Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Banana Incident: Perpetuating Racism by Suppressing Satire

A few nights ago, a hockey fan threw a banana at a Wayne Simmonds, a black hockey player, during a game at the John Labatt Centre here in London Ontario. The symbolism of it was probably intentional, and it's a disgusting act of racism. I hope the perpetrator is caught and brought to justice (even if justice is just a mischief charge and humiliation).

But let's put this in perspective: nobody died. No bystanders saw the banana and thought "hey, I never thought of the connection between black people and monkeys! I think I'll become a racist now!" The hockey player himself blew it off as silly. Also: we are having serious discussions about something referred to as the banana incident.

That is hilarious.

Many people see the humour in it. I joked about it with some people on Twitter. In one reply, @famousandfave and I made racist comments about black and white iPhones; I referred to black as the "lesser colour," because my phone is white.

A few hours later, someone saw a snippet of this conversation and retweeted it with the comment "lesser colour? #UNFOLLOW". For good measure, she included London's hash tag, so that the whole city could be informed of my racism. Against black iPhones.

Of course, she failed to even read the context of the conversation, and when people pointed out that I was talking about Apple products and not people, she refused to acknowledge the mistake or apologize for publicly accusing someone of racism due to her failure in reading comprehension. She just called it #notfunny.

Some people share similar sentiments. That nobody should joke about racism, since it's such a serious issue. "Discrimination is not for jest," said one tweeter.

Respecting an issue and being able to joke about it are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, often complementary.

I can't believe I'm sucking all humour out of this by explaining it, but here is an example. By sarcastically applying racist stereotypes to iPhone colours, it is humourous, because it is taking a serious human issue and unexpectedly applying it to mundane inanimate objects. But it also serves the purpose of respecting the issue, by demonstrating that discrimination based on phone colours is just as arbitrary as discrimination based on skin colour.

Pointing out the absurdity of racism is both funny and in service of the greater good. This isn't a new idea; satire has been around since we were writing on papyrus (thanks Wikipedia).

Plus, ignoring all that, bananas are funny. They look a bit like weirdly bent dongs, and the word is fun to say ("banananannanaaa" lolz). As Freud would have said, sometimes a banana is just a banana.

If we discourage joking about racism or awkward racist incidents, either by blatantly saying "you shouldn't joke about that" or by failing to appreciate that a joke is a joke, the racists have won. Why? Because intolerance thrives best in the shadows.

Today, that's where racism lives. All decent people (and most people are decent) realize how irrational intolerance is. The remaining bigots, then, must remain hidden to thrive. They weasel around behind the scenes  doing damage when nobody is looking.

We can't let them get away with that.

If we refuse to allow decent people to express themselves about racism—and that expression includes humour, sarcasm and satire—then we're only empowering the racists. We're allowing the dirtbags to keep dinking around in the dark, instead of draggin them into the light, sometimes dressed in a clown costume.

If you don't find something funny, the appropriate response is to not laugh. Telling people what they can or cannot joke about, or trying to publicly shame them, is its own form of intolerance. Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue fighting bigotry while somehow managing to enjoy life along the way.


Anonymous said...

let's face it, if you had a cool black iphone you would think it was the best colour.

I have white one with a green cover. Multicultural ftw!

Seriously though, the banana incident, no one knows why whoever through the banana decided to through it. It could have simply been it was the only thing the person had to throw. It could have been a child. It could have been to make him slip (tom and jerry style) The fact that we all jumped to claim racist shows what kind of society we have become.

Making every single thing about race is what's racist.

Angela Schneider said...

I'm wearing grey boots today, the best of both colours. So there's no way I'm racist.

What bugs me the most about this 'incident' is the shock and outrage ... because it involved an NHL hockey player.

There are far worse examples of racism every day in our communities. But we refuse to do acknowledge that or do anything about it.

Jeff P said...

To finish that Freud quote, "...but usually it's a penis."

I think perhaps part of the reason that people have their back up a bit, and aren't taking humour lightly, is because there have been a lot of people on twitter and facebook trying to argue that the banana toss wasn't racist. In that way, joking about it could seem like it's an informal means of condoning/shrugging off the situation which, admittedly, should be taken seriously.

Does that mean we can't make jokes? No, I don't think so. But I think there's a real fear (a valid one too) that nothing is going to come of this. The tosser will never be caught, we'll all feel better because we've publicly wrung our hands appropriately, and the entire thing will be a distant memory in a month or two...all the while the racists, who you mentioned lurking in the shadows, will still be around trying to ruin it for everyone.

