Thursday, October 15, 2009

Racial humour - is it ever okay?

The recent kerfuffle over Harry Connick Jr's criticism of a segment on Hey Hey It's Saturday in which performers wore blackface has raised some really interesting issues about humour, race, and if it is offensive to combine the two.

Now humour is a very subjective thing. I had two friends go watch Borat and didn't laugh once, whereas I laughed so hard I almost cried. Similarly, it is hard to define what is offensive and what is not, given the diversity of people's backgrounds and experiences.

An exceedingly common response from parochial Aussies to HCJ's criticism of the blackface skit went something like this:

"Well if Americans find blackface so offensive, how come Robert Downey Jr played a black man in Tropic Thunder and got nominated for an Oscar?"

or:
"Well if Americans find blackface so offensive, what about the Wayans brothers made up to look like white women in the movie White Chicks?"

or:
"Well if Americans find blackface so offensive, what about Dave Chappelle made up to look like a white TV presenter on his show?"

or this is my favourite:
"Well, the Jackson 5 are black, and it was a tribute to them, so how is anyone supposed to impersonate a black person without wearing black makeup?"


Which is a fair question, but think about this while you look at the 3 pictures below: did the Jackson Jive performers (centre) really look at all like the Jackson 5 (Tito, right), or indeed like any black people that you know of? Or did they look more like a demeaning caricature of a black person (left)? Hmmm?






But what about those other examples above? Those are all fair questions. Sort of.

I'm no fan of racism, but I am someone who loves good comedy. And sometimes comedy can involve impersonating someone of another race. Should we ban that outright? Of course not. Sometimes it can be funny and brilliantly clever. But of course at other times it is ugly and offensive.

The key for me is context. Context in humour is something that an enormous amount of people don't seem to have a grasp of - they want a hard-and-fast rules for everything - yet it is extremely important.

So context is going to govern whether the following videos are kosher or not.

Bear in mind that these are only my opinions, which are probably worthless since I am not of any ethnicity being impersonated here. If you disagree, please comment and tell me why, I'd be interested to hear it.

This first one is the MadTV sketch from 1996, invoked by Australians as a way to discredit Harry Connick Jr as a hypocrite. According to many, he is actually appearing in blackface here, impersonating a black preacher. Watch and judge for yourself:

First question: is he actually wearing blackface? I've read a few African American commentators say no, he is mimicking a Southern preacher. I dunno, he looks a bit more tanned than usual, and his facial hair looks like its designed to make him look black.
Let's just say, for argument's sake, that he is pretending to be black. Is that offensive?
I'd consider a couple of factors. Firstly, the black people in this sketch are in on the joke - I imagine they invited Harry to do the role. Secondly, it is a nuanced performance, rather than a gross caricature.
My verdict: Pass

Speaking of gross caricatures, this next one is the sort of old-time minstrel show that the Jackson Jive performance resembled.

If you can't see what's wrong with that, better read here. By the way, do you think in those days they would have let all those white women dance with actual black men? Not a chance.
My verdict: Fail.

The next video is Robert Downey Jr from Tropic Thunder, playing a white Australian actor who is playing a black soldier.

Is it demeaning to black people? Well, you'd have to ask one, but I don't really think so. The character is a sendup of actors who take themselves seriously, and the Hollywood practice of putting actors in roles they are unsuitable for. As seen above, a recurring theme is another character (who is actually black) pointing out how inappropriate the whole business is.
My verdict: Pass

Next up: Mr Yunioshi, played by Mickey Rooney, in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Pretty obvious really. Rather than give the role to an Asian-American, the filmmakers for some reason thought a heavily made-up Rooney would be more suitable. Despite not being at all convincing as an Asian, the character embodies virtually every negative stereotype about Asians.
My verdict: Fail

Next up is Canadian-Indian comedian Russell Peters. Not in yellowface but using a Chinese accent; its a well-known bit about the attitude of Indians and Chinese to money.

