“N****r rigs” should now be called “presidential solutions”
July 17, 2009 4:10 PM   Subscribe

"I don't see where there's a story, I'm not the only one that does it." Such is the excuse of patriotic Atwater City (CA) Councilman (and Mayor Pre Tem) Gary Frago for sending out "at least a half-dozen e-mails to city staff and other prominent community members containing racist jokes aimed at President Barack Obama, his wife and black people in general." Frago received some of the e-mail jokes from ex-city worker Bob Rieger and forwarded them on "to various community leaders, 'including a county supervisor, a former police chief, a city manager, a former city council member, a former president of a veterans group, a former grand knight of the Knights of Columbus, among others.'" Rieger said the jokes he sent had no racial meaning. "As far as I'm concerned the e-mails need no explanation," he said. "I sent them out, I'm not concerned with it," he said.
"Previous disastrous interactions between racially-insensitive public officials and modern technology include the 'historical keepsake photo' sent around by a Tennessee state government staffer, the picture of watermelons on the White House lawn distributed by a California mayor, and the Michelle Obama gorilla joke posted on Facebook by a GOP activist and ex-official." *
posted by ericb (90 comments total)
 
"Breaking News Playboy just offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in the January issue. Michelle Obama got the same offer from National Geographic."

I think this is by far the most racist Obama joke I've read thus far; It's not even slightly funny, just plain racist; And I am not even one to complain about off colour jokes as it be--but this... seriously?
posted by tiaka at 4:14 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is such a non story.
posted by empath at 4:16 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


how come these guys never have any goddamn necks

dude looking like someone morphed his photo with a goddamn ninja turtle
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:17 PM on July 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


For some people the more offensive the joke is, the better. My dad, a really reasonable guy who has never, ever done anything remotely discriminatory in his entire life routinely sends me jokes in email that KKK members would be embarrassed to tell. The ethnography of the offensive email joke is a powerful yet untold story in our time.
posted by GuyZero at 4:17 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The Sun-Star obtained the e-mails after they were denied to the newspaper by the city. The city stated that because the e-mails did not contain matters regarding city business, they were not public documents even if they were received on city e-mails.

In a letter sent to the Sun-Star, dated June 11, the city noted that any documents must 'be related to the conduct of the public's business' in order to be deemed public. The letter went on to say, "e-mails received by City Staff from Council Member Frago and Crabb which are not public records (i.e. not relating to the conduct of the public's business), have not been produced."

The city attorney Dennis Myers did not explain in the letter why the newspaper's request was denied. But Wellman said he has been told that any information sent over the city server is a public document." *
Um, I'd say "no." The servers, computers and IT infrastructure are paid for by taxpayer dollars. They're public, hence any use of them is open to public scrutiny.
posted by ericb at 4:17 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Having said that, my dad waited until he was retired before he started doing so. When he was working every single joke someone sent him got deleted allegedly unread. If people have to elect racists, can they elect racists with some professionalism maybe?
posted by GuyZero at 4:19 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


They're public, hence any use of them is open to public scrutiny.

Sure, to the extent states and municipalities enact sunshine laws.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:22 PM on July 17, 2009


*Mayor Pro Tem*
posted by ericb at 4:27 PM on July 17, 2009


oh wait let me put this in a context gary frago would understand

dude got more chins than a chinese phonebook
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:28 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


What does the comment from a news outlet that the community is "patriotic" on the 4th of July have to do with Councilman? The article was about the 4th of July parade, which included Mr. Frago.

Anyway, I had no idea what a "nigger rig" was, so I must rely on urban dictionary: To fix something in a very cheap way, using whatever materials are handy. I thought that was Macgyvering, and treated with some awe and respect. But wait, there's more!
to affix some abnormal object an ordinary every day object to obtain the original usefulness that it was designed for while using materials that present themselves in a ghetto environment

nigger riggging is attaching a coat hanger to an attena on a boom box to achieve the maximum reception while listining to fity cent, otherwise known as dumb nigger.
The misspellings make the comment even better.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:28 PM on July 17, 2009



For some people the more offensive the joke is, the better. My dad, a really reasonable guy who has never, ever done anything remotely discriminatory in his entire life routinely sends me jokes in email that KKK members would be embarrassed to tell. The ethnography of the offensive email joke is a powerful yet untold story in our time.


