Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Archie Bunker is Alive and Well, and Still Slinging His Ethnic Insults

We have a couple of groups of friends with whom we often get together. One group, in particular, travels overseas a lot, so the conversation is often about various nationalities and foreign countries. What is mind boggling is that this group is also exceptionally ethnocentric.

These people enjoy ridiculing many categories of foreigners, but one ethnicity upon which it is absolutely open season are the Italians. It’s not clear why, and it is very unwelcome, in that one of us is partially Italian-American. Since the group is very aware of this fact, the incessant anti-Italian barbs can only be a form of sadism, a form of bullying. Their “jokes” are the usual racist vulgarities - Italians are dirty, lazy, they are thieves, etc. The more alcohol these people consume, the worse it gets.

You may ask, why do we even bother to BE with such people? The truth is, we have compromised ourselves. We fear that if we are excessively “pure” in our moral judgments, we’ll end up without very many friends... Also, naively, we have thought we could perhaps educate these people, the way schools try to educate bullies. This is probably a lost cause, as bigots are usually set in their ways. Worse yet, when these individuals see that you are upset by their comments, they do not apologize. It’s a very uncomfortable situation for the few in the group who do not engage in such insults.

But this is not the place for us to whine about our personal problems. We write this essay to ask two questions: (1) How do you deal with racism masquerading as “ethnic humor”? And (2) what is the true meaning of such behavior? 

If you object to one of their ethnic jokes, they’ll say something like: “Oh come on, can’t you take a joke?” Or: “Jees, what’s the world coming to? Why is everybody so damn politically correct?” Or “Don’t be so sensitive...you are overreacting...”. We could reply that we are not overly sensitive, and it is they who are overly insensitive.

And then you try to make your point by saying, “Surely you wouldn’t ridicule or stereotype blacks or Hispanics this way, would you?” They might say (if they have some inkling of political reality): “Well, that’s different...”

Or you might try to make a counter-move, get angry and try to denigrate THEIR ethnicity (say, some variety of Anglo descent). Bad move. First of all, you now stoop to their level of vulgarity and bigotry. Furthermore, they are usually so dense that they can’t even understand jokes at the expense of “preferred” groups. Or, if worse comes to worst, they’ll show their true colors, and start seriously arguing that their ethnicity IS in fact better... So confronting racism with counter-racism is a bad idea all around.

The reality is this:

This is 2016, yet it’s amazing that there are still millions of “Archie Bunkers”(both male and female) around. These neanderthal fools are living in the past. We know many people who have put their prejudices away permanently and have become enlightened. Sadly, our country seems to have more than its share of such racism. America is exceptionally diverse, and it also has an exceptionally high level of racism and ethnocentrism - venom towards outgroups. Trump’s current popularity proves this.

Derision, ridicule and contempt for someone else’s ethnicity are simply a form of racist aggression, a deluded belief in one’s own racial and cultural superiority, an uneducated, moronic and 19th century mentality that is still widespread among millions of ignorant people. Ethnic jokes are a form of aggression against the “other,” the outgroup, the non-me, the one who is different from me. It is a statement that I am better. It is a vile form of aggression, because it cowardly masquerades as “friendly banter,” which it is most definitely is not. It’s obvious that we still have a long way to go in educating people.
© Tom Kando 2016
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