Saturday, May 9, 2009

think that racism is okay if you're being ironic about it

Jay Smooth warns of the dangers of hipster racism, as recently enacted by Asher Roth.

You know, that sort of racism that's supposedly okay because it's supposedly ironic.

I've posted before on ironic hipster racism, and I like what Jay Smooth adds to the conversation here.

I'm less in agreement, though, with one of his claims--what do you think of this observation that he makes about race in America?

We are in a new place right now. We're not in the promised land but we are a few steps further down that road than we've ever been before.


  1. Wow! Well thanks for introducing me to Jay Smooth. This was my first, but certainly not my last experience hearing what this guy has to say.

    I personally try to avoid any sort of racial name calling. It perpetuates unfair and undeserved stereotypes of all races... and genders for that matter. Well... I guess I am guilty of throwing around the term "redneck". But it's just sooo easy to do. :)

    Thanks for keeping this blog. I'm enjoying the thought provoking topics and issues you raise and it's sparked some interesting conversation among myself my peers.

  2. Thanks for the link:)

    I'm saying don't think having a Black president has any significance?

    Certainly the nature of that significance is debatable and easily overestimated (and really unknowable at this point), and as I've said in previous videos is mostly symbolic and doesn't erase the vast history and current reality of structural/institutional racism, and I could go on and on (and have).

    But symbolic != meaningless, and absolutely I do think it is new, and meaningful, my family's children and grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren won't have to grow up under what for us was the single biggest symbolic reminder of our limited future and limited opportunities. IMO, yes, that is a step forward.

    Only one step down what is still a long ass road, but single steps matter, they are how you walk. :)

  3. I have to agree with Jay that we're one more step down the road. Maybe I'm just projecting onto others from my own personal journey but it does seem like there are more white people you can talk to about race without them freaking out quite so much. Still too few, but, yah, I'd say we're a step (A step) further down the road.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Jay, and I do see what you're saying. Yes, I do think in terms of the fight against racism/de facto white supremacy, having a black president has some significance--especially a tremendous symbolic significance--that I certainly don't want overlook.

    I don't mean to pick apart your words in the video too much, and I don't necessarily even disagree with the one part that I highlighted. I phrased what I said about that part as a question because I was hoping to spark a conversation here about the idea that Obama's presidency represents real, substantive racial progress. We clearly are "in a new place right now," but I do question whether we're really "a few steps further down the road than we've ever been before." That's because I'm just as inclined to think of racism as a "changing same," as someone once put it (Ishmael Reed? sorry, I don't have it handy). I'm focused on delineating white tendencies, mostly negative ones, and one is to pat ourselves on the collective back for having voted for Obama (never mind that the majority of us didn't), and then moving forward as if racism is over--the whole "we're all post-racial now!" thing.

    Also, as I imagine you know, the wealth gap between whites and other races has recently increased rather than decreased, as have other measures such as disparities in health care.

    So thank you Jay for another excellent commentary, and I'm only questioning one sentence in it. And my question is really kind of a worry--a worry that if the ascendancy of Obama allows enough white folks to think that racism is all over now, and to ignore more than ever the voices that continue to point out that it isn't, then his ascendancy could result in as many or more steps backward as it does steps forward.

  5. Cool cool I feel you on all that..and I suppose the very concept of "walking" or even "forward movement" will always be an imprecise analogy for how societies (d)evolve..

    BTW I didn't know when I made the vid that you had a post title with such similar phrasing, about "acting racist to show you're not racist".. I wish I had seen it earlier I would've credited it..

    I totally remember watching that episode of the daily show too, and being struck by that segment.. even before the hella awkward "let's bring back colonialism" part I was intrigued when Oliver spoke snidely of the ambassador "using 19th century standards" to judge Bush, which seemed to be Oliver out of character giving his genuine reaction (if he were staying in character he'd agree that bush was good right?) ...I thought there were several levels of funky subtext in that little exchange..

  6. we are no where near where we need to be

    This week I just heard someone use "Jew" as a verb. I cant wait to get out of this town.

  7. Thank's for the video, I like it a lot. I basically agree with jay Smooth but think that the steps down the road are only "micro steps".
    Hey, but we're talking and that's a start. If it would be up to me I would say let's make it mandatory in schools and have kids watch the video and start talking about the issues involved.

