Show Your Work
April 13, 2006 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second. Using the formula provided, when the watermelon will hit the ground? Bellevue Community College President Jean Floten asked the Pluralism Steering Committee to take the lead on this, and to complete their task quickly.
posted by three blind mice (214 comments total)
 
Racism? Is there some stereotype about Black people and throwing watermelons in the air that I'm not aware of?
posted by Plutor at 7:45 AM on April 13, 2006


Don't be obtuse Plutor.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2006


Just change it to a pumpkin.
posted by luftmensch at 7:48 AM on April 13, 2006


Actually, I'm genuinely curious too. What exactly is this racial stereotype?
posted by vernondalhart at 7:48 AM on April 13, 2006


Y'all aren't from the South, I take it...
posted by pax digita at 7:49 AM on April 13, 2006


Just change it to a basketball.
posted by horsewithnoname at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2006


The question read, "Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second." The question went on to ask when the watermelon will hit the ground, based on a formula provided. The question propagates a racial stereotype and denigrates Secretary of State Rice, said Perryman. While Rice's last name wasn't mentioned, the reference was clear, he said.

Jesus H Christ this is insane ! Can't a white/yellow/rainbow person be called Condoleeza and throwing watermelons from Federal buildings ?

I suppose this is making the real racists laugh for two reasons

a) they really have phun imagining Condolleeza dropping watermelons, which shows how infantile and retarded they are

b) Rev Perryman is laughing his ass off as he managed to stick imaginary insults to a math test and have Jean Floten, Bellevue Community College president , apologize like something wrong was done ! And she's the president ? You have been had ! Powned !
posted by elpapacito at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2006


Oh! I get it. Because there's some half-dead stereotype about black people liking, you know, watermelon, and collard greens and fried chicken, so, because this math problem features a watermelon, instead of, say, a soccer ball, a bomb, or a pumpkin, obviously there are very deep seated racial issues at play here.

....

Uh huh.
posted by kbanas at 7:54 AM on April 13, 2006


Actually, I'm genuinely curious too. What exactly is this racial stereotype?

I find that mind-boggling. But here's a starting point.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:57 AM on April 13, 2006


"It doesn't take much to connect the dotted line"
No, no it doesn't.


However I've no idea about this watermelon/racism thing either. I though they'd be complaining about tarring Ms Rice's character with accusations of juvenile terrorism on passers-by.
Loogies hocked and loaded.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 7:59 AM on April 13, 2006


Republican pundits are saying, "If the math problem had been written about Jesse Jackson or Barack Obama, the Democrats would be burning down the Capitol." And while that's absolutely (figuratively) true, I'd like to think we're better than them. So let's be. It's a bjorkin' math problem. We have real, actual problems to solve. Let's not pretend otherwise by spending our time on this.
posted by cribcage at 7:59 AM on April 13, 2006


There's no denying that the test question plays off a racial stereotype.

Whoever wrote this curriculum isn't just insensitive--s/he is stupid enough to make me wonder what s/he is doing teaching at the college level.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 7:59 AM on April 13, 2006


I too had absoultely no idea that black folks stereotypically like watermelon (I'm from the UK)
posted by zeoslap at 8:01 AM on April 13, 2006


obviously there are very deep seated racial issues at play here

Not deap-seated. Just hypocritical.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:01 AM on April 13, 2006


kbanas, you're sarcastic about it, but that's the point the offended people are trying to make. Out of the myriad combinations of different people who could throw different things off of rooftops, the question used a black person throwing a watermelon.

I'm not saying I am firmly for or against the idea that this was intentional or even subconscious, nor am I the sensitive and outraged politically correct police, but come on, there were a lot of other choices besides 'black person' + 'watermelon'
posted by poppo at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2006


Plutor, vernondalhart: Shame on you! Shame! What kind of modern person isn't familiar with all the various stereotypes and ethnic generalizations out there? How do you categorize people? Based on their actual, individual personalities? Jeez, haven't you spent any time around the ingorant and rascist?

/sarcasm.
posted by chudmonkey at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2006


zeoslap: That's because you're ignorant. See above.

=)
posted by chudmonkey at 8:03 AM on April 13, 2006


Has the watermelon hit the ground yet?
posted by rocket88 at 8:03 AM on April 13, 2006


I though they'd be complaining about tarring Ms Rice's character

Hmmmm.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:04 AM on April 13, 2006


Watermelons are one of those delightful foodstuffs that do entertaining things when you 'splode 'em. Gallagher (as the article mentions) made what might be referred to as a career by abusing watermelons onstage, and David Letterman dropped many an unsuspecting melon from a tall building (and steamrolled a few too) early in his Late Night career. What's good enough for Letterman and Gallagher is good enough for Condoleezza. Ten point penalty for knee-jerk *playage of the PC/race card!

*not a real word
posted by iconomy at 8:04 AM on April 13, 2006


Stupid, indeed. Why a watermelon? Why a federal building? And, of course, why Condoleeza?

Because whoever came up with the question thought he/she was exceedlingly clever.

No, exceedlingly stupid is more like it.

That said, I don't think Secretary Rice is really terribly injured by this juvenile nonsense.
posted by 1016 at 8:06 AM on April 13, 2006


I find it interesting that some of us were completely ignorant of this stereotype, and others were so familiar with it that we can't believe anyone else didn't know about it. I'm somewhere in between: I'm vaguely aware of it, but I went through half my life completely ignorant of it.
posted by scottreynen at 8:08 AM on April 13, 2006


I've encountered the black people/watermelon stereotype before, but it still took me a moment to figure out where the offense was. Seeing the name "Condoleezza," I immediately thought of Rice, but when I think of Rice, my brain associates her with the label "evil neocon Republican" long before it comes around to "black." I'd much rather she be chucking fruit around instead of assisting in the destruction of America.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:08 AM on April 13, 2006


Just putting Condoleeza in a math problem, regardless of the proximity of any melons, gourds, or marrows, is a dumb move. Your math test just isn't the place for drawing attention to controversial political figures. Dollars to donuts it was a well-intentioned but terribly miscalculated attempt at introducing a little humor into a dry subject.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:08 AM on April 13, 2006


It would never hit the ground because Rice smells so good that the watermelon could not bear to part with her.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2006


Won't anyone think of the watermelons?
posted by NationalKato at 8:10 AM on April 13, 2006


I'm with you scottreynen, in between the two groups.

It took me a good five seconds of thinking to realize why it's racist.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:10 AM on April 13, 2006


This racial stereotype is getting very obscure these days. Glad to see it being resuscitated, otherwise it may have died out, and then what would I do with that joke book from the 50s?
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:11 AM on April 13, 2006


I've encountered the black people/watermelon stereotype before..


posted by three blind mice at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2006


A right-wing radiohost just got fired just a couple of weeks ago for stumbling out the word 'coon' in the midst of praising Condoleezza.
posted by dgaicun at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2006


this really is unbelievable--is their math dept. run by the Klan?
posted by amberglow at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2006


For everyone who is shocked, the watermelon stereotype is not that well known outside the USA.
posted by fire&wings at 8:13 AM on April 13, 2006


The watermelon juts hit.

How long did that take? I wasn't timing it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:14 AM on April 13, 2006


man, I thought that stereotype of black people being really good at throwing things was dead and buried...I guess I was wrong.
posted by concreteforest at 8:16 AM on April 13, 2006


is their math dept. run by the Klan?
Yes. It was a long, hard struggle, but the Klan finally managed to overrun the department and insert a single questionable racial stereotype into a math problem in a community college in Bellevue.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:17 AM on April 13, 2006


Dear Colleagues:

I regret to inform you that a racially offensive question was used on a practice math test last quarter. I am deeply troubled by this incident, which has caused real pain and hurt to the students involved, and injured all of us.



No it hasn't.
Sure, people should know better than to make a question like this, but when they don't it's not the end of the world. This is probably a simple mistake with typical university political correctness overreaction. Steering committees need not get involved.
posted by rocket88 at 8:17 AM on April 13, 2006


My mistake, it was a community college.
posted by rocket88 at 8:18 AM on April 13, 2006


Racial stereotypes?
Racial stereotypes???

What about, "denigrates Secretary of State Rice"... huh? Huh?

What about, "It's the roots of where the question came from"? What about that??!

Can't be too vigilant.
posted by Mike D at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2006


Despite being from the US, I was completely ignorant of this stereotype until this post. Personally, I think I was better off that way.
posted by yeolcoatl at 8:22 AM on April 13, 2006


More importantly, why is this physics teacher only teaching the theory of gravity to his class? Doesn't he know it's just a theory? What about the theory the ground rose up to the watermelon?

I'm outraged that a public university if forcing it's students to use theoretical gravitational logic over intelligent falling equations!
posted by Crash at 8:23 AM on April 13, 2006


is their math dept. run by the Klan?

Is there evidence that this is something more than a stupid and insensitive act by a single teacher?

On preview, Wolfdog said it better.
posted by brain_drain at 8:23 AM on April 13, 2006


What's good enough for Letterman and Gallagher is good enough for Condoleezza.

Actually, the question was originally written with Gallagher's name in it. Then somebody thought that it would be a good idea to change the name to 'Condoleezza.'
posted by carter at 8:25 AM on April 13, 2006


About four and a half seconds, right?
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2006


They changed it because Gallagher would never be allowed that close to the Federal Building.

They were just trying to be accurate, for Chrissakes.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2006


I think the math test question should have had Condi Rice tossing up the head of an Iraqi civilian blow off in a bombing.
posted by troutfishing at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2006


Oh, and....


Zippity dooh dah !
posted by troutfishing at 8:29 AM on April 13, 2006


Sure, people should know better than to make a question like this, but when they don't it's not the end of the world. This is probably a simple mistake with typical university political correctness overreaction.

