Monday, June 23, 2008

Why I beat the dead horse...it keeps kicking





Two places I feel close ties with have made national news recently. This opens the door for conversation on a couple points.

Curious George
The owner of the bar cited his right to freedom of speech.
I agree, he has a right to make the shirt, I will defend him on that. I would like to add for those who do not know the area, Marietta
(where the shirt was made) is not a country hick town. It is an affluent suburb of Atlanta chalk full of houses that have retained their value despite the housing crisis.
The shirts sold out.
Is racism really a thing of the past?



Obama Sock Monkey
My daughter has a sock monkey. The maker of the Obama version has ceased production, apologized, and claims it did not realize this doll would be offensive.
Even if the manufacturer was simply unaware as they claim, this one hurts.

To be unaware that referring to a black person as a monkey is the height of ignorance. It shows a complete lack of historical knowledge and a complete blind eye to the experience of millions of black people.
Reading the responses to columns dealing with this story in both the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune have sent me into a funk. I should know better, as these comment sections tend to attract the fringe who are simply trying to get a rise out of readers, but the tone was more than disappointing.
The idea is repeated that the outcry was unfair, because Bush is called a monkey all the time and “the left” are not upset by this.
Do I really need to explain why this is not a case of unfair double standard? Have political lenses really made empathy this out of focus?

Do black people need thicker skin or do white people need to knock it off?

23 comments:

Jake said...

I must add my two cents. To begin, my wife had no (and I mean none at all) idea that referring to a black person as a monkey was offensive by any means when we first moved to Philly. So in defense of one of the brightest most ambitious women that I know, who is highly educated, I do think that saying unawareness of this fact is "the height of ignorance and complete lack of historical knowledge and a complete blind eye to millions of black people" is unfair and an utter generalization and stereotype that seems a little more based in a passionate response from one side of the fence rather than from the middle. Now, after that side note bashing on the author for being a little more one sided on this argument than in the past (understandably so) I would like to add my own thoughts. I do believe that this does show that racism is still very prevalent and not just something that occurs because of lack of communication or misunderstandings by both sides. There are still a lot of people out there, whether they will admit it or not, who are afraid of having a black president and who do harbor racist or biggotted feelings. There is a complete difference between referring to Bush and Obama as a monkey. (I think both are wrong and very disrespectful) One is mean, hurtful and childish, while the other is searing, vicious, and aimed at attempting to discriminate and degrade not only one person, but a whole race. I think that black people already have pretty thick skin, which is one of the reasons there is such a huge gap in communication and understanding between blacks and non-blacks, so I don't think they need thicker skin. In this case, white people just plain need to knock it off. There are lots of cases and instances where I believe both blacks and whites need to knock it off and get their acts together equally, but this does not appear to be one of those instances in my mind. This is a blatant attack on a Obama's race, not his person.

brohammas said...

I admit I may have been less diplomatic than usual but I still stand by my statements but should add the following.
Good people can be both educated, well meaning, and ignorant at the same time. Going back to the idea of white's privelage of not having to think about race, all black people know this is offensive. To not know puts an exclamation point on the seperation between the races and awareness of others....a large group of others.
Now this ignorance does not make one bad or even stupid, but that does not make it hurt the feelings of black people any less. Images like this, or Sambo, or Lawn Jockeys, are and always be offensive.
Not knowing this makes the need for racial discussion even more evident. It is also why being a minority can become so burdensome and tiring. Having to explain things like this to people, no matter how well meaning, can get old.
I reffer back to the title of this post.

Jake said...

