Thursday, December 17, 2009

Barack Obama's Post-Racial America: "The Heckler," Georgetown University's Newspaper Jokes About Lynchings and KKK Violence Against Black People

Georgetown University students are slamming a humor magazine for an online satirical piece they say is racist and not funny. The story in The Georgetown Heckler describes the official campus paper, The Hoya, holding a fictional cross-burning on campus and refers to "dark, human-shaped pinatas." A photograph with the story shows what appear to be Ku Klux Klan members in front of a burning cross. The Heckler was poking fun at troubles The Hoya ran into earlier this year when it published an April Fool's issue that students criticized as racist and sexist. Jheanelle Brown, president of the campus NAACP chapter, said a coalition of groups asked for an apology from The Heckler and a retraction after seeing the article. "I'm extremely, extremely angry and, as a black person, really offended and physically sick," said the 21-year-old senior from Lithonia, Ga. "I'm just personally tired of being attacked for who I am at a white school."

The climate for minority students at Georgetown is indicative of bigger problems in the country, Brown said. "We're not post-racial," she said.

We welcome you once more to Barack Obama's post-racial America...

Enter the joyous rites of passage for college students everywhere: the annual ritual where undergraduates hold "ghetto" parties in blackface/dress up like "Mexicans" for "crossing the border parties"/or more generally act like racially myopic asses. Of course, no "offense" is ever intended. And of course, any folk who complain are being "overly sensitive." Over the years, I have witnessed events such as these as a college student (and activist), administrator, and instructor. Interestingly, the repeated note in the controversy surrounding these tasteless episodes is denial--"we didn't know any better! we didn't know that dressing up in blackface was offensive. I/We/Me/Us have black/brown/yellow/red friends. We can't possibly be racists."

Because intention is THE qualifier for racism, none of these good wholesome American "kids" ever mean any harm. My thought: how did the bar get set so low? When should intentionality enter into the equation for personal responsibility and culpability in these cases? My second thought: how can other people's kids get this most generous benefit of the doubt? Where the best of their intentions is always the default rule for assigning responsibility for any error or shortcoming in behavior or decision-making?

Ultimately, episodes where racial terrorism becomes somehow made into harmless humor and satire speaks to a deep myopia and willful ignorance about this country's history. Ironically, the purveyors of this tasteless claptrap are reconfigured as the real "victims," victims of "political correctness," "overly sensitive minorities and liberals," and reverse racism.

And of course these good white college kids wouldn't dare make allusions such as the following:

"In addition to the cross lighting, The Hoya drove the idea home by hanging dark, human-shaped piñatas from Dahlgren’s trees, representing the demons of the past. Georgetown President John J. DeGioia was on hand to witness the ceremony, and his young son was allowed to take a bat to the piñatas, which eventually gave way to a stream of crimson confetti and candy."

Nah. Good, white, college kids would never joke about the murder, debasement, and evisceration of many thousands of black people (and sometimes Jews, as well as Catholics) as they hung like strange fruit from many a tree, in the center of fairgrounds, or off of public monuments. Good white college kids would never print a newspaper article where domestic terrorism was made light of as the stuff of good fun and sport. Moreover, these same good, white, college kids would have the good sense to not make light of the whiteness of terror evoked by the robes of the KKK as the harmless "ghosts of Christmas past."

It would never happen, especially in the Age of Obama. Most importantly, the KKK and Jim Crow was sooooo long ago they doesn't really matter anymore--except to those crazy liberals and racial ambulance chasers who care about such things.

Critiquing the sense of entitlement necessary to find joy in another group's suffering (and to ask these students to reflect upon how racial violence against people of color has also damaged the White Soul) is simply to high a standard to hold. Thus, to call the editors and staff of The Georgetown Heckler to the carpet is both self-righteous and unfair to these good white kids who really meant not harm. Right?

The Hoya Holds Annual Holiday Cross-Lighting Ceremony in Dahlgren Quad

Saturday, December 12, 2009

DAHLGREN QUAD—After a challenging year during which Georgetown’s main newspaper saw a last-minute revocation of its independence from the University and extended fallout over its annual April Fool’s issue, The Hoya came together this Friday for its annual cross lighting.