I'm a huge fan of grossly offensive jokes of all types, but it says something about this fucknut that he felt comfortable sending the joke out to the relatively high profile people he sent it out to.
posted by empath at 4:34 PM on July 17, 2009


Postracist America sure feels great.
posted by yeloson at 4:37 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


So "nigger rig" is basically to jerry rig or to jury rig, but for racists?
posted by Artw at 4:38 PM on July 17, 2009


This is such a non story.

Agreed. We live in a post-racist America, now.

So who's on American Idol this week?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:41 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Basically. I heard the phrase a lot growing up in southern maryland.
posted by empath at 4:42 PM on July 17, 2009


This is such a non story.

Agreed. We live in a post-racist America, now.


I mean, obviously it's a story locally, but I don't get why it's national news.
posted by empath at 4:42 PM on July 17, 2009


You know about the whole Young Republican election, right? It's a few threads down. This just fits right in.
posted by dilettante at 4:45 PM on July 17, 2009


I'm a huge fan of grossly offensive jokes of all types, but it says something about this fucknut that he felt comfortable sending the joke out to the relatively high profile people he sent it out to.

My dad's favorite word is probably nigger. Nigger please, nigger this, nigger that. The man doesn't have a racist bone in his body, he's just not at all politically correct and is a product of his age and environment, and it doesn't bother me at all. But I think these jokes are a far cry from casual usage of the word nigger, which is what this guy seems to be implying; and yes, if something in your head doesn't say "Maaaybe I shouldn't forward these to my high profile friends", there is definitely something really fucked about your worldview.
posted by Roman Graves at 4:46 PM on July 17, 2009


"So 'nigger rig' is basically to jerry rig or to jury rig, but for racists?"

Yeah, that's the way I always heard it when I was growing up. I've mentioned that my family is so racist that if they were watching a boxing match between two black fighters they would cheer for the lighter-colored one, haven't I?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:47 PM on July 17, 2009


This is such a non story...

I respectfully disagree.

In today's world the local becomes national, if not global. Racism needs to be called out and trends highlighted (as indicated in the FPP's [more inside]).

While "all politics is local," in my book "all racism is global!"
posted by ericb at 4:53 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So it's not that he made horrendously racist jokes, it's that he sent them to the wrong people? Isn't that like a reverse non-apology apology?
posted by aihal at 4:54 PM on July 17, 2009


Isn't that like a reverse non-apology apology?

The most important skill in politics today.
posted by GuyZero at 4:57 PM on July 17, 2009


I mean, obviously it's a story locally, but I don't get why it's national news.

Yeah really. Local politican slags local President. Film at 11. Yawn.
posted by DU at 5:03 PM on July 17, 2009


So it's not that he made horrendously racist jokes, it's that he sent them to the wrong people? Isn't that like a reverse non-apology apology?

Not sure. What would he have called it, had he sent it to the right people? Who would those right people be? Professional comedians? Michael Richards?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:12 PM on July 17, 2009


(Local) outragefilter.
posted by LarryC at 5:14 PM on July 17, 2009


Aihal: I don't think telling racist jokes necessarily makes you a racist. It's more about the audience and the context and the intent. It's pretty clear that this guy plain doesn't like black people. But like if he made a joke about black people liking fried chicken at a public meeting, it wouldn't be nearly as bad.

Also the jokes aren't even funny.
posted by empath at 5:15 PM on July 17, 2009


OK, this is pretty bad stuff, appallingly bad, but this guy is some nobody from nowhere (Atwater City, who the eff are they?). I am not sure why every racist screed makes the cut.

