody else? Why were we so down on Blacks and Browns not even 45 years ago?? Why were we willing to bomb them, beat them, blast them with firehoses to preserve the status quo? What exactly did were we getting out of segregation anyway? And let's not get started on that whole slavery and native american genocide thing! Why does the idea of interracial marriage still make Grandma throw up in her mouth a little? Why did Grandpa think Lynching was just fine? What's UP with that?"

    None of that. None. White people have NOT purged their Race demons. Let me say this again: You can't go from 300+ years of taking extraordinary legal and illegal measures to enforce White Supremacy, of campaigns of violence and deliberate disenfranchisement to make sure every other Race knows they are inferior to The White RAce..... to suddenly becoming colorblind .... not without doing some MASSIVE CULTURAL INTROSPECTION FIRST.

    Maybe I'm wrong? Have White people been talking amongst themselves like this in the US or elsewhere in the world? I don't mean White People individually. Obviously we have individual white anti-racists. Obviously we have SWPD. But what about at the National or Global level, as a conversation among white people themselves?

    @ JenRB

    In South AFrica, where the end of legal Apartheid is still so recent, exactly HOW have the whites been adjusting there? Did they ever have the kind of conversation I'm talking about amongst themselves?

    I truly am curious!

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  15. Yea, this skit bugged me from the beginning. It trivialized the issue for both the US and for South Africa, even going so far as to suggest that segregation in SA was worse than in the US. These are false comparisons and lack historical context. This is dangerous.

    As much as I enjoy The Daily Show, there are people that look to this program for true perspective, but fail to supplement or lack the ability to filter and question. It's just as bad as someone going to FOX News for perspective with the same lack of follow up.

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  16. @Jaddadalos

    'even going so far as to suggest that segregation in SA was worse than in the US'

    It was.
    The US was not unique in its racism against black people and apartheid.
    Segregation in SA became outlawed in 1994 less than 10 years ago.

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  17. ^^^ that should read less than 20 years ago.

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  18. @Karen L re: "As in POC recognise that WP continue to support systemic racism (and condone other forms) and that this belies the fact that WP really do hate POC based on their race(s). In which case, what's wrong with the definition?"

    Even though there obviously are white people who harbor conscious hate and support systemic racism but don't act in hateful ways in terms of what they say and how they say it, there are still many more white people who sincerely believe in the equality of all people and genuinely respect people of color and yet still perpetuate systemic racism in ways they would not even recognize as racist. I think it is these people, who think that "the racists" are the problem, not the fair-minded people like themselves, that jas0nburns is referring to as the 99%. The figure may be hyperbole, but calling them the vast majority wouldn't be inaccurate, IMO.

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  19. @Jasmin,
    Wow. That link. What a clusterbang.
    There are at least six things wrong with that piece. And that's leaving aside the fact that it's terribly written (to the point of undermining its own thesis). I got to the end of it and all I could think was, "y'know, they eventually killed the kapos, too." [Sorry.]

    And even though I wanted to be—it is, after all, Change.Org's racism page— I was not at all surprised by some of the comments. There are definitely some white people on there who've found a New Brown Friend to use as backup.

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  20. Cecelia said...
    "Wow, if racism really doesn't exist anymore in America then I guess the ugliness I see with the Tea Party and outright bigotry from the Republican Party against the first biracial President is something I must have manifest in my head. And God forbid if I discuss such patterns of insidious racism in the media from television to online articles."

    I know, right? What was so freakin' weird about that Daily Show bit was... it's the Daily Show. Discussing those patterns of racism is EXACTLY what they do. Yet nobody saw a problem with this? If not that it's offensive, at the very least that it fails Logic & Reasoning 4ever?

    Honestly. If I were a non-white Daily Show writer, I'd be seriously questioning WTF I was doing there. Not (necessarily) in the sense of "eff you guys, I'm outta here," but more like, "am I being used for street cred?" You know, a couple Aasif Mandvi bits and a couple Larry Willmore bits to make everyone feel comfortable in their non-racistness, and then BAM! John Oliver brings the good stuff.