Doesn't it seem rather unlikely that someone innocently changed the question to refer to the most powerful black woman in the country? I mean, using Gallagher makes sense in the context, why go to the trouble of changing it and picking her, of all people?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:29 AM on April 13, 2006


For those who don't know about the stereotype, browse the racial slur database. You didn't know about grape soda, either, did you?
posted by Wolfdog at 8:31 AM on April 13, 2006


In my opinion, the offense was fairly trivial, the complaints of the students hyperbolic, and the reaction of the administration somewhat cowardly. But I think the real significance is whether there is disparate treatment of the issue of "race" depending on whether the "victim" is viewed as being on the "correct" political side for a member of that race. Some of the comments in this thread seem to suggest that the political orientation of the person should influence whether a racial remark is or is not appropriate.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:32 AM on April 13, 2006


In other words, college students get upset and overreact to something trivial, AS USUAL. Community college students, taking a remedial level math course (by the looks of it), no less. They even said that it started out written as Gallagher. My guess is, the prof realized that nobody in his class would have any idea who Gallagher was these days (since the test template probably dates back 30 years), and decided to update it with somebody universally known.

Or, you know, we could assume that the prof is actually a grand dragon in the KKK. Let's try to keep a LITTLE bit of perspective here folks.
posted by antifuse at 8:37 AM on April 13, 2006


you people are douchebags. you have no idea what it's like to be a watermelon.
posted by breakfast_yeti at 8:38 AM on April 13, 2006


A quick look at whitepages and you will find other Condoleezza and defuse this bunk "racial slur" stuff for what it is, a waste of anybody time
posted by elpapacito at 8:39 AM on April 13, 2006


You gotta admit though... being a "Grand Dragon" of anything is pretty cool.
posted by Witty at 8:41 AM on April 13, 2006


yeolcoatl: "Despite being from the US, I was completely ignorant of this stereotype until this post. Personally, I think I was better off that way."

That's right, citizen, just keep your nose to the grindstone and pay no mind to those pesky stereotypes. It's not like we want you to be paying attention, or worse, vigilant about this sort of thing.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:41 AM on April 13, 2006


It was, stupid, stupid to write the question that way. Any college professor with half a clue knows there are myriad students constantly on the lookout for stuff like this, just HOPING to be offended. With all the mandatory sensitivity training these days, anyone who even contemplates putting a question like this in writing needs to be be seriously examined for general stupidity.
posted by cccorlew at 8:42 AM on April 13, 2006


(Everyone likes watermelon. It's great!)
posted by klangklangston at 8:44 AM on April 13, 2006


If it was meant to be a black stereotype, I am sure that they would have had her throw it harder...

but seriously, cccorlew's right...
posted by sfts2 at 8:48 AM on April 13, 2006


So what's the formula? I want to solve the math problem.
posted by jefbla at 8:48 AM on April 13, 2006


You didn't know about grape soda, either, did you?

No, I didn't, until my black, grape-soda-enjoying fiancee told me about it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:49 AM on April 13, 2006


The formula was probably s=(1/2)gt2 + v0t, or something equivalent.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:51 AM on April 13, 2006


It doesn't say, but watermellons are usually in the 20 lb range, and Ms. Rice is whippin' that sucker straight up at 20 ft./sec. That's about 180 J of energy. Consider also that a 100 mph fastball is about 140 J.

All this question conclusively proves is that Ms. Rice is a badass with an arm like a rifle. Makes you wonder why she's not pitching for the Yankees.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on April 13, 2006


I haven't read the whole thread yet, and it's moving fast. BUT...

I am quite aware of the stereotype, and this is why this is, to my twisted humor, hilarious. Ms. Rice, however much a Republican* she may be, seems highly educated, and is the last person for whom I'd think of old racial stereotypes. Therefore, the idea of her with a watermelon is very funny. The joke, this time, is on the stereotype.

Things have come a long way. I find it refreshing that a joke like that could be seen in such a reversed way.

(Evil, thieving, lying neo-con, to be precise)
posted by Goofyy at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2006


The first article basically proves it's blatant racism: the question was changed to specifically include Rice's name and the federal building. There is no relevance to such a change short of associating a prominent black figure with a racial stereotype.

Fantastic. Congrats to Professor McDipshit for giving David Horowitz something to raise another hundred thousand or so over.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2006


I can't believe there are North Americans unfamiliar with this stereotype. I'm baffled because I can't imagine what you people thought when watching countless movies that make reference to it. Whenever the black people / watermelon (and / or fried chicken) connection is made... um, what do you think it meant?

And have you not seen Watermelon Man.
posted by dobbs at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2006


So obviously the P.C. people have been doing a darn good job or protecting us from traditional racial stereotyping. based on the above comments a goodly number had no idea of the Colored-Watermelon thing. Which begs the question; has anyone seen a DVD copy of Disney's "Song of the South" available anywhere?
posted by Gungho at 8:55 AM on April 13, 2006


That's right, citizen, just keep your nose to the grindstone and pay no mind to those pesky stereotypes. It's not like we want you to be paying attention, or worse, vigilant about this sort of thing.

Surely you aren't suggesting that people have a duty to acquaint themselves with all racial stereotypes?
posted by brain_drain at 8:55 AM on April 13, 2006


Condoleeza holds a nuclear missile 5000 feet above Tehran. Using the formula provided, how long before World War 3?


You didn't know about grape soda, either, did you?

I did! But I'm from the south.

posted by papakwanz at 8:55 AM on April 13, 2006


On reflection, that should probably be the Rangers.
posted by bonehead at 8:56 AM on April 13, 2006


This is the part that gets me:

I am deeply troubled by this incident, which has caused real pain and hurt to the students involved...

I think that those of us who know what real pain and hurt actually are, sneer at this sort of hyperbole.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:56 AM on April 13, 2006



posted by Wolfdog at 8:59 AM on April 13, 2006


The first time I had watermelon, as a youngster at a picnic, I was given a 'corner piece' and took a big bite out of that yummy looking green rind.

I didn't eat watermelon for years and didn't understand the attraction.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:59 AM on April 13, 2006


In a vacuum.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:00 AM on April 13, 2006


Here's the full problem:

The Problem: Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300 -foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second. The height of the watermelon above the ground t seconds later is given by formula h= -16t2 + 20t + 300

a. How many seconds will it pass her (she's standing at a height of 300 feet) on the way down?

b. When will the watermelon hit ground?
posted by jefbla at 9:00 AM on April 13, 2006


Ten point penalty for knee-jerk *playage of the PC/race card!

hundred point penalty for blowing it off.

anyone in the u.s. with half a brain can see this is wildly inappropriate for a quiz, whether in the first grade or harvard.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2006


Inappropriate? Sure.

Causing real pain and hurt? Nah.
posted by leftcoastbob at 9:05 AM on April 13, 2006


I object to the improper use of the phrase "begs the question" and move that a watermelon be thrown at the offender. This could be reduced to a grapefruit if he agrees to correct himself by saying "raises the question".
posted by blue_beetle at 9:12 AM on April 13, 2006


Insanely bad question. They could have used any name and any other heavy fruit, like pumpkin. Sounded like a stupid racist question from the first read.

I take issue with this though:

"If the math problem had been written about Jesse Jackson or Barack Obama, the Democrats would be burning down the Capitol."

WTF? When have democrats done anything remotely organized and concerted in the last six years? When was the last time anything came out of democrats' outrage aside from fatigue? If I think of all the republican bring-downs of the last few years, they only happened when independent courts or republicans themselves agreed with democrats and let things run their course.

At best, if it was Barrack throwing a watermelon question, you'd see a 30 second joke on the Daily Show mocking the college, just like every other night on the daily show where they point out some ridiculous republican thing that doesn't actually result in anything aside from temporary and mild embarrasement on their part. Whoop de doo.
posted by mathowie at 9:12 AM on April 13, 2006


while working at a grocery store we'd recieve cartons of fruit from various vendors around the country. Each would have large, colorful images on the side. The one I was most surprised to see was the image of a cartoon racoon in the hollowed out rind of a watermelon, his gut large from overeating.
posted by lyam at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2006


Yeah it's racist. Clearly it is playing off Condoleezza being black and the stereotype of black people loving watermelon. Still, I think people who think this is a big deal are pretty fucking thin skinned. The strongest reaction this should solicit is an entirely optional "not cool". There is such a thing, in my opinion as innocuous racial stereotypes. The watermelon and fried chicken fit this mold. Irish people like potatoes and asians eat a lot of rice, these things are values neutral observations.

What I find interesting in these situations are the political dynamics, it is almost as if the rules of the game dictate hypocrisy from all players. If you are on the right and someone on your team is criticized for being racially insensitive the people criticizing your team need to lighten up. If some one on the other team is racially insensitive then they need to be torn apart. The left wing behaves the same way, all though they are less prone to the lighten up defense and, for practical reasons, more prone to the tearing apart racists.
posted by I Foody at 9:17 AM on April 13, 2006


On the man bites dog news network. MBDNN
Democrats... being racist?!

A pig that won't eat... Jews?!
posted by I Foody at 9:20 AM on April 13, 2006


Math Teachers don't care about black people.
posted by thefreek at 9:22 AM on April 13, 2006


someone innocently changed the question to refer to the most powerful black woman in the country

You mean Oprah?
posted by Gamblor at 9:22 AM on April 13, 2006


Just change it to an infant.
posted by jenovus at 9:22 AM on April 13, 2006



posted by Alt F4 at 9:24 AM on April 13, 2006


No, no, y'all have got it all wrong. Since Condoleeza is throwing the watermelon in the problem, she is refuting the stereotype! She is in fact throwing it away from her with great force. At the problem's climax, she is no longer a black with a watermelon, she is a black without a watermelon! Nothing stereotypical about that! She's saying "Just because I'm black doesn't mean I like watermelon! Here, you have some watermelon, innocent passers-by!" She is literally exploding the watermelon stereotype.