But then, "I don't think telling racist jokes necessarily makes you a racist."
I am not so sure about that, especially in this sort of context. If you are telling or laughing at racist jokes and you think your are not a racist I think some soul searching might be in order. Of course, everyone is in some part biased on this issue, so racism is more of a degree of that bias than a yes or no thing.
posted by caddis at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2009


This is how racism persists, through casual signals from people to others close to them that "you are like me, these other people aren't & I trust you enough to say it openly". It's tribalism. Look at how many recipients closed ranks & were unwilling to even admit they read the jokes. At some level they understand that they're complicit by not taking a stand & actively rejecting the emails, whether because they agree or they just don't want to rock the boat. Either way, they have a sense of belonging.
posted by scalefree at 5:28 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't think telling racist jokes necessarily makes you a racist.

Whether or not it makes you "a racist", racist jokes are racist, and telling them is a racist thing to do.

Using public funds to send racist jokes to your friends is, at best, inappropriate behavior. Presumably people of all ethnic, racial, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds pay taxes in Atwater City, and the idea that their own tax dollars are paying for the equipment being used to slag them off is suitable WTF-inducing.

My dad's favorite word is probably nigger. Nigger please, nigger this, nigger that. The man doesn't have a racist bone in his body

Well, the tongue is not a bone, so maybe you're right.

If your father is not Dave Chappelle or a rapper, I think he's being a jerk. There are lots of non-offensive words in the English language; why not use some of those?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:32 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I mean, obviously racist jokes are racist. It's in the name of the jokes.

There are jokes about racism that aren't themselves racist, and there may well be jokes about cultural and subcultural differences that aren't racist, but the jokes forwarded by that assclown are just plain racist and not even funny.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:34 PM on July 17, 2009


My dad's favorite word is probably nigger. Nigger please, nigger this, nigger that. The man doesn't have a racist bone in his body

*cough*

...he's just not at all politically correct...

Keyword alert!

...it doesn't bother me at all.

It doesn't bother Gary Frago either.
posted by DU at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


But how come THEY get to say the N-word, and WE don't?
posted by John of Michigan at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2009


It's always a bit of a tightrope if you want to make racist/race-based jokes and not come out looking like a racist. Look at Michael Richards versus Sarah Silverman. (OK, I'm not sure Richards was really trying that hard not to be racist... but comedians like Silverman base their whole shtick on being so offensive that it becomes a fairly clear parody --- the problem is that if you're not a comedian and you try this, people may just think you're really really racist).
posted by wildcrdj at 5:53 PM on July 17, 2009


It's called testing the waters.
posted by fleacircus at 6:01 PM on July 17, 2009


As a former resident of Merced, CA, let me just say that Atwater is one of those towns where, if people could not tell each other racist jokes and smoke crystal meth, they would kill themselves just to break up the horrifying monotony and pointlessness of their daily lives.
posted by Avenger at 6:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I grew up close to Atwater, and seeing the photo and reading the email I have met this guy in a 1000 different bodies in the central valley. There is a network of men who had money or meager power when the small farming communities along the HWY 99 corridor were hitting real suburban growth. They have maintained a surprisingly strong hold on the power structure of the communities despite large demographic shifts and retained or grown their positions with the established community and kept newcomers out of local politics.

I don't doubt that "everyone else" sends them as well, because everyone else is the same small group of people that would have been telling each other the same kinds of jokes in 1975. You end up with fairly ruthless, not-so-smart, highly conservative (the bad kind) xenophobes managing communities of 30,000 people and sending out emails like these.
posted by arruns at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


So, this guy defends himself by saying that his error was in misjudging his audience's receptivity to racist jokes. This defense is ridiculed in this thread and discarded forthwith.

At the same time, several folks on here have been downplaying this event by saying "Weeeeelll, I dunno…it all depends on context and audience and delivery and tone" and a bunch of other mitigating circumstances that allow us to make exceptions to the moral injunction to not engage in racism when it suits us.