A significant portion of Peters' fanbase is Chinese, yet arguably his best known routine is making fun of them. Why? Perhaps because his jokes about Chinese people (as well as other nationalities he talks about) are clearly affectionate rather than disdainful. He does the accent pretty well, and is fairly knowledgable about Chinese culture and people. It is clear he is primarily laughing with Chinese rather than at them.
My verdict: Pass

Next is former Australian test cricketer turned comedian Greg Ritchie. I use the term "comedian" as loosely as possible here. He appears here as his alter-ego "Mahatma Cote" back in 1994.

Eurgh. I find that an ordeal to sit through. The entire joke is "gosh, don't Indians talk funny", and that's about it really. Ritchie can't even nail the accent. The program in question is watched by a the same sort of audience who laughed at the Jackson 5 impersonators on Hey Hey; I'm not sure if anyone who actually knows any Indians as people would find it funny.
My verdict: Fail

Next, also from Australian TV in the early 90s, Rob Sitch impersonating legendary Pakistani cricketer and ladies' man Imran Khan on The Late Show.

Sitch does actually sound like Imran Khan here, rather than a generic caricature of a South Asian. And the joke is about Imran Khan, rather than at Pakistanis. A note about the term "Paki bastard" used by interviewer Tom Gleisner: in the UK that would be considered totally improper. In Australia in 1992, there was little to no awareness of the racist connotations of "Paki" in the UK. The term is very rarely heard in Australia anymore. (As for "bastard", that is purely Australian humour.)
My verdict: Pass

Next is from Chappelle's Show. Dave Chappelle plays a white news anchor, reporting on a story of what happens on the day when black people get reparations money for slavery. This is only one of a series of 3 sketches on the topic.
Chappelle's Show
Reparations 2003 Follow-Up
http://www.comedycentral.com/
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

Chappelle's comedy is all about stereotypes. And while he frequently caricatures the uptight, square white American, much more of his humour is an affectionate critique of the black community. Remember also that sending up the powerful is a far more respected trope in comedy than the powerful mocking the powerless. Given the socio-cultural dominance of white Americans over black Americans, this sort of thing is more acceptable than if the other way around.
My verdict: Pass

Lastly, a scene from White Chicks; Terry Crewes trying to seduce one of the whitefaced Wayans brothers.

You don't win too many friends trying to defend the artistic merit of Wayans brothers movies, but I actually like this movie; it's whole premise is so ludicrous that it becomes a knowing self-parody. But is it racist to have two black actors made up to look like white women? Not necessarily. Would it be considered racist and in poor taste if two white actors impersonated black women? Possibly; but consider the historical context. As African-Americans have traditionally been a disempowered segment of society, blackface impersonations carry a reflection of oppression and discrimination. There is no equivalent context for what is happening in White Chicks.
My verdict: Pass


Disagree? Let me know what you think.



Like this? You may like:

Peter Chao in blackface - is it racist?

The Daily Show - Is blackface ever ok?

The burqa dance - what do you think?

"The Truth About Gooks and Wogs" - Hung Le and Gab Rossi

Louis CK on being white

Introducing Jonah Takalua

Acceptable TV - "My Black Friend"

Gina Yashere on Def Jam

Borat's guide to American hobbies

24 comments:

  1. So what is your actual opinion of Hey Hey? It wasn't actually particularly entertaining or funny and I agree that the blackface was unnecessary, but given it was wasn't 'intended' to be racist does that make it ok but just in poor taste? I'm still a little concerned that so many people find Daryl funny and were watching!!

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  2. Hi Rachael, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I don't consider the skit to be racist in itself. I don't think anyone involved thought really hard about what message it might send, and there was no racist intention there. To throw the word "racist" around flippantly isn't good for anyone.

    However, I think they were pretty stupid not to consider the implications of what they were doing. So certainly in poor taste. As a parallel, if I dressed up in Nazi regalia, that is not intrinsically racist, but it would offend many people because it brings back a whole lot of hurtful racist associations. There are some things you just shouldn't do.

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  3. There was this entire thread on Essential Baby on how racist it was. It was very interesting reading obviously with some people believing it demeaned an entire race and some saying perhaps it was just poor taste. I'll find the link and email it to you.

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  4. "...are clearly affectionate rather than disdainful." (When you were talking about Russell Peters.)