Or, you know, it's just a stupid math problem.
posted by kindall at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2006


Why is there a watermelon there? I'll tell you later.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2006


Was that needlessly cryptic? Sorry. This is just kind of a tempest in a teapot story. Needs more Lectroids.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:29 AM on April 13, 2006


Yeah, but how long does a foil bag of mayonnaise take to hit the ground?
posted by anagrama at 9:30 AM on April 13, 2006


Just change it to a crack pipe.
posted by jenovus at 9:31 AM on April 13, 2006


the question needs to be rephrased

president bush is standing on top of the white house with a gallon of old granddad and a watermelon ... he pokes a hole in the watermelon and pours the whiskey in ... assuming a pour rate of one oz per second, how many minutes will it take until he is naked on top of the flagpole screaming like a drunken banshee?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:34 AM on April 13, 2006


Watermelons of Mass Destruction

I am deeply troubled by this incident, which has caused real pain and hurt to the students involved...

The word "watermelon" caused real pain and hurt? Strange fruit indeed.

I don't understand why the math problem's protagonist needs a name at all.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2006


Maybe this was a deliberate attempt to reunite the nation by playing upon the intersection of traditional liberal PC and the neocon PC, thus bringing peace and joy to the land.
posted by Skwirl at 9:38 AM on April 13, 2006


I don't suppose said equation took into account wind resistance, barometric pressure variations, ground topology or obstacles?
posted by Dillenger69 at 9:38 AM on April 13, 2006


This is just a variation of the old "How long before the shit hits the fan?" question.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:49 AM on April 13, 2006


In all seriousness: where does the stereotype of black people liking watermelon come from? Is it a slavery thing? To my British head, liking watermelon seems rather too inoffensive to cause such a fuss.

I'm trying to understand this from a UK perspective, and the closest I can come up with is replacing Condi with an Irishman and the watermelon with a potato. Am I close, or way off?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:50 AM on April 13, 2006


Siegfried throws Jakob down a 300m deep well with an initial velocity of 1.5 m/s...
posted by Meatbomb at 9:51 AM on April 13, 2006


Condoleeza holds a suitcase with a red button inside it that launches a global nuclear armageddon. Discuss amongst yourselves.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:54 AM on April 13, 2006


It's trolling plain and simple, in that way that you suggest an insult but don't say it outright, so that when the other guy objects he looks like an overreacting ass. Actually, it's not even that subtle.

Hey kids, let's practice our math skills!

1. A muslim tosses a bomb into the air at 20 feet/second -- how long till it hits the schoolbus?

2. An inner-city black child's marks are decreasing at a rate of 2% per test. If he starts with a high-ish mark, say 60%, and is tested four times a year, when will he flunk out?

3...
posted by dreamsign at 9:56 AM on April 13, 2006


Slightly off topic:

One of the assistant principals at my daughter's high school is African-American with light, freckled skin. Has a reputation for strictness.

My daugher reports that a lot of the (otherwise tolerant, left-leaning) kids have given her the name Condoleezza.

I opined that this seems a bit racist. Daughter shrugged.
posted by Danf at 10:00 AM on April 13, 2006


Maybe math quizzes are written by Manatees and the three balls just happened to say "Condoleezza", "Watermelon", and "Federal building."
posted by bondcliff at 10:03 AM on April 13, 2006


Using the quadratic, I get 3.75 seconds, but I don't think that's right— it fails to account for the time that the watermelon is above 300ft (until gravity slows it down). And using my handy little quadratic calculator (from some random website), it gives me a NaN error when I remove the 300 (which would cancel out to figure when the watermelon is again at height 300).
posted by klangklangston at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2006


I think unless you're black you can't say 'this is a non-issue', because you're really not the ones to know. Ask a young black college student if reading this question on a math test would upset or distract them enough to throw them off their best performance. And while I think it's good that so many people don't know have a racist association between watermelons and African Americans, I guarantee that the person who wrote the question know the stereotype, and the stereotype is racist as hell. And I bet they didn't intend harm, exactly, but that's just ignorant and not thinking it through.
posted by tula at 10:10 AM on April 13, 2006


ArmyOfKittens: I'm trying to understand this from a UK perspective, and the closest I can come up with is replacing Condi with an Irishman and the watermelon with a potato. Am I close, or way off?

That's close, I think.
posted by Prospero at 10:13 AM on April 13, 2006


On reflection, that should probably be the Rangers.

Well, if she was really that good, the Yankers would buy her eventually.
posted by papercake at 10:13 AM on April 13, 2006


ArmyOfKittens: I'm trying to understand this from a UK perspective, and the closest I can come up with is replacing Condi with an Irishman and the watermelon with a potato. Am I close, or way off?

An Irishman and alcohol.

I believe Bill Clinton once had to apologize to someone because he made an analogy involving two Irishmen walking into a pub.
posted by bondcliff at 10:15 AM on April 13, 2006


i'm with kindall. it either refutes the stereotype of black people liking watermelon, or refutes the notion that condoleezza rice is black.

also, according to the wikipedia, The name "Condoleezza" is derived from the Italian music-related expression, "Con dolcezza", meaning "with sweetness". while watermelon does make me think of sweetness, condoleezza rice does not.
posted by snofoam at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2006


I can't believe there are North Americans unfamiliar with this stereotype.

I'm tempted to say it's a cultural-literacy thing, but then, hell, I'm from the South and I never heard of the grape-soda thing 'til now.
posted by pax digita at 10:19 AM on April 13, 2006


My workplace safety & ergonomics professor always used George Bush in his test questions for heat stress calculations, etc. For example:

"George Bush is shoveling manure into baskets on the Oval Office floor. When each basket is full, he picks it up and carries it 6 feet to his "Policy Outbox", 2.4 feet off the ground. If each basket weighs 30lb and George fills a basket of policy every 2 minutes, should his complaints be warranted under OSHA regulations?"

Plus some other ones about the Bush daughters feeding a document-destruction furnace at 40 degrees C while drinking beer, that sort of thing.

It's at a Canadian school, though, so it's not so bad. Makes the course material a little more interesting...
posted by anthill at 10:20 AM on April 13, 2006


I can't believe there are North Americans unfamiliar with this stereotype. I'm baffled because I can't imagine what you people thought when watching countless movies that make reference to it. Whenever the black people / watermelon (and / or fried chicken) connection is made... um, what do you think it meant?

Before I was aware of the stereotype, I thought black people eating watermelon in movies liked watermelon just like everyone else who eats watermelon in movies.

For those who don't know about the stereotype, browse the racial slur database.

1) learn racial slurs
2) ??
3) end racism

Can someone fill in step 2 for me? Otherwise, I'm not clear on why I want to learn more racial slurs.
posted by scottreynen at 10:23 AM on April 13, 2006


When I first read the question, my thoughts were more along the lines of "yes, neocons are insane and destructive" rather than "yes, black people do like their watermelon." I think the writer of the question may have been acting on political bias rather than racial bias. Not saying that makes it ok, just that all these "OMG KKK!" comments are assuming a little too much. And how lucky are we that there's no real disparity between the opportunities afforded white people and those afforded black people, and we can concentrate on things like this.

The question was stupid, but the reaction to it is like a perfect storm of liberal PC bullshit and neocon reactionary bullshit coming together at long last. Maybe it will bring on armageddon. At the very least, I think we can expect an episode of South Park on the subject.
posted by 912 Greens at 10:27 AM on April 13, 2006


That racial slur database is utterly useless.

In my life, I have met countless people who did not like me for whatever reason. A few people are like that, you know? Someone needs to tell these people the actual definition of injury.

Also, as a black college student whose always aced math, I think I would do just fine. Who does worse on a test because of something like this?
posted by jdotglenn at 10:38 AM on April 13, 2006


An Irishman and alcohol.

I still can't see how it can be so offensive. The Irish and alcohol/potatoes. The English and warm beer and bad teeth. The French and garlic/onions and smelling bad. Italian-Americans and organised crime. Gay people and hairdressers/interior decorators. Black-Americans and watermelons.

I must be lacking an absolutely massive slice of cultural stuff here, because no one of those stands out as being much more offensive than the others to me. Aside from the watermelon thing I've seen every one of those stereotypes on US TV programmes as tame as The Simpsons.

Was "watermelon" ever a generic insulting name for a black person the same way "poof" is for gay people? I'm starting to get the feeling from this thread that I'll need to do some homework before I visit the US, or every conversation I have will be like one of those game-shows with a "word of the day", and if I say something as harmless as, "Would you like some chicken?" then there will be lights in the sky and I will have won a toaster.

I'm genuinely interested.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:40 AM on April 13, 2006


Growing up in the South, I was raised around all kinds of variations of this stereotype in racist jokes. For folks outside of the region, it may well be an unknown cultural slur.

When I read the math problem, therefore, I was struck rather forcefully with the racial undertones (whether they were intended or not).

Sure, such a formulation could be accidental. But for folks who have grown up being sensitized to these unkind racist stereotypes, they fairly leap from the page.
posted by darkstar at 10:40 AM on April 13, 2006


Otherwise, I'm not clear on why I want to learn more racial slurs.

You don't. Let them die. BUT, when somebody who does know the racial stereotype cries foul, take their word for it.
posted by tula at 10:41 AM on April 13, 2006


And ArmyOfKittens, I am shocked, SHOCKED that you would actually use THAT WORD in a public forum!

For shame!

