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This Week's 5: Monkey Joke MacGyver

August 31, 2018

Author's Note: This Week's 5 is a weekly collection of stories designed to provide insight into how racism works and serve as an easily accessible resource for people trying to have nuanced discussions about these issues. For more explanation on how This Week's 5 works and descriptions of each of the categories, click here.

 

Overt: Growing up, it seemed like all of my white male peers thought they were comedians. Their Black jokes all had the same ingredients: A not-so-subtle trigger word followed by an “Aw shucks” shrug, and a smirking “Oops.” In practice, this looked like someone crowbarring the word “monkey” into a sentence, looking around and giggling, then staring back at me and daring me to make a big deal out of it. Rinse and repeat. As the Florida gubernatorial race displayed this week, many of those kids don’t grow out of that behavior. Case and point, Republican candidate Ron DeSantis. Not even 24 hours after his Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum won his primary, DeSantis used a Fox News interview to tell voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, who not coincidentally, could become the first Black governor of Florida. This wasn’t an accident. Politicians prepare meticulously for on-air interviews. They utilize teams that prep their talking points. “Monkey this up” was workshopped. It was approved by someone. It is not a saying. The only reason to insert a phrase like that into a statement is to send a message to white supremacists and their sympathizers that you’re willing to be the racist troll they gleefully remember and often were in high school. Read more from the Root.

 

Institutional: Last October, President Trump told Puerto Ricans they should be proud of their death toll from Hurricane Maria, which was 16 but universally recognized as an underestimate. Trump also chided Puerto Rico for using up government resources, claimed it was difficult to get them the resources because of the fact that the island is surrounded by water, and then delayed their delivery by playing politics with the Jones Act. The lack of power and other basic resources compounded the real death toll in the aftermath of the hurricane. This included many hospital patients who were essentially left to die because of their untreated conditions. According to a recently released study from the Puerto Rican government, the official death toll was actually 2,975 (It should be noted that many still consider this an underestimate). When asked about this revelation earlier this week, Trump still insisted his administration did a “fantastic job.” Read more from the Root.

 

Critical Race Theory: White privilege takes on many forms. One is the reality that people or color in America are required to understand white people in order to operate in society while white people face little to no consequence for being racially oblivious. NBA great LeBron James recently illustrated this point in an episode of his show “The Shop” when he talked about learning how to deal with white people in high school. James says he didn’t interact at all with white people until he went to a predominantly white, private Catholic school. He assumed his white peers only accepted him because he would help their basketball team and thus, initially didn’t deal with them at all. Eventually he made a number of whites friends and as evidenced by his diverse off the court portfolio, is now clearly very comfortable working with white people. On the flip side, most of his high school peers only had to interact with Black people essentially as tokens. They didn’t have to adjust their attitudes towards Black students or fear being kicked out of school and denied opportunities. For all his status as “The King” even James couldn’t attain these privileges by virtue of not being white. That should tell you all you need to know. Read more from the Grio.

 

History: The sting of cultural appropriation, like so many ills in this country, comes from the legacy of slavery. Specifically, it’s rooted in slave masters taking all the credit and profiting off of the inventions of enslaved Black people. Consider the case of Benjamin T. Montgomery. Montgomery developed a number of inventions on the plantation of Joseph Davis, brother of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The most notable was a steamboat propeller. However, he couldn’t get a patent because slaves didn’t have rights. Both Davis brothers attempted to patent Montgomery’s propeller but were denied because they didn’t actually contribute to the invention. Nonetheless, they and others used slaves’ inventions to advocate for even more power for slave masters, suggesting that the inventions were proof that slavery motivated innovation (yes, on the same plantations where slaves risked death for reading). If the persistent twisting of logic to justify white supremacy sounds familiar, it should. Read more from Gizmodo.

 

The Fragility Breaker: Believe it or not, the racism really isn’t the thing that bugs me most about white supremacists. I’m more annoyed by their smugness. They revel in the false notion of being sophisticated masterminds, ignoring the fact their ability to mobilize depends completely on authorities not taking them seriously. The FBI is currently targeting “Black Identity Extremists” based on social media posts while white supremacists openly coordinate targeted harassment campaigns and violent demonstrations with little to no consequence whatsoever. The most recent example in the news is Comicsgate. This movement consists of white supremacists who masquerade as legitimate comic books critics but spend all their time attacking diversity in the industry, whether in the form of characters, writers, artists, or executives. It would be one thing if they just ranted on social media and in their discussion forums, but they coordinate harassment campaigns to flood writers’ and artists’ social media timelines with hateful messages. This includes hacking into and releasing people’s personal information to the world. What’s worse is that white people with power and influence in the industry often willfully ignore them or excuse their behavior as a mere “difference of opinion.” The result, just like similar movements around video games and the national anthem controversy in the NFL, is that white supremacist viewpoints get legitimized and influence major companies’ creative and hiring decisions. One of the most notable examples includes a Marvel executive infamously, and falsely, telling a board meeting that the company’s push for more diverse titles actually hurt sales. Despite the lack of legitimacy to that claim, Marvel still cancelled a large number of their “diverse” titles, suspended work with the writers and artists behind them, and hired a white male executive who was most noteworthy for pretending to be Asian for part of his career. This is why the recent rebuke of Comicsgate by award-winning artists like Bill Sienkiewicz was so important. The stinging social media post should be required reading for anyone looking to use their privilege for good. Read more from the Mary Sue.

 

 

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