  8. Is there a transcript anywhere? I love Jay Smooth videos, but can't watch any of them because youtube is blocked in China :-(

  9. Hi Doreen, I don't know if a transcript exists, but I too would love to read it. I was going to suggest watching the video on Jay's own site, ill doctrine, but I see he has the YouTube version embedded there too. If Jay's still reading these comments, maybe he can suggest another viewing possibility, if there is one. After all, China NEEDS some Jay Smooth.

    Steffie, I agree that Jay's videos would be a great educational conversation starter, especially this one, as well as this classic, on the important distinction between racists and racism.

  10. Hi... I "found you" off the Field Negro blog and am glad you are here.

    Thanks for the Jay Smooth video. I think the focus on understanding that moving closer to where we want to be means caring more about how we affect each other is the meme I took away.... We are not where I want us to be, but, as someone who has been around for 51 years, I can certainly say we are not where we were when I came onto the planet. And, I hope we will be in a better place by the time I leave.

  11. Question-where does that leave shows like House and The Office. Both shows have potential racist dialog. One is ironic and the other ignorant. I'd like to know your thoughts.

  12. Moviegirl, if by "your" you mean me, I haven't seen enough examples from either show to really say. Maybe you can send to examples in clips on YouTube or somewhere?

    Anyone else have comments on handlings of race in those two shows?

  13. Hi Macon,
    In terms of The Office, what readily comes to mind is the second episode in season one, called "Diversity Day." I tried to find links in youtube but I'm getting a lot of "deleted scenes" links. Perhaps not what you're looking for, but a start. Hulu or Surfthechannel might also have all seasons on there.

    As for House, it's clear that he's trying to shock--his antics aren't limited to questionable language about race. I just watched Monday's episode on Surfthechannel but nothing racy in that in episode. He was much more controversial in the earlier seasons.

  14. I'm not sure what moviegirl is about to say about The Office, but the episode entitled "Diversity Day" is not some exercise in pointless hipster irony. The episode denounces "diversity" in its shallow and corporate guises. That's not a racist message to broadcast. It's anti-racist, and worth considering. If irony is to be outlawed by literalists, we'll find it much harder to change the world.

  15. The Office has used both racist and sexist situations at different times throughout it's seasons. "Diversity Day" is just one such.

    I don't think that's the same as hipster racism though. The way racist dialogue is constructed in that show is as coming from Michael, and he just an idiot, or Dwight, and he's just...Dwight. The other, relate-able, "normal" characters always respond badly to those incidents.

  16. That precisely my point, Whatersname. First I want to start off saying that those are two of my favorite shows that I never missed, with the Office getting top honors. But does it create an environment, and I'm thinking about this as I type, in which white people dismiss others as just being stupid and ignorant, but they get to say what they are thinking without impunity. During another office episode when Michael outed Oscar. Oscar took him to task for that one but my concern is over situations where the person isn't taken to task for their comments and others just let it slide.

    Does it create an atmosphere of tolerance for intolerance?

  17. Does it create an atmosphere of tolerance for intolerance?Or does it pull into stark relief things we've heard in less ridiculous forms expressed in our daily lives and perhaps raise awareness about them?

  18. Well that's the question that needs to be pondered?

    While I certainly see the buffoonery of M. Scott's character, I wonder what others see. I know for a long time my friend would not watch this show--she does now and loves it but that was with my encouragement.

    Similarly, I thought Tropic Thunder was a funny movie. I especially like Downey's portrayal superb. However, there are many black people who refuse to see it because of the blackface element. Who am I to tell them they are wrong. I cannot. Do they see something that I don't, probably.

    Just because I don't recognize it, doesn't mean that it's not there.

  19. RE: Tropic Thunder
    I've heard white people use this as a justification for casting white people to play nonwhite characters. They were referencing the Twilight movie casting and saying how it shouldn't matter if an actor is Native American to be cast as a character that is Native American. If R. Downy can win an Oscar for playing a black character (even though that is not what he was doing) then there should be "race blind" casting and by that they mean white pretty boys should receive roles specifically written for non whites. They don't think that is racist, they just think it is about good looks.

  20. What justification are you referring to? Was i justifying racism in the name of humor? If so please let me know.

    In regards to Twilight, I had a whole host of problems with the book and I haven't seen the movie.

