Monday, April 7, 2014

News Briefs 4/7/2014

“Attempted Murder” in Pakistan 

Breaking News: In Pakistan, a nine-month-old boy was booked for attempted murder.

"The police filed a wrong, false arrest charge sheet and brought this innocent 9-month-old into this court room for an appearance," said the family's lawyer, Irfan Tarar.

According to a senior police officer, Atif Zulfikar Butt, several police officers and a bailiff went to a home hoping to get payment for a gas bill. The infant's father, one of his teenage sons, and others in the residence severely injured some of the officials by tossing bricks their way.

“How and why the baby was implicated was unclear, though the Lahore police official acknowledged that the child appeared in court Wednesday and was booked as his grandfather held him,” says the CNN article.

I guess there might be stranger things happening in the world?

- Eta Oyarijivbie


Race, Gender, and Higher Education

I’m sure you all heard of Kwasi Enin, the 17-year old student from Long Island who was accepted to all of the Ivy League schools, by now. Hearing that news was pretty emotional for me. I was overjoyed that a highly motivated black student was able to attain the success that he deserved. I was angered when I read comments on the Internet that stated that Enin only got into the Ivy League schools because of affirmative action. One of the comments was on Reddit, in which a user by the name of MisterMJH stated: “Was expecting to read about some new prodigy. Came away disappointed, finding out it's just the next example of affirmative action and college selectionism.” As well as being angered, I was a bit bitter. It seems like no matter how ambitious a black student is, there will always be people who do not believe that he (or she) truly deserves to achieve.

This reminds me of the ‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ campaign, which shows black students displaying certain experiences of the racism that they face. Unfortunately, Kwasi Enin, as well as other students like him, might be prone to such experiences. The picture that stood out to me (and is the most relevant to highlighting the cries of ‘affirmative action’) is the one in which a black man is holding a sign that reads, “Surprise! My application to Harvard wasn’t just a picture of my face.” Here is the picture:

There are also gender-related issues, in addition to race-related issues, on college campuses. Last Monday, an account of the aftermath of a sexual assault was published on the Crimson. It was titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win.” This account highlights the lack of effort that Harvard, and other colleges, places on preventing sexual assault and prosecuting the perpetrators. In this account, the student writes, “My assailant will remain unpunished. Today, Harvard, I am writing to let you know that you have won.” Read the rest of the account here.

Fortunately, there is more action being done to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. In January, President Obama appointed a task force to focus on a widespread issue, which caused many college campuses to start to address the issue. Colleges are doing so by developing a clear definition of sexual assault and punishments of assaulters, creating websites for victims of sexual assault, and starting centers for sexual assault prevention. To test if those new initiatives are working, Al Jazeera started a social media campaign called Tracking Assault, in which students will answer these questions:
Does your college or university handle sexual assault well?
Has you school made any changes, and what impact have they had?
Are student attitudes about sexual assault changing?
What more could your school do?

In many classes, universities address issues related to race and gender. However, they have yet to address and reduce these issues on their campuses.

- Jacqueline Retalis



When the #CancelColbert controversy kicked off last weekend, I was primed to dismiss it without a second thought. For a start, I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert. I have watched just about every episode of the Colbert Report since the show’s debut in 2005, and will happily defend the assertion that it delivers some of the most trenchant social commentary television has to offer. I am also a member of pretty much every privileged category in America: a straight white male from an affluent background. I am essentially the target that Suey Park set out to critique.

For the record, the Twitter movement started after a tweet from the Colbert Report’s (though not Stephen Colbert’s) official account made a reference to a segment in which Colbert announced a foundation “for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” as a satirical dig at Washington Redskin’s owner Dan Snyder and his transparent PR move in starting the “Original Americans Foundation.” Under different circumstances I have no doubt that I would have rolled my eyes at the apparent overreaction and hypocrisy of Suey Park and her followers, and would’ve gotten on with my life. Unfortunately, my first exposure to the issue was through Reddit—a website that consists largely of affluent white men entertaining each other, occasionally at the expense of anyone who doesn’t fit that description.

