I am tired, tired, tired, of ironic racism. It has been bugging me in the back of my mind for a long time but I haven’t been able to put a finger on what this phenomenon is until… a few minutes ago.
Ironic racism is simply, executing racist actions (or saying racist things) under the guise that it is okay to do so because you know you’re being racist - i.e. it’s okay to be racist if you’re doing it ironically and not seriously. This is often done when people are joking or trying (desperately) to be funny.
Examples of ironically racist things that have been said to me: “I would never date an African… everyone from your continent has AIDS.” OR “I bet you disappear in the dark hehe” OR “Dayum that ho has a sexy weave!” Another example is people dressing up as pimps as ho’s, in blackface, and partying. Remember the compton cookout?
Supposedly, ironic racists can’t really be called out for their actions because their response is simple - of course they know what they said was racist, but they didn’t really mean it in a hateful way, so it’s absolutely okay. “What? I’m not racist. Dude I freakin’ love black people I volunteer for the NAACP I voted for Obama I would never kill a black person my sister’s cousin’s baby daddy is black and we let him come over once - so chill, it’s okay.” [Yay racial harmony means I can say WHATEVER THE
CUSS I WANT!]
If none of the above sentiments have triggered anything for you, I’ll be more obvious. Ironic racism is problematic for several reasons:
1. People think it is okay to be ironically racist because America (and the rest of the Western World) is postracial. Many are under the impression that racism is a thing of the past and joking about it is finally acceptable. Oh sure, there are some people who don’t like blacks/other minorities, but those racists no longer have any power, so they don’t matter. Besides, America has a black president now [let’s pretend we don’t know that he is just as white as he is black - if not more white than he is black] so America is an equal place. Let the jokes begin!
2. People think ironic racism is equivalent to satire. By making racist jokes - especially sarcastic ones - people think they are pointing out why racism is wrong. But if you are saying racist things without challenging their racist foundations, you have failed at being satirical. Because once you do something racist, your intention/meaning will not always be distinguishable to others who do not live in your brain. Get it? Circulating racism is simply circulating racism.
3. Ironic racists are often still unaware of their white privilege, and usually have no idea what “whiteness” is. While I don’t think racist jokes should be banned (they are admittedly pretty funny sometimes), it is important to note that you have no right to joke about something that you do not completely understand. And if you are unaware of your white privilege or how you benefit from being white in America, you cannot joke insensitively about minorities because it is oppressive. You can’t joke about black features (dark skin, nappy hair, or even weaves) if you are unaware that for decades, the media has glorified European features (long beautiful hair, light skin, thin noses) and upheld them as the standard of beauty, thus causing a longlasting insecurity in those who don’t look white. You can’t joke about blacks not going to college if you are unaware that the systemic inequality in the public education system has made sure that schools populated mostly by white students receive a far better education than schools with predominantly black students.
4. Often, people tread the line between being ironically racist and just not realizing that they’re being racist or generalizing, and that ambiguity protects their speech: “You can’t play basketball? You’re so whitewashed!” or “You look like a cholo in this picture!” or “Ooooh girl, let’s get some KFC!” When the area gets this grey, how are we supposed to be able to tell the unsupposing racists from the sarcastic f**ks?
Here is my marker for who can make racist jokes and where to draw the line with them: are you completely aware of your privilege and prejudices? Are you capable of dispelling the racist ideals that society has covertly instilled in you? If you are completely free of racism (or actively trying to be), and if that has been previously established by our relationship, well then… go ahead. Joke with me. You’re probably not a comedian. But try your best.
But think of this… if a racist (but conscious) person heard your joke - would they stop and think “haha - wait, I’m a complete idiot for holding this racist belief that was just joked about.” Or would they laugh? Would they just laugh, take your joke, and circulate it amongst their circle of racist, privileged friends?
While I think about the answer to this question, I am going to post this blog on the facebook pages of my ironically racist friends.
*Note: You do NOT have to be white in order to be classified as an ironic racist!*
**Addendum: Someone mentioned this to me after reading this blog and I found it worth sharing - see also: Hipster Racism.