I see these two defenses as dependant on the same logic, if not identical.
posted by LMGM at 6:18 PM on July 17, 2009


"So 'nigger rig' is basically to jerry rig or to jury rig, but for racists?"

It's just as well you selected a term with no racial or xenophobic overtones, there, champ!
posted by rodgerd at 6:23 PM on July 17, 2009


fairly ruthless, not-so-smart, highly conservative (the bad kind) xenophobes

Idirans might call me ruthless, but I'm bright enough and I'm only conservative relative to GSVs, who are just overgrown city managers and completely spineless.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


My dad's favorite word is probably nigger. Nigger please, nigger this, nigger that. The man doesn't have a racist bone in his body

You don't have to be passionate about it to be a racist. Racism can afford to be casual, thoughtless. It's not always about Klan meetings or swastika tattoos. It's a presumption of power, that your position in society is naturally higher than someone else's.
posted by scalefree at 6:48 PM on July 17, 2009 [16 favorites]


I live in CA, but I was shocked to learn recently that the Central Valley is literally one of the poorest places in the country, has horrible health problems (one cause is that although it's the biggest farming region in the country, farmer's markets are actually illegal and they have to ship produce out and back in to supermarkets!!), and in many ways is the new Appalachia.

Just thought that might help put this into context, because when a lot of people hear "California" they think L.A. and San Fransisco.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


drjimmy, if you're referring to that NPR story about the San Joaquin Valley being more or less the new Appalachia, as a native of the Central Valley I would like to state that it's wildly exaggerated. And the Farmer's Market thing is simply not true.

As far as there being a lot of racism there.. well. That. Yeah.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2009


I have my doubts about whether this story is true. In fact, that whole site seems like a joke.
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:11 PM on July 17, 2009


Is the city of Merced even a real place?
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:15 PM on July 17, 2009


Artw: "So "nigger rig" is basically to jerry rig or to jury rig, but for racists?"

Jerry rig is an insult toward Germans. Jury rigging is something else entirely.
posted by team lowkey at 7:32 PM on July 17, 2009


FWIW, 'jerry-rig' is also an ethnic denotation, except it's about the Irish.
posted by Gilbert at 7:36 PM on July 17, 2009


d'oh! On preview, team lowkey has it right.
posted by Gilbert at 7:37 PM on July 17, 2009


Nobody actually knows if "jerry-rig" is an insult aimed at Germans or at Irishmen, both of whom have been called "Jerry" as an ethnic shorthand. (Germans because "German"; Irishmen because presumably so many of them were named "Gerald.)

Seriously, I know people who have spent weeks trying to figure this out and there just isn't a definitive answer.


As for "jury-rig" that's not an ethnic slur, but a nautical term, as team lowkey points out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another confusing one is "paddy wagon"--most people contend that it's the wagon in which you collect drunken Irishmen ("paddies"), but others argue that it's the wagon driven by the Irish cops to collect drunks of all ethnic backgrounds.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2009


Jury-rig is a nautical term that dates back to at least the 1700's. It refers to a specific type of knot, the Jury Rig Knot, which was used on sailing ships.

Jerry Rig is indeed a derogatory term, coined by the British against the Germans during WWII. It refers to the German practice of scavenging spare parts to keep their tanks and other vehicles running.
posted by zarq at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2009


sidhedevil, I wasn't aware that there was any sort of anti-Irish racism associated with "Jerry Rig." Interesting.
posted by zarq at 7:54 PM on July 17, 2009


Originally, there was no "jerry rig", the phrase was either "jerry built" or "jury rig". Now the two get conflated. My dad, an engineer named Jerry, is quite sensitive about this.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:58 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


ju·ry-rig (jŏŏr'ē-rĭg')
tr.v. ju·ry-rigged, ju·ry-rig·ging, ju·ry-rigs
To rig or assemble for temporary emergency use; improvise: The survivors of the wreck jury-rigged some fishing gear.