I must respond. If I asked most of the african-americans in the city if they knew that they term "Gook" was very offensive to Koreans, they would not know. If I asked them what a "jockey-box" was, they wouldn't know that either. Not because they are black or because they are ignorant, they have just never experienced those cultures or terms before. Did you know there is an extreme hatred for Japanese people by Koreans? I find it tiresome explaining this to people to. They don't like being called Japanese. Does that make me call you ignorant or make me think less of you for not studying up on your asian and asian-american history? No. I wouldn't expect you to know, because you have never experienced that culture before. Now, this does however make me agree that this does prove there is a great need for education, communication, and a real discussion on race. But.....that doesn't mean that I have the right to expect everyone to automatically understand the situation and expect everyone to have already studied up on the history, culture, and racial plight of every other race in the nation that is not their own. Which race needs to be learned about the most and focused on? all of them? If we are going to discuss race, and look down on others for not knowing much about a situation that either doesn't affect them or they have never experienced. That road goes both ways. So we also need to be understanding of the fact that both sides need to be educated on race and problems with both other races, and racial situations as well as problems with their own race and culture that have kept the gap between races open. We can't expect everyone to know everything, and then start the process of communication. The point of the discussion is to educate and understand each other, so those of us who may be on the beginning of the racial education steps shouldn't be expected to move from the bottom step to the top step in one giant leap. We are all at different levels of knowledge and understanding of the issue, and shouldn't exclude those who don't know anything about it by pointing a finger or bashing them for not knowing more.

brohammas said...

Fair enough.
There are plenty, I repeat, plenty of things I am ignorant about. Some happily so.

This is a prime example of why there is still antagonism between black and white. Whites to a great part have too choose to get educated inregards to black people while (in the view of many black people) black people are often at the losing end of white ignorance.

Black people are offended by a white person, the white person didn't mean to offend, black person can choose to forgive or harbor resentment... then repeat the cycle over and over, ala lather, rinse, repeat.

What is at the core here is that from historical times through to the present, a percentage of whites have heaped trouble upon the extreme majority of blacks. This results in blacks having a collective experiance in racial antagonism while whites have a more diverse if even existant interracial experiance. Consequentially you have blacks being antagonized by a group that can wield ultimate power in that it can even be unaware there is a problem.

I am neither Japanes nor Korea, nor are we in either country. A reasonable Korean would probably realize thise and not expect me to know the ins and outs of the cultures.

We are in America and part of the reason I rattle the cage on racial issues is because many of us whites do not realize that we are half the problem. (notice I say half, not all) We are often ignorant to things closer to home than we realize and do have some responsability to educate ourselves.

An even more interseting lesson here is the power of connotation. I use the word "ignorant" meaning lack of knowledge or experiance. The word obviously has an added negative connotation which is apparently what has affected the reader, more than the issue at hand.

I did not intend "ignorance" to be a condescending word or a condemning one, but it was.

Just like the maker of an Obama monkey did not catch the connotation, yet it was still there.


(this is hard to do from a Blackberry)

Claudia said...

Lively previous discussion aside, I have to comment about your reading of the SLTrib and DesNews. I, too, often turn to those sites to see what the Utahns think about the world, and mostly it makes me want to throw the laptop through the window and run screaming from the room. It also makes me think that the only people who comment on newspaper stories don't have two brain cells to bang together. Don't let them upset you too much, thinking people really do exist in the world - they're just not commenting on news stories.

tristanjh said...

jake...whoever you are...you are my new hero.

Just a thought...I had to look up "Sambo" and "Lawn Jockey." I had never heard of either. Does this make me ignorant? I don't know. Call me a blonde, but if I had seen the monkey and not read this post, I wouldn't have seen it as a racial slam. I wouldn't have taken it as the manufacturer calling Obama a monkey. I would have actually thought it was produced in support of his campaign. Would it have made a difference if it had been a teddy bear in a suit with a campaign button?

brohammas said...

Once again ignorant meaning lacking knowledge and experiance...yes not knowing what Sambo is, is ignorance on that subject.
A teddy Bear would ahve been fine. It would have been great! especially considering they were originally made as affectionate nods to "Teddy" Roosevelt.
Black people were compared to monkeys from the days of slavery and throughout time, denying their humanness. ie the scene in Remember the Titans when the opposing coach says on TV that he will not trade films with that monkey.

Here I go with a generalization: Utahn's are well meaning, good people, but ignorant on racial issues.
This alone is fine, but as displayed in the news comments Claudia wisely cautions me about, there is a tendancy for the louder bunch to defend thier ignorance as unfair attacks, or dismiss it entirely.

brohammas said...

P.S.
No one in Georgia thought the Curious George t-shirt was in support of Obama, and the manufacturer did not cease production and apolagize.

tristanjh said...

Yet you seem to defend the man in Georgia and his right to free speech, but are more angered by the people who apologized and stopped production.

brohammas said...