    Well I think that says it all regarding the whole Hey, Hey brouhaha. Affectionate or disdainful? I'd hardly say it was disdainful. Does anybody really think the Jackson Jive and those laughing in the audience were being disdainful? Everybody intended it to be "affectionate" -- indeed a "tribute".

    "In Australia in 1992, there was little to no awareness of the racist connotations of "Paki" in the UK."

    And I'd say there was little to no awareness amongst parochial Australians of the racist connotations (at least in the US) of so-called "blackface".

    Anyway, I found some Youtube of that popular Brazilian comedy show with their regular Barack Obama skit. The guy who plays Obama is obviously naturally like that, but the "woman" has painted "her" face and the woman later on, in a pink dress, meant to be Michelle Obama, while not appearing to have painted her face, is wearing a "black-skin" "suit". As I said, no controversy here in Brazil, and I think for good reason, given the different history and context.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPA3OlEFFC8

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  5. Thanks Peter. I get your point regarding the Hey Hey "tribute", but you could argue that there is something intrinsically disdainful about the kind of makeup those guys were wearing. As I wrote in the post, their look was less like an actual black person than a demeaning caricature of a black person.

    Re: "Paki" - I knew as soon as I wrote it that you would come back with that response!
    From an Australian perspective (c.1992), "Paki" would be understandable shortening of "Pakistani". The term is not intrinsically racist, but has been given such a meaning in the UK where it is a catch-all derogatory term for South Asians (Pakistani or not).
    I'd argue that any racist connotations of "Paki" are far less obvious than that of dressing up like a golliwog to represent black people. And as I said, "Paki" seems to have fallen out of use in Australia, probably due to increased awareness of the UK context.

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  6. You're ever reasonable, Eurasian.

    Ah, I remember now an example I wanted to give!

    If I called a girl beautiful, would she get offended?

    The answer is, No. She wouldn't get offended because in her social context, being beautiful is a good thing.

    Therefore the sensitivity of "blacks" will depend on the attitude of their society towards "blackness".

    Take the example of blondes. In pretty much all societies, blondeness is viewed more or less as being advantageous, as being a blessing. Thus, it is understood that making fun of blondes, indulging in dumb-blonde jokes, carries no real insulting power because in reality we exalt the blonde female. Do Australians view "blacks" and "blackness" in the same way as Americans do and traditionally have? Should a country that has traditionally been more comfortable with assimilation be treated different to a country that has traditionally been more comfortable with segregation?

    Do you know what "nigger" means? It comes from the Latin for "black". That's all it means. And yet it carries so much insulting power in much of the English-speaking world, especially the US. What about the word "Negro"? Well, that just comes from the Spanish for "black". Well, we must think of another euphemism, then, mustn't we? We must get away from this dreaded color we're running away from. What about we just use the English world -- "black"? Ah, but that's a bit blunt. The current euphemism is "African-American" ("Afro-American" had some currency for a while, but I think that's considered a bit insensitive now). When I was in England "coloured" was a euphemism favored by some (indeed there's the current "person/people of color" that is catching on in popularity, even though it's a bit redundant, since "white" is a color as well and so "white" people are "people of color", as indeed is everybody else!

    You see, the problem isn't with "blackness". The problem lies with how certain societies view "blackness". In some societies it is such a terrible, unfortunate thing that they have to invent euphemisms to salve the sensitivities of those so cursed as to find themselves born "black". Thus, these unfortunate souls are made hyper-sensitive by virtue of being born in the wrong place. Unfortunately, they may universalize their particular experience and assume that everybody else has the same negative and disdainful view of "blackness" that any portrayal of them must have a negative intent anywhere and everywhere. Thus, the way in which different societies actually view "blackness" is not taken into account. Segregationists will view "blackness" in a different way from assimilationists, which is reflected in their preference for segregation over assimilation.