[From jury-rig, jury-rigging, improvised rigging on a ship, modeled on jury-mast, temporary mast, perhaps ultimately from Old French ajurie, help, from aider, to help; see aid.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/jury-rig?
posted by bentley at 8:00 PM on July 17, 2009


I live in Massachusetts, allegedly one of the most liberal states in the United States. Perhaps you've heard we were the first state to recognize gay marriage?

I also work part-time in my local Target, because, well, times are tough. I work in electronics/entertainment, and although a lot of what we do is selling stuff to people, a lot more of it is cleaning up after people.

At least two out of every five nights I work there, I have to take extra time to clean up the book aisle where someone has covered up all the Barack Obama and Michelle Obama books with random books from other aisles, or has turned all the Barack Obama books upside down, or just plain thrown them on the floor.

This is progress - immediately after the election, it was four out of every five nights.
posted by yhbc at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


I live in CA, but I was shocked to learn recently that the Central Valley is literally one of the poorest places in the country

Well, at least you're partway there...a lot of Angelenos would be shocked to learn there's a place called the Central Valley.

Atwater is part of a very large chunk of the state that (with exceptions like union-heavy Stockton) votes reliably Republican and thinks very conservatively and is growing; the Coast Ranges are as much a cultural buffer as a climatic one. Check out this map and look at the breakdown by county on cultural issues...say, proposition 4 or 8, then filter for counties with "less than 10% with bachelor's degrees." Yeah, there.

It is at its own peril that the progressive movement in California ignores its own backyard--the Valley is key.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:21 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


The phrase 'jerry rig' is, as BrotherCaine points out, a conflation of 'jerry built' and 'jury rig', and neither has any ethnic connotations.

Check it.
posted by axiom at 8:42 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


The author of the story about Gary Frago is Jonah Owen Lamb who is also mentioned as the writer of a column called Tip List (third from the top). He is pictured right next to the listing. I googled Jonah's name and came across his NYU profile which includes a picture of the same guy. According to his profile he has "been working for the Salt Lake City Weekly as a staff writer" and is "currently headed through Mexico to Central America where I plan to write about the region for American newspapers." He has written pieces for the New York Times and several other publications. There is no mention of the Merced Sun-Star to be found. I don't think you could convince me that the person who published that NYT article is the same person who wrote this story.
posted by inconsequentialist at 8:48 PM on July 17, 2009


Um, I'd say "no." The servers, computers and IT infrastructure are paid for by taxpayer dollars. They're public, hence any use of them is open to public scrutiny.
posted by ericb


The California Public Records Act defines public records as: "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics."

These racist emails don't have anything to do with conducting the public's business. The state where I work has a definition with almost the exact same wording and that is how it has been interpreted. Kinda sucks in this case.
posted by marxchivist at 9:03 PM on July 17, 2009


I grew up in (R)atwater, CA. What a POS town - racism like this is par for the cource.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:09 PM on July 17, 2009


Urge to kill...rising.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:20 PM on July 17, 2009


Heh.

Hey, you know those WWII era Germans? Fuck those guys, they love Hitler.
posted by Artw at 9:37 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Guess what's still offensive and racist. The word nigger. Dress it up however you like to justify that your dad or your uncle or your local KKK Grand Wizard isn't racist. It is what it is.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:40 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Most racist jokes are only funny if you're actually racist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


sorry about my spelling flub above - I'll blame it on dumbass Atwater High.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:52 PM on July 17, 2009


Their heads are exploding before our very eyes.

It's strangely beautiful.
posted by bardic at 10:07 PM on July 17, 2009


I was all set to point out how, if this had happened in Atwater, Alabama or Atwater, Mississippi that the thread would all be about how racist southerners are. California is not just the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Luckily Avenger, arruns and Oolookitty beat me to pointing out that there is plenty of this in the Golden State.

Also, used as a verb, "nigger rig" is racist for jury rig. Used as a noun, it's more similar to "pimpmobile."
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:59 PM on July 17, 2009


Most racist jokes are only funny if you're actually racist.