Did I? I admitted his freedom of speech and then insinuated he was a racist. (I insinuated as to leave the readers room to state their views but he is most obviously a full blown biggot)
Brevity does not constitute defense.

Claudia said...

So here's my question (for Dalyn or anyone else): Assuming that racism will not cease to exist anytime soon (and I don't see it happening), would you rather that people were quietly racist or wore it on their t-shirts? What about religious biggotry?

Robyn said...

Easy. White people need to knock it off.

I actually just got on the SLTrib website to read about this sock monkey and it I found the majority of the comments to be absolutely outraged at this toy. I believe the makers of this doll have acutally not stopped production and may be doing a cream-colored McCain doll as well. They should be ashamed of themselves.

All Utahn's do not think the same. I consider myself a "thinking person" and yes I live in Utah. I admit that I am ignorant on the issue, (lacking knowledge and experience), however I am not racist. I was considered by some to have parents in a mixed marriage (dad is mexican, mom is white), I have a nephew and niece who are half black, yet I grew up in Utah and have never lived elsewhere, so for that I readily admit to being ignorant. I try to educate myself but know that I must do better, thanks for bringing up the issue.
I heart Utah.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. You can be smart and still be ignorant. What's so offensive about being called ignorant. I am on the Japanese Korean issue. And Jake and wife are on the monkey issue. Let's talk about this type of thing with others when we learn so they can be informed and not unknowingly support some racists. By the way I call it a jockey box now. I fight ignorance!

Rob said...

Couple thoughts:

1-I have to side with Jake on this one. No, we don't live in Japan or Korea, but there are a whole lot of Japanese and Korean people living in America. In fact, Asians make up 4.4% of the country (compared to 12% black and 15% hispanic) and tend to cluster in coastal cities like LA, Boston, NY, and ... Philadelphia! It is true that black issues, given the history of blacks in America, deserve more of our attention and sensitivity than other races, but it's not true that black issues deserve our attention to the exclusion of other races. One cannot claim to be racially sensitive/knowledgeable if you only bother to learn about the issues of one race. Which leads to my next point...

2-Ignorance is not the real problem (insensitivity is). So what if some sheltered soul has never heard of the phrase "lawn jockey"? The chance of them randomly using that phrase in a sentence is about zero. They are unlikely to ever offend anyone. The innocently ignorant are not the problem. They deserve patience, not ridicule. These are sensitive people, just inexperienced. And in time they will educate themselves about issues one by one, as they encounter them. Criticizing their ignorance will just confuse and offend them, when otherwise they would be on your side.

A bigger problem are the "actively ignorant", the insensitive people who hear an offensive phrase and then start using it themselves, never bothering to look it up because they don't care--these are the same nitwits who leave ignorant comments on the SLTrib website. They stubbornly parade their ignorance publicly and offend people along the way. Dalyn I think in your rush to (rightly) condemn these people you are mistakenly lumping the first group into the same boat, and thus throwing the baby out with the bathwater. (And in the process I think you are driving away people who would otherwise be on your side.)

But of course the biggest problem are the knowledgeable offenders. The people who sell these dolls and the people who buy them know perfectly well that it's offensive, but do it anyway. (anyone who thinks otherwise probably also believes Rush Limbaugh when he says he didn't know that Curious George is a monkey.) They do the racist things that cause so many problems for race relations.

My point is, we should forgive ignorance, and instead focus on insensitivity.

Rob said...

Calling someone "ignorant" has very negative connotations, whether you want it to or not. If you disagree, step outside and call someone in the street ignorant, then watch what happens.

tristanjh said...

Rob, you and Jake both rock!

While I clearly lack experience on this issue, I do try to be sensitive and my beef all along has been being lumped with the knowledgeable offenders! This sheltered soul thanks you for your comments!

Claudia said...

Yet another monkey: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Hanuman_idol_for_Obama/articleshow/3160730.cms

Chaci said...

Just a quick thought and mildly out of place, but that is what this blog is for. . . Are we not all monkey's? Where is our evolution? To be referred to as a species that full-fills its role in creation, that is, full-fills it purpose in life without wavering is a complement, call me a rock, a tree, a monkey! 'We should treat our minds, that is ourselves , as innocent and ingenuous children (ignorant as they may)and be careful what objects we thrust on their attention.Read not the times, read the eternities.' I havent seen the newspaper for a long time, and I have not been out to tea.

