"They weren't sent as a racist, viscous act. They were sent as a very stupid act, and I don't know how many times I can say tell you I'm sorry."
Atwater city councilman Gary Frago is defending himself after e-mails he sent out surfaced in Friday's Merced-Sun Star newspaper. "If I could retract them all, knowing what I know now, I would retract all of them."
This sentence highlights a comment misperception about racism. Namely, that something is racist only if it's vicious or hateful.
Wrong. The definition of racism is simply discrimination by race. It says nothing about whether this discrimination is malicious or not. Claiming "Asians are super-intelligent" would be a racist remark despite its (apparent) lack of malice.
Frago is trying to distinguish between "jokes" and insults or attacks that discriminate on the basis of race. But there's no such distinction. They're both racist by definition.
Nor should we excuse Frago because he believes "jokes" are harmless. You have to be pretty stupid to think comparing Michelle Obama to a gorilla doesn't carry a whiff of malice. The question isn't whether the jokes were malicious; they were. The question is why Frago was apparently blind to their maliciousness.
Frago reverses himself
At least he didn't give a non-apology apology. You know, like, "I'm sorry if these e-mails offended anyone who doesn't have a sense of humor." He seems to be reasonably sincere.
For more on the subject, see Study Shows People Ignore Racism and Everybody Is Racist.