Pat is out of work, so he approaches his pal Mick and asks him about getting work at the building site where he's a labourer.

"Ah, begorrah", says Mick. "Tis easy. The foreman will just ask you a simple question like, 'Do you know the difference between a joist and a girder?' and if you can answer that, you'll get taken on."

"Oh, I can answer that, to be sure", says Pat. And off he trots to see the foreman.

"Can I have a job, sir?", asks Pat.

"Can you tell me the difference between a joist and a girder?", asks the foreman.

"I can that", answers Pat. "Girder wrote Faust and Joist wrote Ulysses."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [30 favorites]


Originally, there was no "jerry rig"

Do you mean, originally like at the big bang?
posted by Bort at 11:16 PM on July 17, 2009


Do you mean, originally like at the big bang?

No, I mean originally like back in my day — now get off my lawn.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:36 AM on July 18, 2009


A letter in defense of Frago posted on the Merced site.
posted by inconsequentialist at 12:54 AM on July 18, 2009


That's a low standard of "racist", Peter.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:14 AM on July 18, 2009


I overheard a conversation between a manager and a white salesman at a company I worked at about twenty years ago. The salesman was complaining to the manager that one of his big clients kept describing his broadcast facilities as "n****r-rigged," and it bothered the salesman and he wanted to say something about to the client. The manager -- who was an African-American and the highest-ranking African-American in the company -- snapped, "You just keep it to yourself. That man's a client and he can say anything he wants. That's just the way they talk."

I'd never heard the term "n****r-rigged" before that, and haven't since -- 'til this post.
posted by Faze at 5:04 AM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


to me, there is a subtle difference between jury rigged and nigger rigged. jury rigged items are replaced when the appropriate equipment becomes available. nigger rigged items remain that way until they break.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:35 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Q: What do you call a black man flying an airplane?
A: A pilot, you fucking racist.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:15 AM on July 18, 2009 [14 favorites]


Reading the Michelle Obama "joke" is the closest I have ever come in real life to actually banging my head on my desk-- I couldn't stop myself from jerking in reaction. Rascist shit is not funny to me but the common theme of comparing black people to animals is the lowest of the low-- it takes away their humanity. Take away someone's humanity and you can justify treating them inhumanly. We will never be rid of racism-- casual or otherwise-- but we should be less tolerant of the casual jokes by our elected officials. This is NOT: ho-hum, another 2 bit politician, another crude remark, but rather: This guy is on the public payroll-- not only does he get paid with tax money, but he also is supposed to represent the people of his city. He should be stomped on like the cockroach that he is, but failing that he should be impeached and tossed out on his ass into the streets. If I lived in Atwater I would be down on the steps of city hall demonstrating.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:47 AM on July 18, 2009


Humor is one of the most efficient tools of the bully, because when you don't like they're bullying, they can behave as though you're the one with the problem. Jeez, mac; lighten up. It's just a fucking joke. God, you're sensitive. What's your problem?

It's not that clever a trick, but it works anyway.

Here's the thing. Telling a racist may not demonstrate that you're racist, but it doesn't really go a long way toward disproving that you're a racist either, does it? If you're white, you benefit from it in constant, subtle, small ways, and to behave unconcerned about racism, or to behave as though you're so self-evidently not racist that you can toss off racist language or tell hurtful jokes and it doesn't really mean anything -- well, that's about as pure an expression of privilege as I can think of, and seems to me like pouring salt on a wound. Is your joke about black people really so awesomely excellent to be worth the meanness it expresses?

And I know a lot of people think humor is about pushing boundaries and shocking us out of preconception, and it can be, and that's a good and noble role for comedy. Odds are the racist joke you're telling isn't that. That's a very, very hard thing to do well. Instead, you're being about as funny as the kid who overpowers you and uses your own hands to swat your face while crying out "Why are you hitting yourself?" Don't mistake one for the other, please. Telling a racist joke IS a racist thing to do, and there is no reason anybody who hears the joke should assume that you don't share the hateful assumption of the joke.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:32 AM on July 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravity, the Michelle Obama joke isn't comparing her to an animal. It's about how National Geographic has tons of photos of topless women from various cultures that have different standards of modesty.

