Context?


Comments continue to pour trickle in regarding Mister Wong, the Offensive Social Bookmarking Portal. One commenter seems to be offended by the “PC BS” we “Amerians” [sic] are spreading all over the world. Various people have chimed in, stating that Mister Wong is not racist.

As Ernie mentions on his personal blog, context counts.

Earlier today, there was a brouhaha (emphasis on the “haha” part) at blogging.la over a supposedly racist billboard seen on the Westside. LA radio station Power106 ran some billboards featuring their morning show host, Big Boy, on a billboard with the words “Big Boy’s got GAS!” and in smaller type “Win gas and cars all summer!”

The author of the original post is Jim Bursch, Editor of WestLAonline.com said the following:

Racist billboard not welcome on Westside

Context counts, and in this case, the context is a predominantly non-black neighborhood where referring to an adult black man as “boy” is wrong and racist. Also, there are contexts in which fart jokes are funny, but not on a public street where you see the same offensive “joke” every day, day after day.

This is just wrong.

What’s wrong is Mr Bursch calling out this billboard as racist, because the adult black man pictured is not being referred to as “boy” but “Big Boy,” a stage name and professional name he has used for years.

Another thing I find wrong is that he says that the context of the billboard being in a “non-black neighborhood” is inappropriate; implying this billboard would be more appropriately placed in a predominately black neighborhood.

In a similar vein, blogging.la asks: Question of the Week: Is Kwik-E-Mart’s Apu promoting a stereotype? The upshot of many of the comments on this post is that yes it is racist, but it’s also funny; therefore, it’s ok.

So my questions to you are:

  • How do YOU know when something is racist?
  • What part does context have in your determination of whether or not something is racist?
  • Is it ok to be racist if you’re being funny?
  • In what contexts are racist comments ok, if any?

25 points per question, please cite examples. Use only #2 pencils to write your response in your blue books. Extra credit available if you can work in a diagram.

(…as good Asians, I expect perfect responses from you, plus attempts at the extra credit.)

(Photo credit: Manuel W.)

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4 Responses to “Context?”



  • There’s a difference between being racist (Rosie O’Donnell) and making fun of racism (Chappelle, Pryor, even Sarah Silverman).

    In the former, O’Donnells chiding of “ching chong” was based on an actual individual perspective of Asian languages. In the latter, I believe each person observed racist acts, and satarized them as a comment on how egregious.

    So how do you know if you’re racist? Are you laughing at the joke because you think it’s true, or are you laughing at the joke because you know it’s false?

    Go on…ask yourself…


  • Sorry but Sarah Silverman’s standup is just plain racist, also she’s not funny.

    Joz already put it out there. Context is important. And that context includes power and class tied to race as well. For example, Chappelle did a sketch about different races having their racial demons haunting them into conforming to racist stereotypes. Black guy wants to eat the fried chicken on the plane, etc. But when it got to the white guy and his demon telling him he didn’t want to be attracted to black woman at the club, or to be afraid of his black friends… the joke sort of fell flat. In an expert move by Chappelle, he asked the audience what they thought of the sketch and most agreed that the white version didn’t work, because there really aren’t too many racial insecurities to being white. And the few that there are, all stem from a FEAR of “them” and are inherently the origin and propagation of modern racism in America.

    I think racist comments are really not ok, unless you’re trying to illustrate a point. And even then it’s not that ok. As a white guy, this will still get me in trouble, but I do it anyway because I like to shake things up. For example, someone might say some off-handed comment about some people. Those people could be a different race or class or subset, doesn’t matter. But if it reminds me of some gross racist transgression, I might joke about a more obvious and accepted racism. Like, someone might say “jeez, another ASIAN driver, heheheh” and I might say “yeah we should round them up and send them off to concentration camps.” To which I’m met with looks of obvious shock. “That’s not what I meant.” they say, or “That’s not the same thing.” To which I ask “You sure about that?” Obviously, the points I’m making is that racism is racism.

    Of course friends will trade ribs back and forth about each other’s background and as long as it’s “cool” I don’t see a problem with it. It’s when people take generalizations and begin using them as facts, that I find the most pervasive form of racism.

    I could go on… but unfortunately, I’m NOT paid to write about this stuff, so off the salt mines.


  • Precisely: “context counts”. This also means that you realize the difference between an American source and a non-American source, and desist from throwing all of them into one pot.

    The question whether the cause for offended feelings is in the object or the onlooker, however, has to be answered in each individual case. And when the criticism restricts itself to obscure destructive rants, then the suspicion remains that it’s more a case of ranting for ranting’s sake then genuine issues with specific points.

    The comment on Jim Bursch’s accusations of racism above show the problem quite well: Bursch stated specific points (such as the label “boy”) and these specific points can be refuted. When wholescale accusations of racism are raised because of diffuse associations in a totally different context, then it’s more likely to be ranting for ranting’s sake than specific concerns. It makes it impossible to pursue an amicable solution and sort out potential misunderstandings but makes it clear from the get-go “it’s my way or the highway”. Totally aside of the destructive (as opposed to contstructive) character of such criticism, in the context of Mr. Wong, it reeks of an entirely different problem on an entirely different side: jingoism.


  • hahahaha oh Joz…how did I miss this post when it first came out?!…hahahahahaha…..

    sigh….

    1. Racism has a very distinct odor to it, if you haven’t already noticed…so if it doesn’t pass the smell test, then it’s likely racist. =P

    2. Pass

    3. Pass

    4. Pass

    And… why do I have to use #2 pencils in my bluebook? I thought the #2 pencils were only for those Scantron sheets…. why can’t I write in blue or black ink in my bluebook?

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