A link to a Huffington Post interview about #CancelColbert described it as an “epic fail” on Park’s part. And while I did take issue with some of what Park said in the course of her five-minute interview, it didn’t seem like she was allowed to say much. Josh Zepps, the interviewer, seemed not to be terribly interested in giving her the chance to say her piece. Instead, he made her point for her with his continuous condescension, by interrupting her and dismissing her opinion with the smug assurance that he didn’t even have to question whether his preconceived notions might be wrong. He reacted harshly to Park’s suggestion that, as a white man, he wasn’t really in a position to understand the offense that Colbert’s satirical use of slurs might cause, but I couldn’t help but feel that he’d strengthened her case with a clear example of a white liberal thoughtlessly defending racially charged humor.

Since then, I have hesitated to pass any judgment on the #CancelColbert movement—for fear of being like Josh Zepps—and have done a lot of reading to try to get past several layers of confusion. For a start, Park has asserted that it was not actually her intention to get the Colbert Report canceled; that was an exaggerated stance designed to attract the kind of controversy and attention that would not have accompanied #MakeColbertApologize. There has also been a lot of confusion about what actually sparked the movement—whether it was a reaction to an out-of-context tweet, or to the actual segment. Initially, I was in the camp that believed that Park had missed the context and refused to back down from that first reaction, but Park has asserted that this is not the case—that she saw the segment and was planning a response before the inciting tweet ever went out.

On top of all this, I added my own layer of confusion to the mixture by focusing on the new content of the segment—regarding the foundation—which struck me (and still does strike me) as effective satire, rather than on the 8 year old clip that the segment replayed. Having seen that clip replayed on a number of different episodes, and knowing that it came from the show’s first season, I suppose I glossed over its content. After all, why would all this controversy have arisen over something from 2005?

Well, as Suey Park has pointed out, she was in middle school in 2005, and no platform like Twitter existed at the time, so you can’t exactly blame her for not jumping on the issue back then. On top of that, there’s the fact that Colbert chose to replay that clip which, whether or not it was justified in its original context (I have been unable to track down what the clip was originally satirizing), loses that defense in replay, and comes off a bit like an unaccompanied recipe for Irish baby stew.

Lastly, it’s honestly kind of hard to think of a context that would be compelling enough to justify the caricature that Colbert portrayed. Ching Chong Ding Dong—with his broken English, and invocation of a number of Asian stereotypes—is obviously meant to be over the top, but so is a minstrel show. If it wouldn’t be alright for him to don blackface in order to satirize racism, why is it alright for him to play to an audience’s knee-jerk laughter at squinted eyes and the “Oriental riff”?

As this controversy has continued, Suey Park has been critical of the idea that white liberals can be made to understand this issue, or that it should be her job to try to make them understand. She has also flat out said that she doesn’t want white people on her side. There is a sense that incorporating the input of white people, or trying to play to their (our) sensibilities would weaken and delegitimize the message. Some of what she’s said also seems to suggest that she’s trying to give white people a taste of their (our) own medicine—to make them feel dismissed, minimalized, pigeon-holed, and see how they (we) react. And they (we) have definitely been reacting—with articles and comment sections across the internet railing against her supposed oversensitivity and hypocrisy, calling her a bitch and an SJW (which apparently means Social Justice Warrior, and is apparently meant as an insult…).

While I can’t agree with everything that Suey Park says or all of her tactics, she wouldn’t expect me to, and that is really not the point. The point is that just because someone is a liberal—just because they are making fun of someone who is more racist, just because they make us laugh and we don’t have an initial negative reaction to the way they do it—doesn’t mean they are above criticism, or that we should jump to their defense.

There seems to be a defensive impulse among a lot of white people based on the idea that, if we don’t immediately see why something is racist, we must therefore be racist. But if we’re not willing to take a step back and consider that our experience hasn’t prepared us to know why something might be offensive, then we can only perpetuate the boundaries that already exist—become part of the dominant structure that interrupts, dismisses, patronizes. It’s easy for white people in our culture to pretend that race isn’t important, because we aren’t force to face its consequences on a daily basis. Whatever you might think about the #CancelColbert movement, it sparked a conversation that’s worth having.

--Keith Baldwin

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