So the joke compares her to an "uncivilized native" at worst (I wouldn't be shocked if there was some NG article on Scandinavia that had topless blonde women in a sauna, so perhaps it just paints her as foreign/not "us"). I don't know if that's any better but at least now you can be accurate in the offense you take at the joke.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:53 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ted Chiang should not be writing novels. Ted Chiang should be writing short stories of such elegance and clockwork precision forever.
posted by Artw at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


So "nigger rig" is basically to jerry rig or to jury rig, but for racists?

Yeah. My extremly racist father sometimes substitutes the term "afro-engineered."
posted by Clay201 at 9:16 AM on July 18, 2009


Where's the story? You're a councilman and mayoral candidate! That's a position that comes with immense social responsibility and this is 2009 for chrissakes. You may not be the only one who does it, but you're supposed to be setting an example to follow moving forward, not leading us back into the "nasty, brutish" past.
posted by tybeet at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2009


That's a low standard of "racist", Peter.

It's a pretty low standard of funny as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:05 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, this is pretty bad stuff, appallingly bad, but this guy is some nobody from nowhere (Atwater City, who the eff are they?). I am not sure why every racist screed makes the cut.

Because the civilized world is sick of this fucked-up shit, and shining a light on it is the only way we are going to put an end to it.

If we can raise a single generation right, a whole lot of the problems in the past will be eliminated. I don't think we'll ever be rid of discrimination and "different is bad"ism, but the hardcore racism is like smallpox: we can essentially eradicate it by raising a generation in which it does not exist.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:46 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry, racist jokes make you racist. Whenever I hear one I just cringe and make a note to not invite that person to my house, or into my car, or anywhere I ever go, ever again. If you weren't racist the joke would make you cringe, not laugh. It certainly wouldn't inspire you to commit it to memory and tell it again and again.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 11:57 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravity, the Michelle Obama joke isn't comparing her to an animal. It's about how National Geographic has tons of photos of topless women from various cultures that have different standards of modesty.

Yeah that interpretation did not occur to me at the time, probably since I had just read about the remark by DePass in which he described a gorilla that escaped from the zoo as "just one of Michelle's ancestors." I'm still not 100% convinced-- today's National Geographic is not famous for photo essays on naked native woman, but they still feature animals.

Bah. I don't really care to discover what was meant behind that crap. I'm still overly upset about the Freepers calling the Obama girls ghetto trash. I haven't heard or seen so much overt racism in many years and I find it horrifying.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:35 PM on July 18, 2009


Man, white people sure do get offended.
posted by Allan Gordon at 3:28 PM on July 18, 2009


California is not just the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Oh, and this kind of crap doesn't just happen in the Central Valley or Shatwater, California, either, despite how smug some people can be about all that enlightenment and civilization in the coastal counties.
posted by blucevalo at 3:58 PM on July 18, 2009


What's long and hard on a black man?

Institutional racism.
posted by Legomancer at 4:28 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never understood why jerry-rig" or "nigger-rig" would be pejorative. It's clever and economical to fix things with spare parts or duct tape and bailing wire. Henceforth, perhaps we should say "MacGyver-rigged."

Secret Life of Gravy - my take on all this open racism is that "they" were just waiting for a chance to come out. Which means I have to believe Mad Men levels of sexism are there, too, just waiting for an excuse.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:53 AM on July 19, 2009


MacGyver-rigged is insulting to Minnesotans.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2009


I've never understood why jerry-rig" or "nigger-rig" would be pejorative.

Because it contains the word nigger. You could call a solid gold bar a"nigger bar" and it's still offensive.

As always, I defer to Ill Doctrine on this one. "what they did" vs. "what they are". They should teach this in schools.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:10 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


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