We are part of an era that has been undeniably cracking down on social issues concerning race, gender and sexuality more than ever before. While steps are clearly being taken in the right direction, I have noticed and personally experienced a largely overlooked inconsistency that continues to remain unspoken about — that is, the inconsistency within our intolerance of racism.
Being half Japanese, with some identifiable Asian traits, I’ve heard just about every possible racist joke directed at myself or other Asians. These jokes would more than qualify for the “decade-old-resurfaced-celebrity tweet Hall of Fame” that has been putting a lot of big names in hot water recently. Occasionally, when the creativity levels were particularly low, I’d even get some slurs such as the word “chink,” although “Jap” was a much more popular cheap shot of choice. They don’t come from stereotypical, run-of-the-mill, football-jersey-wearing bullies with daddy issues, but rather regular kids just like myself, including some of my friends.
In fairness, context matters. As stated, a lot of these jokes came from my close friends, who are comfortable enough with me to make these remarks on a mutual understanding that nothing is taken seriously. In fact, just about every race among my friends falls subject to some lighthearted banter, and I’ve admittedly made some light jokes back at my friends in these playful settings. Although I personally have never taken offense from racially charged jokes about my heritage, regardless of intent, I can still differentiate the contexts between meaningless lighthearted banter among friends and remarks from people I don’t know quite well enough for their jokes to be reaching such lengths. Growing up, I can unfortunately say that I’ve experienced my fair share of the latter.
I attended an extremely politically correct private school in New York City until the ninth grade, where we were strictly taught and made aware of social acceptance, with a rigid emphasis on certain groups such as African Americans or homosexual people. My second-grade teacher taught us that love can exist between two men or two women and that it was no different from love between a man and a woman. We were taught black history since as early as I can remember, and the teachings consistently reinforced the long-lasting and damaging effects that the subordination of such groups has caused and continues to cause. Any form of discrimination or belittlement was strictly prohibited and constantly enforced through a “no hate zone” policy in the school, and rightfully so. Thus, jokes toward such groups were seldom attempted, even outside of school.
Granted, we did learn our fair share of Asian history as well. Fourth grade was dedicated to Japanese culture and U.S. immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but that was it — historical events. What we didn’t learn, for instance, is that the term “zipperhead” was derived from the zipper-like appearance of the heads of dead Asian troops from being shot or tread over by military vehicles during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Yet under the school’s zero-tolerance policy, the same kids who would squint their eyes at me and say “ching chong” for easy laughs would reel back in horror on the occasion that someone would call something “gay” or direct a racially suggestive joke at one of the three black kids in our grade, which usually resulted in classmates seeking the aid of teachers for intervention. I don’t recall a single instance of classmates intervening when some of the jokes were directed at me or other Asians, or other races for that matter.
Despite growing up in a relatively sheltered environment, I can’t name how many times I have heard slurs referring to Asian people, Jewish people or Hispanic people in the form of a joke directed at people of the described race, myself included. I also cannot, however, name a single time I have witnessed a slur directed at a gay person for being gay, or a black person for being black, as a joke or not. The use of targeted racial slurs, jokes and remarks are either all OK or not OK, and abiding by an invisible “hierarchy” of intolerance to racism is as hypocritical as the very ideology that conceives of racism in the first place.
Sean Morton is a junior majoring in English.