    I'm trying to find the Youtube clip of that actor/children's entertainer rather innocently and lightheartedly pulling his eyes back to point out TV presenter Geovanna Tominaga's Japanese features. When I warned my housemate not to pull her eyes back if she were in any English-speaking country, I was surprised at how surprised she was! And yesterday I was having a discussion with an academic and his wife; we touched on the subject of race in Brazil, and I noticed the wife matter-of-factly pull her eyes back when referring to the "japas" in passing. I was about to point out the interesting fact that such a thing is viewed very differently in other parts of the world, being viewed as being unequivocally denigrating and offensive, but I didn't bother to do so ... since I'm already getting used to it that it barely registers with me. (Though I can't see myself doing it!)

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  7. Hmmm, Peter did you just describe Australia as being traditionally more comfortable with black people than the US? Neither country is exactly a shining light in this regard.

    Your statement about the term "coloured" reminds me of the time I was talking to an Australian woman, describing a South African guy I knew. When I referred to him as being "coloured", she gave me an awkward look, believing I was using outdated and inappropriate terminology. Of course, "coloured" is a perfectly accepted term in South Africa to describe their large mixed-race community.

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  8. Yes, this question of terminology is very interesting. My partner is a Zimbabwean of black African and white Australian parentage, he often refers to himself as 'coloured'. I'm white, and Australian, so it's taken me quite a while to get used to that as something that's OK, and I still can't really bring myself to use it.
    To say "Have you seen my partner? He's a tall coloured guy?" No, no way couldn't do it, particularly to an Australian. maybe to someone I knew was from Southern Africa.
    But, failing that, what do you say? I have no problem with 'black' - except that he's not! I sort of don't like the thing of calling anyone who's not white black. So that leaves brown. Which I actually like, but it's kind of weird in itself.
    Now, in Spanish and Portuguese, they use the word mulato/mulata. In those languages, the word carries no negative connotation, but in English? No f***ing way!!
    So terminology is interesting. I'm really still not cool with Negro, but a lot of black Americans are and who am i to argue with them?
    A final, really interesting point I think. I was recently reading the Spanish translation of an American book written in English. The original book had used the word 'nigger' and this had been translated into Spanish as 'negrata'. However, there was a translator's note at this point explaining that nigger is a very very bad and offensive word, and that negrata, whilst being the worst word you can call a black or brown person in Spanish, doesn't even come close. So the translator just basically said 'Imagine a really really bad word, cause we just don't have one to compete.'
    Interesting, huh? Would Wittgenstein say that therefore Spanish speakers are simply less racist than us??

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  9. @ Peta - I'm drifting off topic here, but your comment reminded me that Indonesians have an unfortunate way of referring to Africans as "orang niger". ("Orang" means man or person). There are a few Nigerians in Indonesia, and the name of that country would naturally be pronounced "Niggeria" (with a hard g) by Indonesians. I don't think they have a clue of the context of the word, but I was quite unsettled to hear my friend referring to Africans as "orang niger".

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  10. Eurasian, what I'm saying is that Australia has a demonstrated track record of choosing and preferring assimilation over segregation, in fact such that it was government policy to assimilate it's "black" population, in direct contrast to somewhere like the US. New Zealand had such a strong assimilationist (miscegenation) policy that today there are probably no longer any full-blooded Maori, who constitute 15% of the population, slightly more than the African-American in the US, who constitute 12%. Segregationists are of course against assimilation because they view it as being biologically dysgenic. In Australia normally between 70-80% of second-generation immigrants marry exogamically, and when this doesn't happen, as with endogamous groups like the Muslims, the "ordinary Australians" start getting uncomfortable. (You'll notice that once Asians started marrying exogamically, after being impelled to do so en masse by the discomfit Hansonism represented, the Hanson phenomenon dramatically disappeared. In countries like Malaysia, Chinese marry Chinese, Malay marry Malay, Indians marry Indians generation after generation, and apparently everybody's comfortable with this segregated situation. I also noticed that the "wog" thing quickly died down after the Italians and Greeks finally started marrying exogamically -- after the third generation!)

    So Australians and New Zealanders are assimilationists by nature. They have the natural capacity to assimilate all and sundry. Naturally, in the early days of a new group, there might be some discomfort and anxiety. This is not because the new group is seen as being unassimilable because doing so may be biologically dysgenic, but rather because people tend to dislike change and fear the unknown. Once they get "relaxed and comfortable" with a new group, history shows they are happily assimilated and don't remain in permanent, segregated ghettoes as occurs in countries like the USA, Malaysia, etc.