    No reason to think they haven't been thinking that all along, I suppose.

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  21. @jas0nburns (and bloglogger)... The original statement left out an important qualifier... 99% of WHITE people, or the vast majority of WHITE people may think that "the definition that racism is anyone hating anyone else because of their race", The original statement said "99% of the worlds population" believes that way, and as Karen pointed out, since the vast majority of the WORLDS population are POC, the MAJORITY of people in the world MOST LIKELY have a much deeper understanding of racism. Please do not fall into the trap that the of perpetuating the (false but common) belief that "white" is the default when you speak of "people"

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  22. "Please do not fall into the trap of perpetuating the (false but common) belief that "white" is the default when you speak of "people"

    Actually I meant everyone in my original post not just WP but Karen was right, I can only assume POC have a deeper understanding of racism than most white people. It was definitely an oversimplification that works when describing WP but fails when describing POC, so my bad.

    I don't have any idea how widespread the belief that racism is more of a systemic issue than anything else is among POC. And even if I thought I did, this is SWPD.

    As for WP, it's pretty obvious that almost all of us think racism begins and ends with hating POC which in and of itself, isn't such a tough thing to unlearn really.

    So that kind of begs the question...Why do WP have their own special definition of racism?

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  23. Karinova,

    Could you guess which one was me? :-/

    And like you said, even without judging the content of the article, the entire premise was self-defeating.

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  24. "Why do WP have their own special definition of racism?"

    Too easy.
    The answer is: so it won't ever apply to them.
    Duh!

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  25. @bloglogger. You wrote: I think it is these people, who think that "the racists" are the problem, not the fair-minded people like themselves, that jas0nburns is referring to as the 99%.

    Yeah, that's how I read his meaning, too. I was turning that definition back on WP (self included), even the ones who acknowledge systemic racism. As in, "Fine, go ahead and think that racists are people who hate POC because of their race(s). That's fine because, actually, your indifference to/enjoyment of white supremacy proves that you hate POC and, yes, you are racist too, no matter how fair-minded you think you are."

    So as to my own question of what's wrong with that definition, maybe painting 99% of WP with the label racist undermines the power of the word but would it really be so untrue?

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  26. let me put to you this way: the white youth who slapped Black folk upside the head while sittin' at the lunch counter tryin' to integrate Woolworths; and who formed a gauntlet to try to prevent Black kids from breaking the color line in High School and colleges; along with the church bombers, civil rights worker murderers...are the SENIOR CITIZENS OF TODAY!


    case closed.

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  27. Hmmm, I disagree that the joke was Oliver's inability to literally find a single racist. I felt it was his inability to find the sort of racism he seeks as a cultural tourist, thus parodying the practice of cultural tourism in general. I recognize that parody and satire are incredibly difficult styles to execute, but I thought this was actually a fairly successful example: so much of the skit hinges on his desires, his literal "tastes," his sense of being "cheated" as a tourist. In light of the most recent posts here on cultural tourism and racialicious's recent post on packaging on racist artifacts for tourism in NOLA (lynch cards???), it really struck a chord to me.

    That said, I would agree with the majority of the posters here that intent is secondary to impact, and in this case, the point is definitely confused by his seeming inability to find any form of systemic and casual racism, which implies post-raciality. And I was troubled by the choice of quotes ("forgive and forget"!? Aren't legacies of oppression the sort of think we're instructed to "never forget"?). A much more pointed skit, I think, would have been for Oliver to actually confront the examples of systemic racism that are brought up in this post, only to then realize it doesn't "taste" as exotic as he thought. He might even say, "Well, this isn't unlike the U.S. in some ways." He could then proceed to satirize cultural tourism without having to confuse the point in the way that he did.

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  28. PlusSizedWomanistJuly 8, 2010 at 3:31 AM

    @ Jane Chaplain:

    One word for you: CHURCH!!!!