Also, all hail the white iPhone.

Anonymous said...

This banana ordeal is ridiculous. Racism is bad, yes. And it shouldn't be promoted in any way. But a police investigation is just as foolish. Believe it or not, racism does exist in London, Ontario. Just as many types of discrimination do. Are we to call the police every time someone makes a discriminatory remark? I can just imagine what playgrounds would be like. An apology from the mayor to Mr. Simmonds and the NHL would have been sufficient. Let's not be overly dramatic here. Good people live in London and so do jerkholes. The police should be focusing on more important issues, like tasering teens.

Candice said...

The phrases "you shouldn't joke about that" and "______ is never funny" enrage me, and have actually caused me to unfollow people. Which I suppose is a bit intolerant of me.

Anonymous said...

I think the folly of your argument is you failed to show how anyone 'suppressed' the 'satire' you engaged in. Disagreeing with your idea, or your argument doesn't constitute suppression. If your views were deleted by a board manager, or if withheld from expressing your opinion.. that would be an act to suppress. You have a right to express yourself in anyway you choose, but others have that exact same right to like or dislike it, and voice their opinion in the same manner. Example: someone doesn't like your blog and orders it removed from the internet.. if it is removed without your approval that is suppression of thought and speech. Opposed to someone disagreeing with the content of said blog, that is someone exercising the same rights and freedoms you are afforded.

Phronk said...

Anon #1: True...though personally I'd bet that there was racist intent there. In principle I agree that being overly sensitive about race does no good.

Angela: So true. It's sad that there needs to be a gimmick (eg A BANANA) in a public place for the outrage. I'm sure most people have overheard more blatant examples of racism and failed to raise an eyebrow.

Jeff: I agree that it shouldn't be shrugged off, and my guess is that it was indeed racist. But it also shouldn't be taken as the news story of the century. In the end, it is just one jerk acting out. With a banana.

Anon #2: Agreed. Police shouldn't be spending our resources on symbolic expressions of misguided opinions.

Candice: OMG, you're so intolerant of people who are intolerant of people passionate about being intolerant of intolerance.

Anon #3: Good point. "Suppress" may not have been quite the right word, but it sounded nice in the title. I don't claim that anyone is trouncing on my rights or anything; I just disagree with them. Discouraging jokes isn't suppression, but it does contribute to a climate of excessive political correctness, which makes bigotry even worse.

The Real Hipster said...

i feel like blackberrys are the hard-working, smart, undervalued indians of the smartphone world and the samsung galaxy is the illegal mexican of smartphones, getting the job done but getting no respect.

Anonymous said...

It's ok to joke about things. Hell it's your right to joke about whatever you want, but I feel you flip flop a bit.
I find it funny because you even make mention of @famousandfave in your blog.
The two of you on twitter have tried to purposely do more than joke IMO, about this situation. I feel the comments back and forth now are more of an attempt to "shock" people and ruffle feathers rather than joke.
What's also "funny" is you both made "jokes" about the woman who has set up a reward to anyone who would come forward with the banana toasted name, but then you commend the same person over twitter for being passionate?
For someone with a PHD in psychology, you should probably know better. You would likely know that people may take your "jokes" as too far. They may make a person trying to do good (like the person offering up the reward) feel judged. Your jokes may even make others think you are insensitive?
But hey, do whatever you'd like. It's your right, your opinion, and this is just my opinion.

Phronk said...

Real Hipster: You shouldn't joke about that.

Anon #4: Fair enough, and thanks for your opinion. In my opinion, jokes that go "too far" are the ones that are funniest (to me), and also the ones that make people think. Some feathers need ruffling. So I'll agree that I went there. I don't mean to hurt anyone, but if people get uncomfortable and reexamine their initial reactions, that is positive and productive.

However, let me clear a few things up. The targets of my jokes have been: 1) overreaction to the banana incident (e.g., the continued focus on that over the taser incident or Trail's End incident); and 2) racism itself (as in the example in my post).

I never meant to mock Tracy or the other person who offered a reward. As I've said to her, I don't really agree with the overreaction and witch-hunt mentality that a reward encourages, but I do admire her dedication to standing up for what she believes is right. We're both on the same side, just have different ideas of how to promote it.

@famousandfave probably has different ideas and beliefs, sometimes expressed in a shocking or humourous way. We're different people. It's cool to hear all sides, expressed in all different ways.