(By the way, one could also mention that US Americans get similar reaction from UK folks when they use the term "fanny pack" to refer to a belt pouch...)
posted by darkstar at 10:43 AM on April 13, 2006


She should have had her husband do it.
posted by nofundy at 10:46 AM on April 13, 2006


What dreamsign and tula said. If you've been privileged enough to not to have had morons plaster a particular racial stereotype on you, then of course you'll likely be oblivious to the fact that it IS a racial stereotype even when it's right in front of your face ("I've never experienced it or heard of it, so You People got nothing to complain about" syndrome).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:49 AM on April 13, 2006


I must be a black man. I love watermelon, fried chicken, and grape soda.
posted by notsnot at 10:49 AM on April 13, 2006


Yes, the question seems to invoke a stereotype, and it's head-shakingly weird to put on a test, because it's so un-PC.

But, really, who does this insult? How could it possibly cause "real hurt and pain?" It's a hypothetical scenario of a politician holding a melon, for pete's sake.
posted by designbot at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2006


Oh, it's a math problem.

I was hoping maybe they got close enough to confirm that she smelled good...that intoxicating CIA perfume that makes Blair and Putin smell their hands afterward.

That said, I'm pleasantly amazed that so many people are unaware of the "watermelon" stereotype.
posted by First Post at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2006


Can someone fill in step 2 for me?
Well, the intent was, take a look and see just how many things can be considered slurs - and perhaps do so with some degree of awe and dismayed fascination. While I don't propose everyone make a full time job keeping abreast of all the latest slurs, a browse through there might actually keep you from sticking your foot in your mouth at some point. Like Graham Nelson's infamous "call a spade a spade" blunder.

(I didn't know about that site until I got engaged in this thread; I was surprised people didn't know about the watermelon thing, and it ocurred to me to wonder what other things might be well-known to some and unknown to others.)
posted by Wolfdog at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2006


Excellent article on a similar situation, here.
posted by darkstar at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2006


What about a math problem that solves:

If Samuel L Jackson throws 'X' motherfuckin' snakes off of 'Y' motherfuckin' planes, how many sequels 'Z' will Hollywood churn out?
posted by ninjew at 11:04 AM on April 13, 2006


If Tyrese is taller than Miles and Miles is taller than Sophie, which of the following is definitely true:

a) All black people steal
b) All Irish people are drunk
c) All French people are cowards
posted by chudmonkey at 11:05 AM on April 13, 2006


jdotglenn: Someone needs to tell these people the actual definition of injury. . . . Who does worse on a test because of something like this?

1. Do you think the question references no stereotype at all, or that it does refer to a stereotype but you think people should ignore it because it doesn't physically harm anybody (as opposed to stereotypes of young African-American males contributing to police detainments, arrests or shootings of those who are actually fine upstanding citizens minding their own business, say)?
2. You haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, have you?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:09 AM on April 13, 2006


Images of the test.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:12 AM on April 13, 2006


I must be lacking an absolutely massive slice of cultural stuff here, because no one of those stands out as being much more offensive than the others to me.


posted by three blind mice at 11:22 AM on April 13, 2006


armyofkittens, and others: saying 'you like watermelons' is not inherently insulting. Travel back in time, to the southern US. Watermelons were a cheap sweet water-filled fruit to give to the slaves or sharecroppers as a treat to keep them happy. The racism is along the lines of 'all you uppity blacks, regardless of PhDs or Pulitzers, really belong, and would all be much happier, barefoot and sweaty, out in a white man's field eating watermelon.'

Okay, now I feel a little sick inside.
posted by tula at 11:27 AM on April 13, 2006


Yes, this is not necessarily riot-in-the-streets offensive and most likely can be chalked up to one stupid professor, but to minimize it as nothing at all just because you are ignorant of the history of racism, especially in the south, does not mean there is no offense. Like the image above posted by three blind mice, this stereotype was used as a way to dehumanize african-americans so as to make it all the more easy to hate or oppress because they're just stupid cartoons who love watermelons.
posted by petri at 11:28 AM on April 13, 2006


4.36 seconds.
posted by sellout at 11:29 AM on April 13, 2006


2. You haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, have you?

Oh, snap! Probably hasn't read The Tipping Point either! The ignorance!
posted by brain_drain at 11:30 AM on April 13, 2006


I wasn't snootily suggesting jdotglenn was ignorant. I thought perhaps he hadn't read the book, or maybe he had but disagreed with the bit I'm thinking of. I'll concede I could have worded it "Have you read Gladwell's Blink?" instead.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:37 AM on April 13, 2006


Jesus and pete. Sometimes I wonder why people seem to hate math(s) so much. Then Armitage gives me a big mimeographed reminder.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:40 AM on April 13, 2006


It was a stooooopid question that produced a stooopid response but this mefi discussion is hilarious.

Maybe you need to be "of a certain age" to understand the inappropriatness of linking a famous black person and a watermelon. What seems on the surface a mostly harmless stereotyping was actually at one time a very hurtful slur-- a way of sniggering at blacks. There was a very strong link in racist thinking between pickaninnies, watermelon, shiftlessness, happy minstral singing-- a very smug, paternalistic view of black folk as animals or children, barefoot and grinning and easily amused.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:03 PM on April 13, 2006


Isn't it racist to assume that Condoleezza is black because she has a weird name and has watermelon? Isn't there some bigotry inherent in those people who find this offensive?

Why must you racists accuse others of your crimes!!
posted by Megafly at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2006


Megafly:

You're not serious, are you?

Are you?
posted by grubi at 12:12 PM on April 13, 2006


I'm not one of the ones who assumes that women named Condoleeza are black.
posted by Megafly at 12:19 PM on April 13, 2006


I think the entire controversy is unwarranted. It was originally gallagher. She changed it when an idiot secretary of state showed up; it's the federal building after all.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2006


Are you telling me there is even ONE OTHER PERSON named "Condoleezza" on the planet? To whom else could this math problem have referred?

So, yes, I'll say it -- All women named Condoleezza are black. And all guitar virtuosos from Minneapolis named Prince and who starred in Purple Rain are black, too.
posted by grubi at 12:24 PM on April 13, 2006


You don't. Let them die. BUT, when somebody who does know the racial stereotype cries foul, take their word for it.
The flip side of this is to not assume malice when ignorance may be at work. The largest room for complaint is how the professor handled the situation when it was brought to his attention. That's where the responsibility lies.
posted by Skwirl at 12:36 PM on April 13, 2006


I'm not one of the ones who assumes that women named Condoleeza are black.

I am. I also assume they are Secretary of State. I don't think such assumptions are a problem. I think refusing to adjust them in the face of contrary evidence is the problem. Show me a non-black Condolleeza, and I'll adjust my assumption. Meanwhile, I only know of one Condolleeza, and she's black.
posted by scottreynen at 12:41 PM on April 13, 2006


Richardson, along with her friend Ilays Aden, met with the chairman of the math department who agreed to remove the question from the department's files. But the women left feeling the school needed to take a deeper look at how a racist stereotype could be inserted into the curriculum. [...] The college declined to release the name of the teacher who wrote the question. Floten said the teacher has apologized and requested cultural-sensitivity training.
Wanting to examine institutional racism is great, but did they really need this as their flagship issue to start it up? And what do the conservatives have to gain from this?
posted by Skwirl at 12:44 PM on April 13, 2006


People are quick to point out that dated stereotypes like this are dying, and I agree. And that they should go away--well, how come they don't?

I'm surprised nobody mentioned the Fuzzy Zoeller-Tiger Woods thing from a few years ago. People shouldn't go to jail for acts like this, but if there's a teacher who slipped this question onto the test, that person should be reprimanded and/or fired. It's a simple question of professional conduct and being an adult--you don't do stuff like this. (For me it was actually the "Federal Building" thing that was the most incriminating aspect. Condoleezza is kind of uncommon for an American name, but certainly not unique.)

/preview: looks like Zoeller mentioned fried chicken and collard greens, not watermelon. To this former Virginian (which is not the south according to many, I know), that's still pretty obvious code. It simply ain't polite. The line between stupidity and racism isn't always clear, but if you cross it, expect to pay the social consequences. (God, that was 1997? I'm old.)
posted by bardic at 12:49 PM on April 13, 2006


Maybe you need to be "of a certain age" to understand the inappropriateness

Guilty! I'm definitely "of a certain age", but I also know about the past (even before I was born, imagine!) cause I'm a big fan of the book learning'.

If you don't know the stereotype, you're better off. Just don't then say that there's no offence, especially if you're not black.
posted by tula at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2006


Solution: have Condoleeza throw a pair of Ferragamo shoes instead. Have Katrina survivors below ready to catch them. Problem solved!


(nothing political whatsoever being implied by this silly comment other than, wouldn't that be just hilarious? erm? no? ok...)
posted by funambulist at 1:00 PM on April 13, 2006


a) All black people steal
b) All Irish people are drunk
c) All French people are cowards


First they came for the black people, and I did not speak up, because I was not a thief. Then they came for the irish people, and I did not speak up, because I was not a drunk. Then they came for the french people, and I would have spoken up, as I was a coward, but I did not speak up, also because I was a coward.
posted by davejay at 1:01 PM on April 13, 2006


The Brits' confusion on this thread about the significance of watermelon immediately reminded me of the story about Tiger Woods and his use of the word "spaz" after a poor day of putting.

Scroll to the bottom of the listed story for some great righteous outrage in submitted comments. My reaction was "huh?" in the same way as the MeBritFites here.
posted by dammitjim at 1:05 PM on April 13, 2006


Stereotypes aside, when I lived on the northeast side of Detroit a few years back, the deli on our corner would occasionally get a shipment of watermelons in the summer, which they'd stack for sale in the center of the store. I'm here to tell you that that huge pile never lasted more than an hour. I regularly stopped there on Saturdays to pick up a hot lunch, and while I waited I was witness to this mass exodus of watermelons....the neighborhood was still very racially mixed, but there was a definite demographic slant as which customers walked out with a melon on each shoulder.