    That is one fallacious argument that I cannot STAND from WIWLs and other folks: that white people, if humored by black people and see that us darkies are actually doing "right" in their eyes, will actually band together and finally work on treating us right.

    SHIT. DON'T. HAPPEN. EVER.

    White people, when we were slaves, saw no problem in beating us, raping us, branding us, breeding us like cattle, and selling us on a whim.

    White people, when we finally attained freedom, saw no problem terrorizing us by burning down our houses, vandalizing our businesses, and killing our men women and children.

    White people, in nearly every time that we have existed in this country, believed that we were all just uppity darkies when we complained about the extent of racism on our lives, even going as far as MAKING UP MENTAL DISEASES to explain why we weren't so damn happy to be treated like shit.

    White people created laws against damn near every color on the planet to keep us beneath them.

    And now they want to claim that we should just GET OVER IT because we've come into a new millennium?? They want to claim we're being PC and silencing them when we call them out on their bs.

    And then they have the NERVE to quote MLK with their shit. Smh.

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  29. @ figaro

    A much more pointed skit, I think, would have been for Oliver to actually confront the examples of systemic racism that are brought up in this post, only to then realize it doesn't "taste" as exotic as he thought. He might even say, "Well, this isn't unlike the U.S. in some ways."

    I agree. I think if he was trying to sell this, he just didn't do it effectively. We all know about the neo-Nazis up in the US Northwest and people can say, "yeah, those are REAL racists -- but we other white folks agree those people are evil, so racism isn't a real problem anymore, never mind that inequality/privilege stuff!"

    It just didn't bust the pretty common assumption that only vocal racists perpetuate it, so if there's a deeper layer, I didn't see it.

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  30. @Jane Laplain Well, I'm just the foreign cousin who turns up every few years and eats everything in the fridge, so I don't know that I'm particularly privy to ongoing discussions. I think (and I'm purely basing this on my family, so you know, grain of salt) that where that will to discuss these things was already present, those discussions are had, while everyone else sort of rolls over. Does that make sense?

    My uncle and his family, they're the sort of people who will have these conversations, while his sister and her family aren't. My father left SA at the age of 25, partly out of disgust and partly out of a desire to see the world. He used to talk to me about the oppression of black South Africans and Apartheid etc as a child, and I know his brother did the same for his kids (all of this before the end of Apartheid), but their sisters is... not so inclined. And I don't think she ever would be.

    Anyway, I'm going for Christmas for the first time in years, I'll be interested to see if anything's changed!

    @figaro I hadn't thought of that interpretation, and I rather like it (as a concept) but I don't know that it was executed that well, since obviously lots of people didn't see it.

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  31. If anyone wants to see how "far" South Africa has really come, there is an interesting movie on POV (a PBS show) called Promised Land. It is about land reform in South Africa, and a lot of the facts are startling and sad, and definitely shows that while apartheid in South African is officially done, its heart still beats in the hearts of many.

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  32. I HATE the Daily Show and everything it stands for and I hate John Stewart!! He and his staff are just the Hannitys,Becks,and Limbaughs with 'but hey I'm a LIBERAL' badges. Memo to Mr. Stewrat I was born at night but it damn sure wasn't LAST night. Part of satire is not only excution but also intent and considering how he usually handles race issues like a recent skit with new arrival Olivia Munn he's made his intent perfectly clear. To ridicule and belittle all in the name of anti-racism which just ends up being RACISM itself anyway. If he's trying to be a wolf in sheep's clothing he should stop letting the snout show!!

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  33. One ex-friend of mine tried to claim that racism in South Africa has "reversed itself" and "black people run the place now," which he "knew" because of some (white, obviously) friend who lived there. (His friend there also thought Tom Petty invented folk music. I don't think he was an expert on anything.)

    That really should have been a warning sign that this ex-friend was a racist, sexist piece of shit, but unfortunately it took a lot more than that for me to realize he was someone with whom I no longer wanted to associate myself.

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