Tiffany B. Brown

How every conversation about race ever on the internet goes

Someone makes a comment or corny “joke” that is kinda racist and kinda classist, but mostly harmless.1

kid yelling thats racist!

Someone else — sometimes in the group targeted, sometimes not — says “Hey THAT’S RACIST!”

Someone else, usually not in the target group (read: “someone not black / Latino / Asian American / Native American, because those are typically the groups of people this kind of thing involves”) says “Geez! You’re so sensitive. Can’t you take a joke?”

Somebody, often, but not necessarily of the target group (and again, by “target group,” I mean a person of color or POC), says “STOP DIMINISHING MY PAIN, YOU RACIST FUCKWIT.”

At this point, someone else, usually a POC jumps in (or is asked to weigh in) and says “Whatever. It’s not racist. I’m a POC, so I’m an official arbiter of this shit.” Sometimes this person will add “Or maybe it’s because I grew up in the suburbs, and therefore am not as blackety-black (or brownety-brown, etc.) as these other POC who have a problem with it.”2 And/or “I am used to white people’s shenanigans, and if I got mad every time I had to deal with white people shenanigans, I wouldn’t get shit else done.” The subtext is usually “GOSH OTHER POC/NON-POC ALLY STOP BEING SO SENSITIVE!” (Hint: look for the phrase “thick[er] skin.”)

This aforementioned POC co-signer may also ask “WHY ISN’T THIS CLASSIST? WHY ARE GHETTO PEOPLE’S WAYS CONSIDERED ALL OF OUR WAYS?” At this point, if you’re lucky, someone will drop a link to the intersectionality wikipedia page into the debate and point out that:

  • it’s racist, but deeply shaped by class;
  • can’t exactly be separated from class (“It’s 52.8% racist and 47.2% classist!”);
  • and classism isn’t a distinction most of the observers of this discussion are going to make.

But usually ends is with pleas for “reason,” “sanity.” And people get nowhere because they’re too busy arguing whether one side’s right to make a kinda racist, kinda classist, but mostly just a really shitty, corny, supremely groan worthy, lame-ass attempt at a joke supercedes the other side’s right to at least demand that if you’re going to appropriate a slang term popularized by the predominantly black (and Afro-Latino) art form known as hip-hop and try to make a joke that explicitly links it to prison culture, then perhaps you should work on improving your comedy writing skills. 3

1 And by “mostly harmless,” I mean “doesn’t deprive anyone of life, liberty, health, or employment.”

2 Yeah, I am probably projecting based on previous experiences with such black folks. Actually, this entire post could fairly be called a cheap shot. But for what it’s worth, I am also from the suburbs, but not the kind where “grew up in the suburbs” is code for “grew up around white people.” How’s that for confounding your race-and-class expectations? (And why do people try to make this a class / geographic thing? whenBy the way, his comment, as any bourgeois Negro knows is an examplea prime example of post-blackness.)

3 Now, I didn’t bother reading past like the third post in that thread because I know how to spot a hot ass Internet mess at 20 paces. I knew whatever I said, no matter how carefully I said it, would be picked apart and contorted, if not dismissed outright, and odds were high I’d also get called a “reverse racist” in the process.

That said, I noticed the original “shiv”/”homie” comment back in like 2008? 2009, maybe? It rankled me then for the reasons I explained above. I chose to ignore it, however. I knew from my decade of prior experience trying to serve “Diversity 101″ lessons up to college chums and internet assholes that it would turn into a shit storm. And who wants to be at the eye of an industry shit storm? So instead, I chose to roll my eyes and crack jokes to myself and others about the diversity of the developer team’s friend circle(s). We may also have pondered whether there’s a relationship between failed jokes like this and the relative dearth of black American and Hispanic web developers in the industry.

By the way, you can replace POC with “woman” and racism/classism with “sexism” and this is pretty much how conversations about gender go too.

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