This same deli, by the way, had a prominent sign posted that stated "WE SELL COONS." I've never tasted raccoon, nor do I care to, but I thought it was a rather daring choice of promotional lingo.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:10 PM on April 13, 2006


funabulist, I think that's a lovely solution. Though it's missing the splattered watermelon goo element.
posted by tula at 1:11 PM on April 13, 2006


Are you telling me there is even ONE OTHER PERSON named "Condoleezza" on the planet? To whom else could this math problem have referred?

According to Baby Name Wizard's Name Voyager, the name Condoleezza has never been in the top 1000 baby names in the United States in the past 110 years. How relevant is this? I have no idea; I just wanted to use the Name Voyager. It's pretty cool.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:16 PM on April 13, 2006


We're talking about the Pacific Northwest here. I'm aware of the watermelon stereotype, but it's not so deeply ingrained that I immediately recognized the significance that the reference might hold for others from other cultures. Ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. No one can be expected to be aware of, or hold the moral imperative to, live up to every culture's taboos. Are you aware of every Hindu taboo?

I do not think the professor should be fired if there was no intent. That creates a chilling effect on free speech, which is harmful to society at large. It might be argued that the existing chilling effect is exactly why this kind of misunderstanding can occur between two cultures in the same nation already.

The key here is intent. Part of the crime of class victimization is the result that the victimized class can never feel safe. They must be eternally vigilant. I can feel safe taking a shortcut through the park after midnight. My girlfriend cannot. That is fucking unfair. However, when I cut through the park alone, I don't cause harm. Any harm or unfairness wasn't perpetrated by the shortcut taker, it was perpetrated by someone else at some previous time.

If the professor who wrote the question was ignorant of its significance, then he did no wrong. Furthermore, he fulfilled his responsibility to correct his ignorance with promptness. Someone else, somewhere in the past, created this symbolism and that person is a #$$#%#$@.
posted by Skwirl at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2006


Wow, the Wizard is fun. My name reached it's peak in 1930, and has been at zero since 1980. Gotta love that.

Yeah, intent is key. And I'm sure it was mainly ignorance and not malice. But the 'if watermelon --> prominent black person' connection isn't random. It's just too unlikely. I'm not saying anyone should loss a job, but attending a couple little relations classes? You bet.

When I was about 5 I drew a swastika on a wall with a rock. I had no idea what it meant, I just knew it was bad, and I was in a naughty mood. Did I need punishment? no. Education and to offer an apology? yes.
posted by tula at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2006


race relations. lose.

battery dying.
posted by tula at 1:42 PM on April 13, 2006


dammitjim, that's interesting stuff. Like politics, potential racial slurs are indeed local. I'd say "spaz" is in pretty bad taste too even as an American, but as a former teacher I'm a lot more sensitive to these things in public.

oriole adams, that doesn't surprise me at all. Given the historical pressures of slavery, cheapers meats like chicken and chitlins and cheaper produce like collard greens and watermelons were staples for African Americans, and they still are to some degree. The difference comes, a la the Zoeller incident and the math problem, when someone is reinforcing a stereotype. I mean, East Indians in America tend to speak with a certain accent. A white dude trying to emulate that accent can be interpreted as an attempt at racism.
posted by bardic at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2006


Quote: Using the quadratic, I get 3.75 seconds, but I don't think that's right— it fails to account for the time that the watermelon is above 300ft (until gravity slows it down).

(gravity/2)+(initial velocity)+(initial height)=0

-16t^2 + 20t + 300 = 0
-4(4t - 5t - 75) = 0
-4(t - 5)(4t + 15) = 0

t = 5 seconds, disregarding air resistance and the negative solution to the equation (-15/4, or -3.75).
posted by Brian B. at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2006


But the 'if watermelon --> prominent black person' connection isn't random. It's just too unlikely.
This is a national story, so we're drawing from a national pool. There are thousands of community colleges in the US and each of those probably writes thousands of pseudohumorous math questions. It was probably going to happen somewhere.

I'm touchy because of the whole Horowitz anti-intellectualism stuff going on these days.
posted by Skwirl at 1:50 PM on April 13, 2006


Jenovus for the win!

Just change it to a crack pipe.
posted by jenovus at 9:31 AM PST on April 13 [!]
posted by mikojava at 1:56 PM on April 13, 2006


Maybe math quizzes are written by Manatees and the three balls just happened to say "Condoleezza", "Watermelon", and "Federal building."

Thanks for that :)
posted by soulhuntre at 2:04 PM on April 13, 2006


..we're drawing from ...thousands of community colleges...writes thousands of pseudohumorous math questions. It was probably going to happen somewhere.

Ah, but that's my point. It wasn't random, the name Condolezza was chosen to be funny. Ha-ha. Because linking black people to watermelons is hilarious, because...

skwirl, when I listen to David Horowitz I start foaming at the mouth and bolts of lightening come out of my forehead, so I symphathize.
posted by tula at 2:31 PM on April 13, 2006


> t = 5 seconds, disregarding air resistance and the negative solution to the
> equation (-15/4, or -3.75).

But what if it's an African watermelon?

posted by jfuller at 3:18 PM on April 13, 2006


Doh! That's what I get for doing it with a calculator instead of writing it down. I forgot that the quadratic always has two answers. (I still don't think 5 seconds is right either, as I think it's off on how long the watermelon should go up for).
posted by klangklangston at 3:30 PM on April 13, 2006


Jessie Jackson, Samuel Jackson . . .you guys are missing the opportunity to really make the problem politically correct: the obvious change would have to be Michael Jackson tossing a baby in the air.
posted by sixdifferentways at 3:33 PM on April 13, 2006


I like watermelon.
posted by BoatMeme at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2006


Oriole's experience jibes with mine: there is this thing where black people do like watermelon. I think it's obvious, though, that it just fits in with greens and chitlins. The watermelon would have been a very inexpensive summer treat for sharecropper families, and it's a fruit that grows well in the South. The vast majority of African-Americans even in cities like Chicago and Detroit have ties one or two generations back to the South. That's the non-offensive basis. See also: African-American Vernacular English.

The offensive basis, on the other hand, hasn't been mentioned here except in those two images. The happy pickaninny eating watermelon was a staple of Jim Crow tchotchkes and posters. It was particularly perniciously propagated by vaudeville, which was frequently but not exclusively white entertainers in blackface, who used shoe polish, exaggerated lips, denim overalls held up by one strap, and watermelons as racial markers to establish the identity of a black character, who would then either be a comic foil to a white man, generally with strong elements of stereotypical lack of intelligence or ethics ("We's a gwine steal some those apples!"), or a sunny-eyed apologist in song for the idealized wonders of plantation life ("Den I wish I was in Dixie").

I know someone who collects old movies and he recently showed, in his basement screening room, a forgotten gem of a black-and-white musical that was delightful in every way except for an enormous subplot involving vaudeville, with over-the-top production numbers involving dancers in pseudo-African dress and yes, eating watermelon as they sang and danced.

We've come a long way, and while it's great that many people have grown up completely unaware of this stereotype -- that shows we're making progress -- pretending that it doesn't exist just invites stupid abuses.
posted by dhartung at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2006


Is there evidence that this is something more than a stupid and insensitive act by a single teacher?

Ok--does that single teacher belong to the Klan, or just a neo-Nazi group? Nobody with a brain in their head would do that, unless it was on purpose. It's an intentional racial slur, and those who minimize it have obviously not been on the receiving end of many of them or they wouldn't do so.
posted by amberglow at 3:53 PM on April 13, 2006



We're talking about the Pacific Northwest here.

So, i'll go with neo-Nazi then.
posted by amberglow at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2006


Liking watermelon is a black stereotype... sure I guess I can see that. Peaking in like 1940 when watermelon was not commonly something every one ate. Except poor rural people.

Question is why is likeing watermelon (or fried chicken, for that matter) a "negative" stereotype in 2006?

It's really not.
posted by tkchrist at 3:58 PM on April 13, 2006


Because whites in America have the luxury of easily forgetting about things like blackface and Sambo and the general legacy of minstrelsy--the performance of a stereotypical blackness for the amusement of whites. Blacks in America don't have this luxury--they get confronted with this type of shit and are then told by white America "Get over it, it was hundreds of years ago!"

Did you even read this thread?
posted by bardic at 4:05 PM on April 13, 2006


liking watermelon when referring to a black person is certainly still a negative racial stereotype--you yourself said all people eat watermelon now, so why don't people ever use it as a slur against whites, or any other group except blacks?

You show me a century-old record of people using it as a slur against whites, or hispanics. I'll wait. You show me even one current example using it as a slur against whites.

The school certainly understood it was clearly racist, and that it reflected on them and their policies and staff: Anger, apology over "Condoleezza" quiz... In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff, Floten said she took "personal ownership that this act of institutional racism could happen despite a collegewide initiative pursued over many years to establish a safe and tolerant place for all to learn."" ...
posted by amberglow at 4:12 PM on April 13, 2006


Thanks for the support amberglow
posted by Dreamghost at 4:29 PM on April 13, 2006


I think someone who was innocent to the racial overtones would write this question for two reasons. (1) It's silly to run across the name of a famous person in a math quiz. (2) the idea of any person, especially a stuffy politician, tossing a watermelon off a building is implausible and silly (Implausible if you're ignorant of the stereotype, at least.)

