They said that a black man would be president of the United States whenI didn't find it funny at all, and was disturbed that the person (a white person) who sent it to me had suggested (in the subject line) that I should find it funny.
pigs fly.....well, 100 days into Obama's administration.........
This is the response I wrote to the person who sent me this e-mail:
I went back and forth about sending this e-mail, but I think it needs to be sent.
Please note that I do not want to sound hostile, but the concerns I am going to voice may come off as offensive. So I apologize ahead of time.
I guess first of all I think I should explain that since I have been at college, I have learned to be very aware, not only of sexism, but of racism, ageism, ableism, etc. whenever it is thrown around, be it in jokes (like this e-mail seems to be) or in media (music videos, "reality" TV) or in government (pay practices, etc.).
I have come to realize that humor is often not simply "just a joke." It is very often a means of perpetuating the problems that Americans still have not come to terms with, problems we would like to kid ourselves into thinking are in the past.
For example, this "joke" that you send me via e-mail. It proves very much that America is not as "race-blind" as we would like to think it is. The "humor" in this e-mail is based on a longstanding form of racism in which white people blame all the ills of society on people of color (especially black people, who were and often still are characterized as lazy or vicious or rapists or sexually promiscuous). In this case, the connection between the "humor" and the racism is especially clear because there is no real reason to associate America having a black president with the outbreak of swine flu. The fact that this "joke" chose to frame the problem in this way (and that people find it funny enough to forward it so others can read it) illustrates that America is still not free of racism that uses the color of one's skin as justification for blaming them for all of this country's problems, even the ones that cannot be remotely attributed to people based solely on their skin color.
You have sent me similar e-mails in the past, and I have always wondered about your motive. If you disagree with me politically, that's one thing. But sending me things like this just to get under my skin is not really appropriate because of all the other regrettable implications.
Forwarding an e-mail may not seem like a big deal. It probably doesn't feel like you are contributing to a problem at all. But until we all can call out racism, sexism, ageism, etc. when we see it, even in the little ways like in "jokes," we are all doing our part in maintaining an unequal society.
If you feel I have misunderstood your intentions, please e-mail me back.
I received a quick response to my e-mail, and the person said they appreciated my response and valued my opinion, but they saw the original e-mail differently than I did. They said that they were originally drawn to the pun and they were not thinking in terms of politics of race. They also apologized for offending me.
They didn't acknowledge that my criticism of the e-mail was legitimate, however, which was additionally troubling. I understand that a lot of times, when I am talking to white people about racism, their white privilege gets in the way of them seeing the point I am trying to make. That's not an excuse for their refusal to call out racism, but it's a true problem that needs to be dealt with. Even I only first began to acknowledge my white privilege when I started to study feminism.
Overall, this was really upsetting to me. Racism, even this kind that is meant to be "funny" is really harmful, and is one of the many ways our society is structured to keep certain people down.