Chaci said...

nice

Chaci said...

PS despite using Chaci's log in ID the previous comment was actually from Brandon

brohammas said...

ROB WINS!

Rob I cede to your points completely.

You are right but a couple things should be noted.
First, while an individual knows which category they fit into, an offended other party does not. It is a difficult thing when someone is offended to the point of emotional response, to pause to inquire what sort of ignorant the other person is. "Pardon are you actively ignorant, knowingly, or just inexperianced?"
I point this out not to brush away the distinctions but to warn those who find themselves to be the offender to realize that though they may not understand or even deserve the anger (or whatever reaction) from the offended, in their mind it is justified.

Quick defensiveness is not unlike my quick condemnation, in that many may get caught up in "friendly fire". In a case like this the only one left without hurt feelings is the producer of the monkeys who are happy, for they meant to offend.

This also raises the issues of "charged" words and how the very presence of emotion in any discussion regarding race makes things difficult...but perhaps those deserve their own posts rather than just being responses to this one.

brohammas said...

To Claudia I answer I would much rather a racist wear it on thier shirt where I can see it and be fairly warned.

Siditty said...

I must respond. If I asked most of the african-americans in the city if they knew that they term "Gook" was very offensive to Koreans, they would not know

Maybe I am enlightened, but I knew that term was offensive to Koreans. Much like I knew as a child the phrase "Jew Them Down" was offensive, even though I knew virtually no Jewish people.

No one is diminishing you or your wife's intelligence, I don't think anyway, I think the issue here is simply not knowing and not caring to know is what is "ignorant".

I know there is a extreme hatred of the Koreans by the Japanese, I know Koreans, Hispanics, and tons of other races of people on average don't like blacks. I know that my great uncle who fought in the Korean war was told by Koreans that they thought black people had tails and that they were monkeys.

In terms of educating folks, I have at this point found the need not to. People have their minds made up at a certain point, and there is nothing I can do to change it. I grew up educating people on how black folks were. I used to get the "You're not like the others" comment all the time, but the sad thing is most of these people had never been around "the others" to truly know how they were. Assuming most blacks were like me, they assumed I was some weird freak of nature because I didn't talk like the black people on TV, lived in the suburbs, and knew my father (there are people in this world amazed my mom and dad are married and my father was active in my life, because in their minds most black people don't know their fathers).

That road goes both ways. So we also need to be understanding of the fact that both sides need to be educated on race and problems with both other races, and racial situations as well as problems with their own race and culture that have kept the gap between races open. We can't expect everyone to know everything, and then start the process of communication. The point of the discussion is to educate and understand each other, so those of us who may be on the beginning of the racial education steps shouldn't be expected to move from the bottom step to the top step in one giant leap. We are all at different levels of knowledge and understanding of the issue, and shouldn't exclude those who don't know anything about it by pointing a finger or bashing them for not knowing more.

No one is willing to communicate that is the biggest problem with race relations. No one wants to acknowledge the past and how it affects the present. I don't think he was bashing, he was just showing the race gap and how many whites don't have to think about such things as why a black person being compared to a monkey is offensive.

-------

So here's my question (for Dalyn or anyone else): Assuming that racism will not cease to exist anytime soon (and I don't see it happening), would you rather that people were quietly racist or wore it on their t-shirts? What about religious biggotry?

People don't have to be vocal for me to know if they are racist. It doesn't have to come out with racial slurs. You can be as bigoted as you want in your own house as long as you show me respect. Wearing a shirt comparing black people to monkey is blatantly disrespectful, and it should be known that people might get vocal about their distaste in the shirt. What should speak volumes is that the guy sold out of the shirt, that there were that many people excited about comparing black people to monkeys they were willing to spend money on it.

------

I was considered by some to have parents in a mixed marriage (dad is mexican, mom is white

I've alway found this strange. White people can marry Asian, Hispanic, and any other race of people and they don't think to consider it interracial, and their children can be included in the white community, but marry black and your kids are black and your relationship is "strange".