In math/physics geek culture, I think there's a lot of "[Random] does [Random] to [Random], compute the result," because otherwise questions can be pretty boring.

A lot of the discussion here reminds me of an episode of Street Smarts or Jaywalking. It's obviously not that hard to find people, even sometimes otherwise intelligent people, who have holes in their cultural knowledge. This is frustrating, but to some degree it's normal.

I do get offended when this kind of stuff shows up in advertising, but advertising has different design criteria, resources and goals. Like the recent "silly fairy" ad. That did not sit right at all. You know that they focus group this stuff to death.
posted by Skwirl at 4:30 PM on April 13, 2006




Peaking in like 1940 when watermelon was not commonly something every one ate. Except poor rural people. Question is why is likeing watermelon (or fried chicken, for that matter) a "negative" stereotype in 2006?

I read an article sometime in the last year (I tried to find a copy online but no dice) by a woman who had experienced the "niggers eatin' watermelon" slur so often that she vowed that as an adult she would never eat it or buy it. The article was about seeing her young (about 5 years old) son experiencing his first taste of watermelon at someone else's party, and how his obvious joy made her decide to buy him watermelon sometimes, in conjunction (if I remember correctly) with teaching him how to deal with the stereotype if he ever has to face it the way she did.

So sure the stereotype's fading, but there are still people around, not old geezers either, who've had that shit flung at them. Then there's this story from two years ago, which makes it clear that the initial watermelon incident was a complete accident, but it certainly inspired somebody to express racial hatred. You believe the students who were this person's target think the stereotype is harmless or a relic of ancient times?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:56 PM on April 13, 2006


Folks! I came in waaay to late on this thread, but many of you did not RTFA all the way to the end. It says the original question had Gallagher, and it was changed to Condoleeza. You know, Gallagher of the watermelon-smashing fame? I bet a lot of college kids don't, which is probably why the teacher used another wierd name like "Condoleeza". Kids know who she is.

The teacher gets doofus points for not thinking it through, but I'm guessing it's not racially motivated.
posted by zardoz at 5:21 PM on April 13, 2006


Was Condi's hands greasy from fried chicken, or not?
It affects the wind resistance of the watermellon.
posted by Balisong at 5:33 PM on April 13, 2006


amberglow/cybercoitus: The impact of the test question and the teacher's intent are two different matters. I agree that the question implicates a racial stereotype that was nasty years ago and retains some power today. It's understandable that people would be offended and hurt by this.

But there's no indication that the teacher acted maliciously or targeted any students. It's just as likely, if not more so, that the teacher was trying to come up with a more topical public figure to use than Gallagher, and subconsciously drew upon an old racial stereotype in picking Condi Rice. Think about it -- why on earth would someone knowingly bring on this kind of controversy? What teacher could believe that something like this would go unnoticed or unchallenged? Look at the rest of the test -- one question refers to "Professor Flunkem." I bet this teacher was trying to be cute, but unfortunately for him and the students and the school, a racial stereotype bubbled to the surface in the process.

Worthy of disapproval? Yes. Evidence of intentional racism or neo-nazi affiliation? Don't think so.
posted by brain_drain at 5:34 PM on April 13, 2006


racial stereotypes bubbling up is what happened in the "coon" incident too---hmmm...why is it that for most of us those things don't ever ever ever bubble up? try asking that question, and you'll see what you consider "subconscious" isn't at all--it's stuff that's not buried at all, but used in private, among friends and part of their lives and attitudes. It's like people who use the N-word in private amongst their friends but know enough not to say it in public--there are millions who do that evern today--their racist attitudes are not subconscious at all.
posted by amberglow at 5:46 PM on April 13, 2006


I RTFA all the way to the end, but I didn't know who Gallagher was. Now I do (scroll down to the end for a pic). Don't see how this makes it "not racially motivated' though. Gallagher's connection with watermelons is that he smashed them for a comedy routine, ok. Condoleeza's connection with watermelons would be....what? Something besides "stupid dirty lazy black people eat watermelons"?

On preview: brain_drain, my own thinking was that it was also that it was probably a subconscious racial stereotype. Before I read Gladwell's Blink I would have thought it was deliberate, but I found the way he explained how the subconscious works to be very powerful - how it's often completely at odds with what people consciously think they think.

Which is why it concerns me that so many people in this thread only see racism when it's spelled N-I-G-G-E-R (or whatever other pejorative). They jump to coincidence (or "it's a joke, man") as a more logical cause rather than entertaining for a second the idea that "a racial stereotype bubbled to the surface in the process," as you put it aptly.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:47 PM on April 13, 2006


we have racist attitudes permeating our society as well-- black people "riot" but whites are involved in "melees" or "conflicts" (see the Hasids in Brooklyn just the other day).

black people "loot" but whites "borrow" (see New Orleans)

hispanics are considered "illegal" and "felons" who don't love America because they carry a flag of their home country, but people don't say that for Irish on St. Patrick's Day or Jews on Salute to Israel Day, etc.

these are just mainstream media things--once you get into real life there are tons tons more. all of us know people who use racist slurs--it's absurd not to attribute it to racism.
posted by amberglow at 5:51 PM on April 13, 2006


I think if it was subconscious it'd be more likely not to come up in a math test question, especially without a trigger--this teacher automatically made the connection: watermelon=blacks. It was a conscious choice--made blatant by the change from Gallagher to Condoleeza.
posted by amberglow at 5:54 PM on April 13, 2006


But I don't think amberglow's dead wrong either. I think either is possible - it could have been subconscious bubbling, or a conscious dig that could be passed off as just a hypothetical math question with the person and the object "just picked out of the air." Either way, racism is involved, directly or indirectly. If anything's going to change for the better, people have to keep pointing it out. It would help if other people would stop insisting that if it's not spelled N-I-etc. in big flaming letters, it's just oversensitive whiners playing the race card.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:59 PM on April 13, 2006


I wonder if it was accidental?

This happened in the Northwest where many poeple are unfamiliar with the stereotype. The watermelon came from the original question, but the setting was changed to be political stuff students would recognise, I can totally see myself thinking "well, throwing things off buildings is so totally a Guy Thing... I'll rip on the stereotype and pick a woman", and Condi is the highest profile woman these days.

And then when it blew up in my face and I'm thinking "Holy carp?! There is some big thing about race and watermelons?!", I too would request senstivity training, because I just jeopardized my whole career simply by having no idea about the existance of a racial stereotype.

OTOH, it might have been poor judgement. But I wouldn't rule out accidental. Was the professor even raised in the USA?
posted by -harlequin- at 6:19 PM on April 13, 2006


(I imagine you'd write an awful lot of questions over the years, tying in a lot of different people and things. If, like me, you don't know your slurs, you'd likely accidentally hit a bombshell eventually.)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:30 PM on April 13, 2006


This was a pretty blatantly racist question. It's sad to see so many people make light of it. It shows how far we still need to go in overcoming racial stereotypes.
posted by caddis at 6:32 PM on April 13, 2006


I imagine you'd write an awful lot of questions over the years, tying in a lot of different people and things. If, like me, you don't know your slurs, you'd likely accidentally hit a bombshell eventually

you know what I'm thinking, is that this just may be an accidental and ironic consequence of multiculting up the textbooks. You know, filling all the examples with ethnic names, making sure there's plenty of women, and actively subverting every stereotype (Asians as jocks, etc.). (not that I'm criticizing this, mind you)

My vision is that some textbook writer dreamed up the Gallagher with melon example to be amusing, while some other writer went through "correcting" all the examples, making sure they had suitable diversity. The second writer may have just been changing names without much focus on the context (obviously since it would be wrong even if he changed the name to 'Linda' - it only makes *sense* if it's Gallagher!), or just didn't catch the association, since well, liberal people don't automatically put blacks and negative imagery together (i.e, a racist would be more likely to think about the stereotype if he saw a black person eating a watermelon, while a liberal would just think, 'ok, that guys eating a melon'). I mean, think about it, in every other possible context, using a *black*, *woman*, *Secretary of State*, is the ultimate multiculti anti-stereotype for a textbook. Only if she was in a wheelchair could it be a better example.

I think that's at least as plausible as some ku klux klan text book writer. In fact much more. Never attribute to malice what can more easily be attributed to stupidity.
posted by dgaicun at 6:59 PM on April 13, 2006


This reminds me of once when I was at the pet store with my wife. We had our boxer with us, and while standing in line, she (the boxer) was sniffing at a basket full of pig hoof chew toys. My wife says, quite loud, "You just love those pig feet, don't you?" The elderly African-American man standing in front of us turned around and shot us this look like, "What the H??" I was totally mortified and quickly tried to cover by making it clear that we were addressing our dog and not the black guy. He just turned around kinda shaking his head like we were the two biggest morons ever.

So, what I'm trying to say is: I don't think that the question was intentionally racist, but it's either a sign of 1) someone not paying attention to what they were saying (likely) or 2) someone just completely unaware of the stereotype who happened to hit the unlucky jackpot (less likely).
posted by papakwanz at 7:11 PM on April 13, 2006


"You just love those pig feet, don't you?"

See, I have absolutely no clue what racist reference or overtone is supposed to be in this sentence. If I was writing maths questions, I'd be doomed!
posted by -harlequin- at 7:36 PM on April 13, 2006


If, like me, you don't know your slurs, you'd likely accidentally hit a bombshell eventually.

Accidental is possible, sure. Is it probable? I'd need more details - eg about the prof's background, as you suggest, among other things that might shed light on how likely this person was to know about the stereotype, or to make efforts towards subverting stereotypes - to be persuaded that it's probable.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:38 PM on April 13, 2006


harlequin- Again going back to slavery days when slaves were given the crap parts of animals to eat, like pig's feet. Although I have no idea how pig's feet are prepared.
posted by papakwanz at 7:41 PM on April 13, 2006


I read an article sometime in the last year (I tried to find a copy online but no dice) by a woman who had experienced the "niggers eatin' watermelon" slur so often that she vowed that as an adult she would never eat it or buy it.