    I think casting white actors to play non white characters is a little different that having a white actor play a white Australian actor so full of himself he thought he could play a black American character in a Vietnam flick so much so that he took special pills to darken his skin. I believe the latter is saying something about the entitlement of Hollywood actors; whereas the former, might have something to do with lack of creativity among casting agents and the fact that its about who you know. Executive tend to put their friends in movies and actors who lobby for certain roles. But whatever the intend, the outcome is still wrong.

  21. Moviegirl,
    I'm not saying you are using that justification. I have not accused you of anything. When I said white people I was not referring to you because I do not know your race and have not made any assumptions about your race. I was just giving an example that I actually saw online of Tropic Thunder being used to justify racism in Twilight casting. I actually agree with everything you said.

    The problem is that many people (not you) don't seem to be intelligent enough to get the Daily Show/Office Space/Tropic thunder sort of humor. They are not getting the message, instead they are saying well if they can say it on Office Space I can say it too. If R. Downy can play a nonwhite character so can I. They do not understand that Tropic Thunder was about Downy playing a white actor trying to play a nonwhite character, they just think "black face is ok".

    here is the exact quote:

    tina marie Tue, Mar 17, 2009, 11:50 AM

    Ok... I agree with Luvbuzzy and Suzanne. This is a movie based on a book. This is how the book was people. It's not about Rob or Taylor. It's about the characters from the book. Edward's character isn't in the book very much. If they make the second one about Edward than I think it would suck big time. The ones that state on here that they won't watch the movie or get up and walk out obviously you are the ones who either didn't read the book or you skipped all the parts in between Edward leaving and him coming back. That's to bad for you beacuse it's one of the best books in this series. And to Sittingbull..Taylor isn't a white kid. He's French/German. So what if he's not Indian. Robert Downey Jr isn't African American either and he was nominated for an Oscar for that part. If Hollywood stuck to hiring only Ethnicley correct roles there wouldn't be to many movies or tv shows bieng made now would there? I'm not a teen. I'm 32 and I love these books. Some of you guys need to get a life..
    emphasis mine

  22. Hey sorry if I sounded snotty, that's the second time today, LOL. I left out the part, please let me know because that wasn't my intent. That would have softened up my comment a little more.

    As for the comments, I hate that it's a presumption that if Hollywood actually made movies with people of color those movies wouldn't get made. There are millions of talented people who never get a break because they don't have the right "look" and it angers me. I made a joke, well I thought it was funny, regarding Transformers 2. I said they had to make another one so that Megan Fox could be in movie. Not to degrade Fox but for someone who hasn't been around for long or in much of anything she sure is getting a lot of publicity.

    Anyway, Jacob is supposed to be native american and while there might not be a whole hell of a lot of "natives" in SAG, doesn't mean that talented people aren't out there. They discover talent everyday--no one ever wants to do the work.

    On a side note, I was very disappointed that throughout all four books there was only one mention of a black person and that was when Bella had to go to the "Ghetto" to pick up fake IDs. That combined with "white skin is so beautiful" yada yada yada, really pissed me off. Also the treatment of the vampires from Brazil and I believe parts of Africa had too much animal imagery for me.

    All that to say, I was disappointed.

  23. The Native characters in Twilight have definitely been othered. Pretty much every scene mentions their "russet colored" skin and "exotic beauty".

    Unfortunately many white Americans are unwilling to watch shows or movies with predominately non white cast. They find them unrelateable because they cannot see the humanity in nonwhites. All you have to do is read some of the comments and low ratings of movies with minority casts on Imdb. They don't even bother to watch a movie or read a synopsis before they peg a predominately black film as a move about gangsters, thugs and drug dealers.

    How is that they can watch a French film like Amelie and find it entertaining but Japanese horror or crime noir films must be remade with white actors before Americans will watch. Why would they rather watch European or Australian foreign films than films about American minorities?

  24. Hmmm, another example of stuff white people do--"prefer foreign films to American films with minorities"? "watch foreign 'films,' IF the central characters are white"? Seems generally true to me, though I do know a lot of white folks who wouldn't EVER watch a movie that has subtitles, no matter what kind of people are in it. Also, among those white folks who watch foreign films, non-white people like Kurosawa are often revered. Or is he an exception? Wong Kar Wai? And Japanese films themselves seem fairly popular compared to European films. . . But yeah, among white viewers, foreign films seem generally more popular than those about American minorities. I think you're onto something, and it might be fairly easy to find supporting stats.

  25. i think i like what jay said but the MTV-style editing was really irritating and had to turn it off.


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