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  11. Errata: I meant to say that between 70-90+% of second-generation immigrants marry exogamically, that is, assimilate, according to information garnered from Monash's Professor Birrell.

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  12. @ Peter - interesting points, although I think the link between Asians marrying exogamously and the demise of Hansonism is a stretch at best. It is common knowledge that Pauline Hanson faded from the scene due to the political cunning of John Howard - he denounced her, then gradually adopted all her policies. Asians have been marrying out for quite a while now. And while "Hansonism" is gone as a political force, the xenophobia that fuelled it is still there.
    Aussies, as assimilationists are very accepting people, to a point - as long as you don't act differently in any way, they'll accept you.

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  13. Peta, I remember the first time I heard "negrito/a" in South America in 1998. In Bolivia I heard an Indian casually say, "Hola negrito", which I translated in my mind literally as, "Hello blackie". I was startled and began thinking how racist South Americans must be. I particularly thought it a bit rich for a humble Indian to be proposing racial superiority over anybody else! (Bolivia is very poor and the Indians are all very humble and poor.) Thankfully we had an Argentinian travelling with us, and he was quick to inform me that "negrito/a" in the Spanish-speaking world is a term of endearment, a positive term. Since in the English-speaking world "blackness" has traditionally been looked upon negatively, I naturally interpreted it in the way I was culturally formed to do so, as something that would almost certainly be meant to be denigrating. But thanks to the Argentinian I was now better equipped to understand the social context when in Chile I would see people casually acknowledge a "black" person as they walked past by saying "negrito", rather perfunctorily actually! Thank God for that Argentinian -- otherwise I'd have interpreted it with the wrong glasses on!

    Having said that, I've found it's a bit different here in Brazil. Brazil has a class issue, one of the most extreme class divides in the world. And there's a general correlation between skin color and class, such that it is quite a safe assumption to make that a "black" guy you see is poor and of a lower class and a "whiter" person well-to-do or rich, though there are of course exceptions. Thus, to call someone a "mulato/a" may be to actually imply that they're poor and of a lower class, and someone who is actually not poor may take it as an insult. (Ronaldo, the soccer player, famously described himself as "white", though he probably meant it in the class sense; after the uproar, given that an increasing number of Brazilians now subscribe to the American understanding of race, he later "corrected" that he was actually "black".) So it depends on the context. During Carnival, on the news and stuff, journalists will matter-of-factly refer to the "beautiful mulata dancers". The same goes for "neguinho" ("blackie" in Portuguese). One of the most famous and popular Samba composers and singers for Carnival is "Neguinho da Beija Flor", which literally translates as "The Blackie of Beija-Flor" or "The Little Blackie of Beija-Flor". Beija-Flor has won many Carnival-float competitions. (A news story of his marriage at the Sabodromo at this year's Carnival: http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/folha/cotidiano/ult95u508284.shtml)

    One of my housemates is a "morena", that is, brown-skinned. While the other housemates are middle class, this one comes from a poor background and is struggling to be and remain in the middle class. She has serious self-image issues with her hair, such that she must expend precious money at the hairdressers to insure it remains straight. Enquiring as to why this was so important, her eyes lit up as she told me she was a mulata. But then she must make sure her hair is completely straight lest she be mistaken as a "mulata" and thus be associated with poverty and miss out from landing herself a middle class (or better) guy.

    So apart from the class sensitivities, mulato/a mulatinho/a, negao/nega, neguinho/a are in common and accepted use, but one has to be a little more careful than in Spanish-speaking countries, where a light-skin person will call a "black" person he doesn't know "negrito", without there being any risk of offense.