This article?
posted by squeak at 1:57 AM on April 14, 2006


I'd just like to add this has been a very enlightening thread - I'm not American and was completely unaware of the stereotype (and my only associations for watermelon have always been summer, hot, beach, sangria!). So when I read the FPP I didn't have a clue what this was about. Many thanks to those who explained.
posted by funambulist at 2:35 AM on April 14, 2006


Leroy is at the KFC trying to decide how best to spend his food stamps...
posted by pracowity at 3:49 AM on April 14, 2006


"Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second..."

Trick question, with two basic flaws.

1> Who ever heard of a black person throwing away a watermelon?

2> Where would you find a front porch that's 300 feet high?

So, is it racist? Oh, sure. Just a tad.
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:59 AM on April 14, 2006


That said, I hear worse things every week on House M.D., and frankly, I don't see anyone who isn't enjoying that show.

It's in poor taste, but is it really worth getting worked up about?
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:09 AM on April 14, 2006


If you grew up in the American south, as I did, it was impossible not to know about this stereotype. Until reading this thread, I assumed most everyone in the U.S. knew it.

When I was a kid, visiting tourist shops in rural areas, I'd see wood carvings and statuettes that depicted caricatures of broadly grinning African-Americans holding a slice of watermelon.

Here's another bit of folk art along those lines:


posted by jayder at 4:16 AM on April 14, 2006


And now, for equal time purposes...

What's white and fourteen inches long?
Nothing.

What do you call 500,000 white guys jumping out of a plane?
Snow.

What do you call 300 white men chasing a black man?
The PGA tour.
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:16 AM on April 14, 2006


If you go to a restaurant and something you eat gives you a bad case of food poisoning, you tell your friends and never go back to that restaurant again.

If you go to a school and hear just one potentially offensive remark, you call the newspapers and start a petition drive to permanently destroy someone's career... free speech be damned.

If it's on radio or television, however, and it is said to millions of listeners/viewers, that's generally okay, and it reaches the threshhold where we'll start to look at it as an important free speech issue.

Which of the above is the most potentially dangerous and injurious? What explains this kind of behavior?
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:45 AM on April 14, 2006


If you go to a school and hear just one potentially offensive remark, you call the newspapers and start a petition drive to permanently destroy someone's career... free speech be damned.

No, you're just exercising your own freedom of speech by calling the newspapers and starting a petition drive. If your grievance is bullshit, lack of response to your campaign will reveal it to be such. The only way the professor's career could be destroyed by such actions is if there is widely shared belief that the professor's actions are reprehensible.

You seem to be suggesting that the student should keep the quiz question secret, to protect the professor. Why? If the student's grievance is trivial, the professor should have nothing to worry about.

Free speech, unfortunately, often carries the risk that others will evaluate you based on your words. For them to do so is not a violation of your freedom of speech.
posted by jayder at 4:53 AM on April 14, 2006


Richardson went to the media and to the Rev. Wayne Perryman, a Mercer Island civil-rights activist. Perryman sent out an e-mail to friends across the country, some of whom belong to conservative and civil-rights groups. Those friends forwarded the e-mail, creating a snowball effect. The college has since received hundreds of e-mails, said Bob Adams, spokesman for BCC.
Once again, proof that Political Correctness is a right-wing stick to beat stupid spineless liberals with. Wayne Perryman is a civil-rights activist just like all the other members of "African-Americans for George Wallace." For example, he has written a book based on the thesis that "Democrats didn’t fall in love with black folks; they fell in love with the black vote."

Get a clue, people. The correct term is Uncle Tom. For that matter, Condoleeza Rice is an oreo and an Aunt Jemima hankerchief-head.

Anybody who knows the Seattle Times and has spent five minutes on Mercer Island should have seen right through this one. There are no "Mercer Island civil-rights activists." It's sort of like "Grosse Point civil-rights activists."

And it was a stupid question, since any moron could see this flapdoodle coming. Irony died on 9/11.


posted by warbaby at 6:33 AM on April 14, 2006


You know what would have been the perfect response from the professor? "I'm sorry; it never occurred to me that I was invoking an old racist stereotype. You see, I completely forgot that Condoleezza Rice was black." He'd be invincible.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:57 AM on April 14, 2006



WASHINGTON, D.C. - Condoleezza Rice announced today that she has signed with Miramax pictures to star in Jemima Power, the upcoming musical tribute to America's best-recognized pancake lobbyist, Aunt Jemima. Directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard, and co-starring Brad Pitt, Geena Davis, and Jennifer Lopez (as Aunt Jemima's butt double), the musical is set to begin filming in Grosse Point, Michigan, this summer.

Noting that politics is "no different than acting," Ms. Rice told reporters she was excited to land such a challenging role.

"Playing Aunt Jemima is a dream come true," said Ms. Rice, who put on twenty-five pounds before her audition. "I revel in the fact that I won the role over every other black actress in the nation. I understand that Queen Latifah begged the producers for a chance to audition, but they obviously feel I am the best choice for the job."

Ms. Rice admitted, however, that her costars weren't convinced she was right for the part.

"At first they feared I was 'too ghetto' for the role, which seeks to avoid the racial stereotypes that have long made people of color uncomfortable with Aunt Jemima."

Ms. Rice needed only two days of rehearsals with the Elton John score for Jemima Power to convince her costars that she could sing and dance no better than they could.

"Condi's got a natural awkwardness that can't be taught," enthused Brad Pitt. "It's almost like she wasn't born singing and dancing."

Although details about the life and times of Aunt Jemima had heretofore been sketchy, Jemima Power writers, Frank Fogg and Brian Bera, delved into history to wring the truth from the past. After examining numerous journals, letters, and newspapers from the pre-Civil War South, Fogg and Bera discovered a number of shocking facts, among them the revelation that Aunt Jemima was an only child.

"When we found out there was no way she could've been an authentic aunt, we almost scrapped the entire project," said Mr. Fogg.

Mr. Bera agreed.

"It was depressing to learn she had been a relative pretender, but when we discovered that she had faked her pancake recipe as well, we knew we had a hit."

As Mr. Bera explained, Aunt Jemima appropriated her now famous recipe from the back of a Pearl Milling Company flour sack. Always a mediocre cook at best, Aunt Jemima feared that her own pancake recipe, which used fatback instead of butter, would not please her employers. Therefore, she simply borrowed the Pearl Milling Company pancake recipe, as she had borrowed so many others from the packages of the products she used.

Mr. Bera and Mr. Fogg say these revelations about Aunt Jemima's legend are "the zings and zowees audiences will experience when they see the film."

"And there are still more shocking revelations to come," promised Mr. Bera, who hinted that Robert Blake is being considered to play the rough-and-ready priest to whom Jemima confides "her dirty little pancake secret."

In other news, Britney Spears' obsession with the late Princess Diana, which has so far been confined to the Diana museum she maintains in her Malibu mansion, became public knowledge this week when Ms. Spears told People magazine, "The paparazzi killed Princess Di, and I'm afraid they're gonna kill me next."
posted by warbaby at 7:48 AM on April 14, 2006


I'm baffled because I can't imagine what you people thought when watching countless movies that make reference to it.

Although I'm familiar with it, perhaps others simply haven't seen the same movies or haven't been exposed to it. Common exposure is becoming less common each day it seems.
posted by juiceCake at 7:55 AM on April 14, 2006


"You seem to be suggesting that the student should keep the quiz question secret, to protect the professor. Why?"

I didn't say that. I think that people generally overrespond to such issues, though, which are usually a matter of unintentional racism.

If a teacher says something racist, call him on it in class in a respectful yet direct manner or mention it on his review, perhaps. If it's a repetitive problem, contact the administration.

But petition drives and calling the press based on one relatively innocuous incident? That's your right, sure... but is it fair, or does it just tend to provoke an overreaction which can destroy the career of someone who has probably spent the better part of a decade just getting to the point where they can teach at a college level?

I don't agree with Republicans on much, but I do agree that colleges are too P.C. at times. If we want good, effective teachers, we must tolerate the fact that some of them will hold some ideas that others will find challenging or distasteful. That said, I would rather learn from a talented, knowledgeable professor who I suspect may be a bit of a bigot than from an untalented, completely unnoteworthy, utterly P.C. professor.

What it comes down to is that I'm an adult, and I should be capable of thinking for myself and developing my own opinions and ideas, based on reason. Isn't that what college is all about?
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:00 PM on April 14, 2006


Actually, insomnia_lj, I kind of agree with you. I think some people in universities are hypersensitive in ways that diminish the educational experience.

But in this case, my opinion is that the offense---making an obviously racist joke involving the stereotype of blacks loving watermelon---merits professional banishment and disgrace.
posted by jayder at 8:48 PM on April 15, 2006


But in this case, my opinion is that the offense---making an obviously racist joke involving the stereotype of blacks loving watermelon---merits professional banishment and disgrace.
it certainly does--the administration agrees too.