Since the 1930s, the Christmas cross has stood next to Georgetown’s official Christmas tree and is meant to be a reminder of the religious importance of the holiday that the newspaper felt was already slipping from the cultural consciousness during the Roosevelt administration. The Hoya still uses the original green and red light-bulb-studded metal frame of the cross from the first cross lighting, but its wood body has had to be replaced every year since 1941 because faulty electrical wiring causes the wood to catch fire.

“I think we needed this tradition more than ever,” said Campus News Editor Marshall McKinley (SFS ’11). “Seeing our crappy little cross struggle to light up and then spark and catch on fire was the first time in a while we’ve been able to laugh.”

The event began Friday with the staff’s traditional procession under the dark of night from the Leavey Center, with everyone wearing the traditional costume of a flowing white robe, white hood, and white mask, portraying the “ghosts of Christmas past.”

“It’s a time to remember our great tradition, but it’s also a time to remember some of the darkness that hangs over our past,” Hoya Features Editor Emma Richards (COL ’12) said. “It feels cathartic to put on this white hood. It’s about us coming together as one and exterminating these dark figures of the past that seem to loom over us.”

Added Richards,” We’ve been slaving over this ceremony for weeks and it’s great to see it running so smoothly.”

In addition to the cross lighting, The Hoya drove the idea home by hanging dark, human-shaped piñatas from Dahlgren’s trees, representing the demons of the past.

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia was on hand to witness the ceremony, and his young son was allowed to take a bat to the piñatas, which eventually gave way to a stream of crimson confetti and candy.

One of the hooded figures, apparently new Editor-in-Chief Paul Buckley (COL ’11), gave a short speech to the crowd. “From now on we go forward free of the black marks on our past,” he said. “We stand here united in these pure white robes and realize we are now pure and whi—upright, standing on our feet as a newspaper once again.”

In one final act of symbolic ceremony, Buckley took off his robe and rubbed his face and arms in shoe polish. “I is the stupid dark demon that be hauntin’ you!” he yelled in a strange voice. “Be smart and independent and pure, young Hoya staffers!” He was clubbed to the ground with plastic bats.

Finally the huge burning cross was extinguished with a fire hose, but first the hose somehow malfunctioned and shot water at members of the Black Student Alliance who were walking back from a meeting, knocking them over and causing injuries.

12 comments:

Irie` said...

There is no such thing as being 'oversensitive' about racial issues. There are over 6 billion people on the planet and each and everyone of them has and will have different experiences with racial issues. That being said you can guarantee that if you act in a manner that you think might/possibly/maybe offend someone ...you WILL offend someone. Just don't do it. In humor or not. Why must we poke fun at our differences so negatively? And making fun of the painful African American past, that is completely tragic. I cannot even express how disturbing that is. Sigh. Poor young America..

^_^ said...

This is absolutely disgusting.

Anonymous said...

How about actually looking at the context of the article? You attack the writers as racists when they are actually attacking racism with satire. Be ashamed for making conclusions without the requisite thinking.

Sharon said...

OK, I read the article.

I'm afraid satire requires writing skill and intelligence. It does not consist of writing the most offensive crap you can think of and then saying...oh, it's SATIRE.
It also has to be funny.

Even professional satirists (like Jon Stewart's writers & The Onion) miss the mark alarmingly often, but they at least have an idea what they're aiming for.

99% of college students are incapable of writing satire and the other 1% don't attend Georgetown.

Boca Flaca said...

I get that they were trying to take down The Hoya by calling them a bunch of thick-headed racists, but they took it a wee bit too far in their attempt at satire.

I've found that "satire" is a lot like "irony" in that no one really knows how to do it or what it means, but everyone thinks they're experts.

Cobb said...

i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
done
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i'd be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she's natural
i would have a revolution
---

That's Nikki Giovanni. And for all the non-liberated negroes of the world, the message is simple. As long as you are a Negro, your life will be pain and suffering under the intentional and unintentional slings and arrows of people no more powerful than drunk suburban adolescents. Because they are They and you are Other, and you cannot think your way out of that bag. Pity. Pity. Pity.

Maybe that's why you're still unloved.

I wonder with doubt if the peasant generation of negroes, without the benefit of literacy, will ever achieve beyond this self-pity they call 'sensitivity'. It's the ignorance of the echo chamber - you know. Only babysitters respond to baby whining, and babysitters are paid to *mind* you. So crawl out the back door and learn to walk.

Anonymous said...

