Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Would you like some fried chicken with that, Mister President?


UPDATE: 
Mayor Dean Grose steps down over controversy (see below).

ORIGINAL POST: Humorists are complaining that (so far) there is nothing really to make fun of regarding President Obama. There's his "um... um..." when he talks without a TelePrompTer, and he's got those giant Dumbo ears, but without him being a womanizer or a serial bungler of the English language (well, not much of one), there really isn't that much. There's his name, I guess, but that sounds so childish (not to mention it's been done to death by his critics).


Still, it's disappointing that people looking for something "funny" to associate with the President have already begun resorting to racist caricature. The above picture is one example. Dean Gross, the mayor of Los Alamitos, a western Orange County community, emailed that graphic of the White House lawn turned into a watermelon patch. It included the headline, "No Easter Egg hunt this year." 

When one African-American businesswoman who had received the email, Keyanus Price, complained about such depictions, she gave the mayor an earful. Gross replied: "The way things are today, you gotta laugh every now and then. I wanna see the coloring contests." That just upset Price more and she took it to the press, after which Gross apologized. 

Said Price:
I have had plenty of my share of chicken and watermelon and all those kinds of jokes. I honestly don't even understand where he was coming from, sending this to me. As a black person receiving something like this from the city freakin' mayor — come on.
Racial stereotypes surrounding the US's first acknowledged African-American president (I'm pretty sure there were others, but they weren't saying) have brought out the stupid in some White people and the hypersensitivity of some Blacks. The cartoon below, in response to a crazed chimpanzee being shot dead by New York's finest, prompted some to suggest that the editorial cartoonist was comparing Obama to a primate, evoking memories of particularly nasty racial slurs about Blacks from the past. 

Actually, he is a primate. We're all primates. Some high-level Catholic clergy are double primates. Anyway, I don't think the monkey in the cartoon was supposed to represent Obama, but just to be safe, it would have been better if the NYPD had shot a rabid dolphin instead. 

People can be too sensitive about perceived racial slurs. I first noticed that in Korea when White people were complaining to me about children on the street yelling "Hello!" at them, calling it hate speech (I'm not making that up [UPDATE: see this link]). 


Then there is the New Yorker cartoon that tried to cram as many stereotypes and innuendos about the Obamas as possible into one page. Lots of people thought they were perpetuating stereotypes rather than mocking them. Boy, have I ever been there. 

Anyway, these things can be like the proverbial monster in the jungle: you'll know it when you see it. The White House lawn turned into a watermelon patch? Come on! You can't get any more obvious about that being offensive. 

That Mayor Gross didn't intend for it to be offensive doesn't make it any less egregious or racist (yes, there are loads of people of all races who think they aren't racist, but they are). It's right up there with Miley Cyrus doing the chink-eye bit: I think it reveals a deeper bigotry looming just below the surface — a bigotry neither the mayor nor Miley intended to let out, if they even know it exists.

What if the tables were turned, we ask ourselves. How would Mayor Gross or Miley Cyrus like it if Asian-Americans or Blacks started to... started to... Oh, geez, what could minorities do to make fun of Whites? Dance badly? Screw up a math question? That's the problem with trying to go after the dominant group: the media perpetuates too few stereotypes about them, and even when some negative generalization gains traction, other races have so much exposure to the many exceptions to the stereotype that it does no real damage. 

Maybe all Asian people should shout "Hello!" when they drive by one. 

Sigh. Hopefully B. Hussein Obama will throw up on a Japanese prime minister soon and we can all move on. 

UPDATE (Friday, February 27, 2009):
Mayor Dean Gross Grose has announced that he will resign from his post due to this controversy (Los Angeles Times story here). The Orange County Register quotes the mayor:
“The attention brought to this matter has sadly created an image of me which is most unfortunate,” he wrote. “I recognize that I've made a mistake and have taken steps to make sure this is never repeated.”
Some Orange County residents were "disgusted" that a public official would send a overtly offensive and racist email, while others are saying that "what was intended to be a joke has spiraled out of control."

Well, I don't know if racist humor amounts to a harmless joke, but I do agree that some things have gotten out of hand. The mayor found a smashed watermelon outside his office on Thursday, prompting the police to patrol both his office and his home. 

UPDATE #2 (same day, but much later):
Local station KCAL-TV says that Grose will remain on the Los Alamitos city council. They also report that he said he "wasn't aware of the racial stereotype that Blacks like watermelon." WTF?! If you really didn't know about that stereotype, why did you think the picture was funny in the first place? You are either full of sh¡t, Mr Grose and don't deserve to be in local government for that reason, or you really are telling the truth and you are too clueless to run a city. 

To make this Korea-related, the groundwork for the development of seedless watermelons is credited to Korean-Japanese U Changchun (우장춘, or Woo Jangchun), a man whose father may have been involved with the Ŭlmi Incident, the Japanese-led assassination of the Chosǒn-era Queen Min. I like seedless watermelons; when I was about six, my friend's brother had me convinced that eating watermelon seeds would make you pregnant. 

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1 comment:

  1. That mayor was wrong on all kinds of level. I agree that unintentional racism is still racist.

    Take for instance a scene from the movie Freeway with Reese Witherspoon. Its an old b flick from the nineties.

    She confronts this asshole cop who is giving her a hard time by calling him the N word. However, earlier in the movie she is shown as being in love with her black boyfriend as if this would somehow make her racist remark not racist.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116361/

    Whatever. It was still racist.

    ReplyDelete

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