I don't agree with Republicans on much, but I do agree that colleges are too P.C. at times. If we want good, effective teachers, we must tolerate the fact that some of them will hold some ideas that others will find challenging or distasteful.
The Republicans do not tolerate on campus at all: they've have been hitting the airwaves continuously about the dangerous liberal indoctrination and bias and they've been pushing nationwide their "Student Bill of Rights", The latest attempt to return to the era of red-baiting is called, ironically, the Student Bill of Rights. That has a fine, democratic ring to it. The phrase, however, is being used to restrict the ability of teachers to introduce controversial or provocative ideas into their classrooms. The argument goes like this: Conservative students are offended when "liberal" faculty try to force them to consider ideas with which they don't agree. Political science or sociology instructors, for instance, who support the benefits of minimum or living wage ordinances for workers, should be prevented from advancing such liberal biases in class., and trying to get professors fired all over, like Wade Churchill and others, and they've been having their kids tape professors for later airing on talk radio, and they've been writing books about the massive dangers on campus, and they've been pouring resources into College Republican groups, and doing lawsuits to remove people from college policies, etc...

Try these on for size:
David Horowitz's List of 100 Most Dangerous Professors in the U.S.
, and "Report a scientist to the Feds", and of course, the infamous "Affirmative Action bake sales" with different prices for different races, to eliminate that policy on campuses. (while at the same time, they want an affirmative action policy to hire conservative professors)

Who ARE you talking about, insomnia?
posted by amberglow at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2006


insomnia_lj: If it's a repetitive problem, contact the administration. . . . But petition drives and calling the press based on one relatively innocuous incident?

from the first link: “Richardson, along with her friend Ilays Aden, met with the chairman of the math department who agreed to remove the question from the department's files. But the women left feeling the school needed to take a deeper look at how a racist stereotype could be inserted into the curriculum.”

so the student didn't just jump straight for media attention. And I think this thread has demonstrated that there's reasonable doubt that the incident was merely “innocuous.”

I would rather learn from a talented, knowledgeable professor who I suspect may be a bit of a bigot than from an untalented, completely unnoteworthy, utterly P.C. professor.

I'd rather that any authority figure, in a position to influence minds, constantly challenge her/himself to learn about personal biases. Too many of the ones I've met, don't (they pay lip service, though). I think it's good for anybody to have help (welcomed or not) from students, peers or whatever, in uncovering biases AND - here's the main reason the student took the complaint beyond the department - taking steps to actively discourage future occurrences of problematic behaviour. Not just erasing the current one and saying ”OK, problem fixed, there's nothing else needs doing.”

I don't buy the “It was a one in a million random chance accident” theory instantly, because unexamined personal biases are more common than one in a million. So many people think "I'm not racist," and think for some self-deluding reason that they know what's in their subconscious minds, and yet little things pop up over and over again that collectively make a big pattern saying “This person who has a good heart and would never join the KKK, has absorbed some stereotypical attitudes about certain groups of people that s/he doesn't realize need examining." This happens even with people who do make subverting stereotypes, and questioning their beliefs, their life's work.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:46 PM on April 16, 2006


"The Republicans do not tolerate on campus at all..."

I know, and it's a hypocritical position. Most Republicans will say that they hate the P.C. nature of universities (which, IMO, is largely driven by liability issues and trying to keep allumni and, occasionally, students happy).

That said, many want to organize witchhunts and ban teachers too. Not good. Either you are supportive of the expression of the great majority of opinions on campus or you're merely playing favorites.
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2006


"Apology from Peter Ratener

4/18/06

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Floten, Faculty and staff of Bellevue Community College, students - Chelsey Richardson in particular -- and members of the community:

I come before you now because you are owed an apology.

I made a mistake. An egregious mistake. An exam I wrote contained a question that was deeply offensive and invoked an insulting racial stereotype.

To Chelsey Richardson, and other students,. I'm very sorry I have offended you. That was not my intention. If you knew me, you'd believe me. You are valued and I want you in our campus community. I also value the wonderful diversity of students here. That is one of the things I like best about teaching at a community college

To my colleagues at BCC--faculty, staff, and administration-I am sorry that my action has embarrassed you and caused you to become targets for harsh criticism. For more than ten years you have toiled to make BCC an institution that welcomes and values people of all colors. We have some work to do, but still you should be proud of what you've accomplished. You have pulled together despite the strains of all the unfavorable attention, and you've never abandoned me. I am indeed honored to be your colleague.

I also extend my sincere apologies to the African-American community and also to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I sincerely regret insulting you.

I feel I must explain why it has taken this long to step forward and accept the responsibility for something that goes as much against my principles as yours. When I first heard of the complaint nine days ago at a hastily-called meeting of the full-time instructors of mathematics I immediately took ownership of the problem and offered to reveal myself. At the urging of all the members of the department I allowed them to treat the offensive question as the failing of the department, since the test was a department product. However, I offered several times to meet with Chelsey, the young woman who first made the complaint, and offer her my personal apology. An intermediary told me she felt that wasn't necessary, wanting the apology to be public. Chelsey, this is that apology to you and all students.

Two days later, the landscape had changed. Though the math department and President Floten had each issued their own apology, the outcry had grown enormously and had taken an angry turn. Threats began to arrive. I wanted to reveal myself, but my wife was adamant. We must not expose our children, innocent victims in this drama, to danger. I had to accede to her wishes. She was a potential victim, too.

It was distasteful to stay in the shadows, and went against my desire to face the rage and deal with it. Each passing day became more difficult as my anxiety and sleeplessness added weight to my humiliation. By Friday a math colleague received a death-threat. My resolve to keep my family safe was firm.

Today, however, I feel I cannot wait any longer. All of you deserve my public apology, and I can no longer remain anonymous.

Though I never intended insult, I am judged for what I should have known. Educators are held to this higher standard.

Racial insensitivity is inconsistent with my upbringing. My grandparents were refugees from persecution in the former USSR; they arrived penniless after a daring nighttime escape. My parents were members of the Long Island Council for Integrated Housing, an organization dedicated to opening up whites-only communities to people of color. I remember the shock and horror during a road trip in Georgia where I first saw segregated bathrooms and drinking fountains.

My first teaching job when I arrived in Seattle in 1973, was working for Square Partee, a gifted instructor at the University of Washington's Economic Opportunities Program.

I also want to explain how the stereotype came to be on the test. I do not offer this description as an excuse. One thing I have learned is that if it could happen to me, it could happen to just about any of us. This was born of good intentions.

I try to use humor to relieve tension of test takers. Celebrities like Britney Spears, Madonna, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Gallagher are among the celebrities who have appeared in test items building kennels, dropping watermelons, and designing gardens. This device works only if the reader is familiar with the celebrity. Students today no longer recognize the name Gallagher. Condoleezza had name recognition going for her; and it's a fascinating name to me. So I substituted that name in the question. Race had nothing to do with it, nor did politics. I should have caught it. And, the responsibility is ultimately mine alone.

I reach out to the African-American community. I have stumbled, and fallen, painfully. You are welcome at my table. Persons of all colors, you, too, are welcome. And conservatives, and liberals, and independents. There's room for all of us. We are richer for you being there.

Now we must all heal, and I hope my heartfelt apology will be the pivotal piece that will allow the college to move forward and heal.

Again, to Chelsey Richardson, and other students, I'm very sorry I have offended you. To everyone at BCC, I am sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I have caused.

I hope you will forgive me.

Thank you."
posted by Feisty at 9:25 AM on April 20, 2006


Thanks for the follow-up, Feisty.
posted by brain_drain at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2006


thanks, Feisty--it's necessary for him and the school to release that, but it rubs the wrong way--"look, my family fought racism" and "some of my best friends are..." and "it's like putting madonna or designing a garden into a test"
posted by amberglow at 4:58 PM on April 20, 2006


I agree, amberglow. He could have left out quite a bit, and by not, he reveals more about himself that is less than flattering. But who knows what sort of feedback he was getting during that time. It seems plausible his family was threatened; fear and lack of sleep probably encouraged him to throw in the kitchen sink.

If he were the type of teacher who was open to criticism, and the student assumed the best, this would never have had to play out for the rest of us to see.
posted by Feisty at 12:31 AM on April 21, 2006


Rubs the wrong way?

From my cultural background, I feel like the college did everything reasonable at every stage. There is no way to know for sure whether the question was written subconsciously, intentionally or accidentally. The only knowledge we do have is how they handled the criticism and they handled it pretty well. Part of the problem is that there is no possible apology that can heal the wounds of institutional racism past and present. Any possible statement on this subject will always rub the wrong way.

I have people who are very close to me who have suffered trauma. Sometimes, despite having the best intentions, you feel like you have to walk on eggshells with victims of trauma because you can never possibly know every possible trigger. I am saddened and I try to help and understand, but I do not blame myself if I accidentally hurt my friend by triggering their trauma.

The trauma was caused by a third party. I doubt Chelsey Richardson has found the feeling of justice that she was looking for and I doubt she would find it even if the professor received the strictest of punishments.

I don't doubt the death threats. Journalists receive death threats all the time for far less emotional subjects. I would argue that the writers of those notes are reenacting the personal traumas from their own lives, seeking a solution to their pain that is impossible, and creating more victimization along the way.

Everyone has biases and demons and has been victimized at some point, but certainly some people have had it a lot worse. The only way to make progress is to work to heal ourselves first. Be the change you want to see in the world. I don't believe that vengeance aids healing.
posted by Skwirl at 11:54 AM on April 27, 2006


As long as you understand that it's not the teacher who has had it worse than the student, who has yet again in her life had to be confronted with unexpected and out-of-context racism casually thrown in somewhere it never ever ever ever should have been. This is not a one-off thing for her or the vast majority of African-Americans in this country.

And you're right--nothing can undo it, but his platitudes and attempts at showing how unracist he is are, as it always does. A simple profound apology, and recognition of the hurt he caused, and sincere vow never to do it again would have been more than enough--having to make it about himself instead is wrong, and smells, and belittles the real pain he caused others.
posted by amberglow at 1:47 PM on April 27, 2006


oop---...how unracist he is are backfiring, as it always does...
posted by amberglow at 1:48 PM on April 27, 2006


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