Trolling for Antiracism

There is a white woman. She is baking a chocolate cake for
her little white son, Timmy. She turns around to grab something from off of
the counter and Timmy takes some of the chocolate frosting and rubs it all over
his face. He says, “Look, Mommy, I’m black!” His mother slaps him and says, “Don’t you ever say that in this house. Go tell your father what you just
said.” Timmy goes to his father and says, “Look, Daddy, I’m black!” His father
slaps him and says, “Don’t you ever say that in this house, go tell your
grandfather what you just said.” Timmy goes to his grandfather and says, “Look, Grandpa, I’m black.” His grandfather slaps him and says, “Don’t say that in
this house. Go back to your mother.” Timmy comes back and his mother asks,
“Now, Timmy, what did you learn today?” and Timmy says, “I’ve learned that
I’ve been black for five minutes and I already hate white people.”

That’s a racial joke of the most sophisticated kind,
courtesy of comedian Paul Mooney. But my point is not to debate whether or not black students
hate white students, and it wouldn’t take very much work to conclude the reverse
(what with all the scrawlings of the n-word on people’s whiteboards). My
point is the opening joke I told. The punchline is a distraction; the real gag
is in the story. Timmy gets slapped in the face with an assured “That’s
racist” reproach, but never really learns why what he did was wrong. Timmy may
grow up to be one of those college first-years who asks only in the company of
other white men, “Why isn’t there a Men’s Union? Why isn’t there an
Office of White Student Affairs?” because he’s learned that he would be slapped
if he went public. This is part of the problem in Claremont: there is no wide
understanding of race and comedy. Trolling performances and semi-rhetorical
questions are just one of the many ways in which students digest their
anxieties about race. This article is an attempt to sit Timmy down and let him
know, as we say, what’s “really good.”

There already is a Caucasian Culture Club. It’s called the
Claremont Colleges. People like Biz Markie or Roxanne Chanté are not the main
musical numbers at Smiley 80s, and Ski/Beach Day (despite being made affordable
through Pomona College) still involves skiing. We have a Classics Department,
and new students never seem to find that questionable. The list goes on. And
you may think, “But there’s a basketball team, and I totally know who Caetano
Veloso is, why do they need a separate space?” This argument would hold more
water on a campus where people didn’t say things like, “I don’t usually
date/hook-up with black girls…” or “Where are you really from?” or “I’m glad
you’re not like the rest of them…” or in a place where I can’t be at a house
party where the only black people present are myself and the musicians on iTunes. Some people seem to think that
“American Indian” or “Mexican” costumes are viable dress-up options (and, no, Pocahontas
is not radically OK because she’s mediated through a corporation that historically has produced the animated equivalent of blackface). These “other” spaces
are necessary therapy for minoritized students on campus. If Timmy is upset about not having his own de jure space to go to,
imagine my anxiety at de facto having none. I can’t speak as a woman, but it
doesn’t take the mental equivalent of pulling teeth to think about women
needing to create and maintain their own spaces where they can deal with their
experiences regarding patriarchy without having to be like, “I know all men
aren’t like this…” or “I know you aren’t like that,” every time they speak. And
if Rush Limbaugh has the capacity to teach you anything, it could be that slut-shaming is still a thing in our culture. The Queer Resource Center is just that, a
center that has Queer resources. If you want to learn the ins and outs (pun
intended) of certain sexual practices, you could
consult your xvideos tabs, or you could check out a resource. These are just some of the
ways that interested people can understand how these things work without having
to put so many people through so much stress. And if worse comes to worst, we
do have whole departments dedicated
to intellectually engaging with these issues. Now, on to the part where you let me tell you why
what you did was wrong.

Being someone who loves irony and transgressing and trolling
(it was the topic of my media studies capstone paper), I can totally imagine the
ways in which that Caucasian Culture Club joke seemed like a funny and
righteous thing to do. But, listening to what they said about the event, I was left unsatisfied. One of the experiment’s designers, Alvaro Parra PZ ’13, said, “We had the idea of doing a mockumentary
to see what we could provoke by the formation of a fictitious club called the
Caucasian Culture Club,” and Michael Ceruso PZ ’13, who acted as the club’s president, said, “We wanted to see how students would respond to this
club. We wanted to see where we are
at understanding one another.” And I’m not usually one to foreground the
intentions of anyone who produces something controversial, but in this case “We
wanted to see what would happen” is not a sufficient reason to put so many
people under so much stress. Parra
also spoke of “a fragile balance that exists concerning race relations at the
Claremont Colleges that is usually veiled in some politically correct talk.”
Even when dealing with an actual issue (the lie of “Political Correctness”) the
logic of the project still is just “let’s wait and see.” One student reported
feeling hurt and angered, and my personal experience with friends while reading
the article was none too pleasant. One imagines what would have gone down had I
been in the room. I’m not saying that we should all walk on eggshells and
create a false sense of safety for students of color—or anyone for that matter—because I should feel safe without pretense. And I do in these spaces.

Recently I received a Chirp (Pomona’s e-newsletter) in which a
student group of which I was a part wanted to do a panel on politics and
comedy. Having been on a panel for this last semester, having been a
participant in an identical event from the same organization two years ago and
having written the watered-down version of a thesis on it, I thought it was
prudent to send the organizer an e-mail:

“Hello,

My
name is theory friction practice and my media studies capstone project was on
comedy and politics and it seems like white people need this question answered
for them bi-annually, so I would love to be on the panel and I’m sure I could
bring some academic/sexy perspectives onto the issue,

 

tfpractice”

Granted, the response was somewhat irreverent and insensitive
(because clearly this message was sensitively written), but I have yet to see a response. And it doesn’t do
very much for me or for “my people” for me to have to bring little Timmy to the
side and tend to his wounds, but if you don’t see me on that panel (whenever it
is) we can at least hope that if people read and understand this article, I
won’t have to write another article about Claremont’s race problems for a little
while. Because it’s funny if you think we’re joking, but it becomes less
funny when we see headlines like this in non-collegiate publications from 1906:  “Negro, Seen in Dream, Causes
Death of Girl.” And still, I laugh every time I read that.

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