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  14. Interesting point about Hanson's strategies -- I think you're right. But I nevertheless remember noticing the amount of Asian-Aussie couplings shooting up markedly after Hanson. Before, I remember hearing of cases where, for example, the Sri Lankan parents were embarrassed about their daughter dating an "Aussie" and would seek to hide this from their Sri Lankan family and friends. After the Hanson affair, I ceased hearing of such stories and watched the inter-dating/marrying thing be catapulted. (Though with Asians it's still the case that it's almost always the girl that is Asian and the boy non-Asian)

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  15. Ah, another quick point. Remember when James Packer was dating Deni Hines? I think they were even engaged. And guess what -- it was completely unremarkable. Now if the heir to the richest fortune in Britain or America were close to marrying a "black" girl, would it be a completely unremarkable affair?

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  16. >think the link between Asians marrying exogamously and the demise of Hansonism is a stretch at best.

    I agree. In fact, I find the mere suggestion (even though it has been retracted) that Asians started marrying exogamously because they were “impelled to do so en masse by the discomfit Hansonism represented” to be insulting. It seems to overlook the fact that Asians are individuals with emotions and the ability to love. The suggestion seems to imply that Asians who do marry exogamously do so merely for the practical reason of social acceptance. It also overlooks the history of Australian immigration and the White Australia policy. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Australia saw an influx of Asian migrants after the restrictions on non-European migrants were relaxed (http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/08abolition.htm). Hence, if some are noticing more ‘Asians’ marrying exogamously in the years between the time when Pauline Hanson came into the public view (1996?) and today, it is most probably because they are seeing the by-product of the first large group of Australian born people of Asian descent reaching marriageable age, and not because ‘Asians’ have suddenly decided that they need to assimilate after listening to Pauline Hanson.

    >Aussies, as assimilationists are very accepting people, to a point - as long as you don't act differently in any way, they'll accept you.

    Yeah, a Eurasian Australian friend of mine explained it as thus: “Aussies like 'Asians' who can’t speak English too well. They think it’s ‘cute’. They also like 'Asians' who act completely ‘Australian’ because they’re considered ‘Australian’. But they don’t like 'Asians' who are native speakers of English, but don’t act completely ‘Australian’.” If that is true, the simple statement would explain a lot of what I’ve experienced, as I fall under the third category.

    re: Russell Peters – I have no problem laughing at his Chinese jokes since he makes as much fun about his own ethnicity (Indian) and he’s working from the common ground that he’s also of a ‘migrant background’. You can tell he probably grew up with lots of Chinese Canadian friends. So it does seem as though he’s laughing with the Chinese. But his sexual jokes and disability jokes are a different story. I’ve noticed that his disability jokes are often about people who are deaf (hearing impaired?). It’s hard to laugh when you know that the people he is making fun of are most likely not in the audience. And Peters does not seem to have any disability, so it’s hard to see how he could possibly laugh ‘with’ them.

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  17. @ fromthetropics: Not sure how we got onto Hansonism and mixed marriages from a post about racial humour but... I tend to agree with your analysis about why Asians may be marrying exogamously in recent years.
    Consider especially the Indochinese population - the first major influx was in the 70s. The kids of that generation who were born here or arrived while very young, were young adults by the late 90s. They are the perfect candidates for marrying non-Asians, as they are well-exposed to local culture.
    Plus some would argue that recently it has become trendy for white guys to date Asian girls...

    re: Russell Peters - i tend to be pretty accepting of Russell Peters on most of those things - given that he is obviously an intelligent guy and generally good-natured in his humour. One bit that jarred with me was a sketch in which he described interacting with a Nigerian woman, and at one point mocked her by using clicking sounds. Given languages with clicks occur only in southern Africa and certainly not in Nigeria, it was that old "Africa is all the same" trope which was kinda stupid.

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  18. Wow, interesting discussion here, I'm learning a lot.

    Thanks especially for the 1990s Connick skit, and I agree with your verdict on it (though I didn't find it especially funny). It doesn't seem mocking of black people, and yeah, he's not necessarily wearing blackface there.

    As for the idea that the "Hey Hey" skit is more or less okay because it's not mocking, well, as I think you pointed out in your post, the blackface in it was a familiar caricatured blackface, not an effort (as in Downey's case) to look like an actual black person. My verdict, despite the differences in national context: Fail.

