Satire, race, and raw nerves
Published: Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 20:04
I don't know how much good this is going to do. Since many of the people offended by my April Fools' joke column "Enjoy Obamacare if you like payin for illegal Mexicans" have admittedly never read my leftist, borderline ideologue column before, perhaps it's unlikely that they'll read this one. But here goes.
In CBS News 4's staggeringly "fair and balanced" report on the shitstorm that followed our April 1 edition, UC Denver student Doron Katriel was quoted saying, "It just hit me, like, wait a minute. These are people's true opinions, and they used April 1st as a time to cover it up."
That there may be no doubt, let me make my "true opinions" known: For one, I am about as hard-line in favor of immigration as it's possible to get, illegal or not. In the richest country in the world, it's appalling to me that we're so willing to grab any excuse we can to exclude the citizens of our neighbor to the south from sharing what we have, as if there's not enough of it to go around.
Of course, there really are plenty of people who will argue things like, "Them Mexicans are takin' our jobs," and will do so with a straight face. It's a perverse rationale. The root of that kind of argument is selfishness, elitism, and xenophobia.
In my column, it was my intent to portray those offensive views for what they are: ignorant and absurd. As many of the outraged parties helpfully pointed out, it was poorly written, stupidly argued, and riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Folks, that was the whole point: People who think this way are idiots. Joke's on them.
Nevertheless, in the conversations I had with offended parties last week, a theme emerged: I went too far. I touched a nerve. As a white male, how could I possibly understand what it's like to be the victim of racism like this on a daily basis?
I can't. But I do know that racism of exactly this kind absolutely exists—and as a white male, I know all too well how many white people would like to believe it doesn't. Especially now, with a black man in the presidency, there's a particular danger of making the calming assumption that we live in a post-racial happy fun-land. It's tempting to think that the fact of a black man in the White House absolves us of the reality that minorities still face: the insidious bigotry, both cultural and institutional, that persists in this society. The evidence of it is ample.
At the rally on Monday, April 5, I was asked to apologize. I politely declined. Since it was difficult, over the noise of the booing, to articulate my reasons for that, I will do so now.
I would not apologize then because I am not sorry for what I wrote. I am, however, sorry for the effect it had. I am sorry that, in their haste to confront what they perceived as racism, the victims of it confronted not that racism itself, but a joke at its expense. It saddens me personally to be the figure at the receiving end of their anger. And I especially regret the crass opportunism this institution has engaged in by directing that anger toward a convenient scapegoat.
But I will not apologize for calling that racism out, nor do I regret calling it out through satire, a subtle yet effective means of social commentary. In a conversation I had with Katriel after CBS's newscast, he asked me what my goal was in writing the column. My answer is this: As a political writer—and let's be honest, I'm basically a pundit—my goal is to make people think, to challenge their assumptions, and yeah, at times to make them angry. And it's my belief that people should be angry about the way race is treated in this country—I certainly am.
On Monday, a lot of people came out to voice their outrage about just that. And although I would rather not be the target of that outrage, it's still, on principle, an outrage I support 100 percent.
And in that way, I think I've done my job.