According to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/17/AR2009121702502.html:

Jack Stuef, editor of the Heckler, said the intent of the satire was "to mock or criticize, in a darkly ironic way, the latent racist sentiments that were shown by the Hoya in the April issue."

Whether the satire was of high quality or not, how is the Heckler article equal to people's ignorance in thinking that blackface or crossing the border parties are OK? It just seems like two different issues.

chaunceydevega said...

@Irie--good points. But, one thought: why isn't white supremacy a painful episode in white americans' collective past as well? So often, racism is "our" problem, when it really is a mental illness of white folks in the American context. How would the conversation change if white folks were asked to collectively own their history and to make real amends for it?

@Sharon---Agreed.

@Boca Flaca--Agreement number two.

@Cobb--Great point. We do waste so much political capital on being upset over being "offended" but many are not able to articulate why they feel such a way and what are the consequences of it. As I have written elsewhere, you see this "offense" syndrome everywhere. My feelings are hurt, what you said offended me, I am upset, hurt, angry etc. etc. etc. And often there is no logical consequence, no explanation for why and the import. In this case, joking about racial terrorism isn't about "offense" per se for me, it is about what this suggests about whiteness, historical memory, and the sickness that is racism. I am an ardent defender of free speech--and the freedom to offend and to be offended--but I am also a fan of responsibility and ownership for one's deeds.

Good catch though and appreciated.

@Anonymous 1--No shame here. This effort at satire totally failed. Just because one tries to be funny, smart, snarky, etc. does not mean one pulls it off. The selection of one's examples to parody are the beginning of where this one went off the rails for the journeyman journalists in question.

@Anonymous 2--The blackface parties and other such events all spring from a deep and willful myopia about white supremacy and violence. The Heckler article is rooted in white entitlement. The blackface parties are as well. They all spring from the same rotten, putrid, waters of the popular white imagination.

Cobb said...

I'm going to go somewhere strange and theoretically dangerous by suggesting the following. This kind of racism is less than or equal to blonde jokes. Which is to say that it is neither deeply held nor ever going away. It is part and parcel of the way a class of kids are raised - the kids from the competitive suburb.

I base this on my experience raising kids in a competitive suburb now going on nine years. Every kind of loser is stigmatized in these parts. It's all very juvenile, but it's also how the people that *do* stuff (not necessarily *run* stuff) distinguish themselves socially on a daily basis. If you're not kicking ass and taking names, then you are called names and kicked in the ass.

Every kid from the competitive suburbs that survives knows exactly what they represent. From they're parents perspective and their own grok of their socioeconomic circumstances, they start dealing with American expectations. Do you get everything on TV for christmas? Are you on the football team? Are your parents still together? Do you get drunk with the stoners? Are you taking the honors classes? If you can't hang, tough titty. It's not that anyone goes out of their way to prove something about stereotypes, they just call them as they see them.


Now California is different. There is ample space for all kinds of multicultural success, but neighborhoods are neighborhoods. Highschool and college cliques are all the precursor chemicals for social WMDs. But are you going to go all Cheney on the Powell report?

honestly, i don't think it gets any more real than those 'step it up' movies.

CNu said...

I'm going to go somewhere strange and theoretically dangerous

somewhere question-begging, ahistorical, and more than a little silly - would be more like it.

I base this on my experience raising kids in a competitive suburb now going on nine years. Every kind of loser is stigmatized in these parts.

reminds me of exactly how little crabs who grow into mature crips are socialized into believing and acting like crackheads are subhuman.

From they're parents perspective and their own grok of their socioeconomic circumstances, they start dealing with American expectations.

Way to go Cobb!!!

There's nothing laudable or defensible in this behavior, or the unsustainable and collapsing way of life that it subtends, so why go to the effort to either laud or defend it?

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

On a historical note, the fact that the Klan gained renewed popularity in the 1920s by attacking immigrant Catholics shows even more how ignorant these satirists (at a Catholic university) really are.

I also wonder how much of this has to do with the rise of "un-PC" entertainment like Family Guy and South Park has to do with this. Some of the audience for this programming gets the satire, but in my experience a lot of my students see it as a way to unleash their racial and gender ids and cover it up by calling it humor.

LifeinBmajor said...

Seems like the author accomplished the feat of being 'controversial'. Though, I can't comment on the newspaper article 'true intentions', I can say that maybe this piece of satire was put in the wrong context (Hoya newspaper).