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  19. Hello
    I am wandering if I'm a racist? I am white, I love golliwogs and my daughter has a golligirl with knotted hair whom she loves dearly. Is she also a racist?
    In regards to WhiteChicks; to Whiteface indeed does lack history. Does this deny it racial connotations though? In the same way a white man or even an African-American man who blackfaced and became this caracature, did that too not happen here? We also see these two African-American characters immitating what is a white female stereotype; sexually provocative, low IQ and racist. Does that not resemble elements of what is wrong with blackface?
    Also another thought;
    This thing called bling popular with African Americans? Is it ok to wear diamonds from Africa using slave labour? Is that not another form of blackface and oppression?
    Ok, enough questions!!

    Lou

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  20. @ Lou: why are you asking me if you are a racist? I don't know you - ask yourself that question.

    Owning a golliwog doesn't make someone a racist. However, like it or not, the golliwog is a relic of a different time when attitudes towards dark-skinned people were far from enlightened. Making up someone to look light a golliwog and then implying they now look like a black person is in poor taste at best.

    Re: "White Chicks" - so, were you offended by it, Lou? Is the stereotype being portrayed about white women in general? Or is it about a particular class of young privileged white women of the Paris Hilton variety?

    Forgive me my scepticism, but of all the people bringing up "White Chicks" and "Chappelle's Show" as an example of some kind of double standard, I'm not sure any of them are actually offended by either. Whereas blackface portrayals are genuinely offensive to many people.

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  21. Actually, it was a rhetorical question. My point was that I hold affection towards that image because as a child I only ever new positive connotations with it therefore in my mind is not negative. Does ignorance in all circumstances = racism?
    The Hey Hey It's Saturday Blackface example was one of ignorance too with the performers lack knowledge of it's orignins. However as it has occured at a time when political correctness is big on the agenda (we now have "baa baa rainbow sheep"!), information is instantaneous thanks to the net and with a US celebrity speaking out against it on the show it had not much chance but to cause controversy.
    I did not find it amusing though it was obviously intended to be comedic in nature. To call it a tribute to Michael Jackson so shortly after his death was tasteless since it was quite obviously a parody.
    In regards to White Chicks, I don't feel offended, I can handle it. Does not mean that it isn't racist in content. What at times irritates me is a sense of racial double standards. In White Chicks we have a scene where the African-Americans playing White Face are racist towards the bellhop who happens to be of latin American in appearance. This assumption and stereotyping is frustrating. We also have a scenario with the Hey Hey it's Saturday controversy where the Michael Jackson character explains that he couldn't be racist, that he's not even white.
    I recently bumped into an indigenous youth who referring to his friend responded, "Blame her, She pushed me, She's black".

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  22. PS What is also frustrating is not being able to edit on this thing after posting!!
    Oh yawn, I'm tired and what can you do about it!! Not much...

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  23. @ Lou: Ignorance and racism are two different things. I'm not a fan of throwing the R-word around at people because I don't think it's helpful. As I've said earlier, I don't see the Hey Hey performance as a racist act, but certainly an ignorant one. Although I equally can't stand the "I can't be racist, I'm ethnic" excuse.

    Yes it is certainly valid to argue that there is a set of racial double standards with regard to what is acceptable to make fun of and so on. If you're white you shouldn't call black people niggers or refer to them as monkeys, or wear black paint on your face to impersonate them.

    Sucks, huh? But wait... if you're white you are born with significant institutional advantages that a black person doesn't have. For a black American to become President of the US is generally seen as a monumental achievement - that tells you something.

    So weigh up the benefits of being born white, with the drawbacks of it being frowned upon to make fun of black people. I know which one I think is the better deal.

    Btw, wearing bling = blackface? I'm sorry, me no comprende.

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  24. I don't think racial humor should be off limits by default; still, it should be done with true respect. It's all about the context, like you said.

    PS-As for Tropic Thunder, I personally don't see it as disrespectful, because Robert Downey Jr played a white actor who got a role of an African-American soldier and he (Kirk Lazarus) is doing a blackface. In other words, it's a critique of blackface trend and white actors stealing quality roles from the black people. Of course a white actor should play a character like that; how could you do a blackface with a black actor? Saying it was offensive would mean that we're forbidden to talk about certain things, like blackface, which is counter productive.

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