Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On new technology and old jokes

Okay, so this is just flabbergasting on a number of levels. The fact that he said it. The fact that he said it on the Internet. The fact that he thought it was okay to say it on the Internet. The fact that he thought it in the first place (although that's not quite as flabbergasting as I wish it were). But some people will always, always be cruel enough and dumb enough to out themselves as cruel and dumb:
SC: Republican activist calls escaped gorilla an “ancestor” to Michelle Obama on Facebook

A prominent S.C. Republican Party activist is in hot water after describing an escaped gorilla at a South Carolina zoo as an “ancestor” of First Lady Michelle Obama.

The exchange occurred after Trey Walker, an advisor to S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, posted an innocuous Facebook update about this morning’s escape of a Western Lowlands Gorilla from Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo.

Walker’s harmless update, however was followed by a highly-questionable comment from longtime SCGOP activist and former State Senate candidate, Rusty DePass.

“I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors — probably harmless,” DePass wrote.

Now, everyone who thinks this is okay on any level, I want you to find a course on remedial U.S. history at your local community college, audit it, and close this window, because what follows will make no sense to you. To the rest of you: What. The. Fuck?! This is a man old enough to have seen the civil-rights movement firsthand, and he's (ostensibly) worldly enough to know why it's completely inappropriate and wholly racist. And everyone who disagrees with that can also close this window, because no amount of conversation in comments will ever turn me to your side of the argument.

And of course, DePass followed up his initial inexcusable comment with a half-assed apology:
Busted by South Carolina political blogger Will Folks on his FITNEWS blog, DePass told WIS-TV in Columbia, “I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest.”

"I'm sorry if I offended offended" is, of course, a perfectly distinction to make in a world where many people would love to be compared to an ape, black people in particular. And the fact that it was "clearly in jest," meaning that Michelle Obama isn't actually part gorilla, excuses him saying that she's part gorilla.

His "apology" was, of course, then followed by an attempt at justifying his actions:
Then he added, “The comment was hers, not mine,” claiming Michelle Obama made a recent remark about humans descending from apes. The Daily News could find no such comment.

Ohhh, right. It was totally a Darwin thing, and we just weren't bright enough to pick up on it. Silly us.

This is just another knot in a growing string of racist slurs against the Obamas. We've seen, of course, the famous Obama food stamps ("[The ribs, watermelon, and fried chicken were] just food to me. It didn't mean anything else," she says), the Obama sock monkey (created with the intent of “transcend[ing] still existing racial biases,” and the "White House" buttons at the Texas national convention. But we're talking about people with some influence in the GOP sphere here. We're talking about the GOP operative who wrote an oh-so-clever tweet about Aspirin and the GOP staffer who deeply regretted sending her funny-funny racist e-mail to the wrong list. And now it's this asshole.

But maybe we're making too much of this.
Eric Davis, the current chairman of the Richland County Republicans, said his predecessor should get a pass. "Everyone says stupid things they regret later. I think the world should move on," he said.

You know what? No. Why should we move on? What about this makes it a "move on" kind of offense? Whoops-I-tapped-your-bumper-get-it-fixed-on-my-insurance is a "move on" offense. I-completely-forgot-we-were-supposed-to-get-together-this-weekend-I-owe-you-a-drink is a "move on" offense. Implying that the first lady is a gorilla, on Facebook, thinking it's okay to say that kind of thing publicly, is not a "move on" offense.

As a matter of fact, I think that, particularly in light of the aforementioned displays of racism that preceded this event, it's the diametrical opposite of a "move on" offense. It's the kind of offense that we need to pick over and dissect and look at the history and figure out why people don't realize how wrong this is (if they don't know) and why people say it anyway (if they do).

And not that it's the greatest thing to have such things in your head in the first place, at least have the sense to recognize how horrible they are and not say them out loud. I wrote sometime back - here, I think - about a time in my life when people would have the sense not to say such things out loud. They still thought them, which is bad, but they at least had the sense to know that they shouldn't be thinking them and thus kept them to themselves. Apparently, that time is over, because people like Rudy DePass are not only saying them but saying them on Facebook for the world to see.

And a note to GOPpers of an older generation who are fairly new to digital technology and social media - what you say on the Internet lives there forever. E-mails get forwarded, blog posts end up in the wayback machine, and Facebook posts and tweets are going to get screen-capped and sent to everyone at the speed of light. Enable your privacy settings, avoid the "reply all" button, wait ten minutes before hitting "send," but most importantly, have some shame. Pay attention to the world around you and figure out what's not okay to say. Maybe eventually, you'll learn not to think it either.

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