July 18, 2009

Racist "jokes" are no jokes

Questions raised about councilman's conduct after discovery of racist e-mails

By Jonah Owen LambIn the past several months Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago has sent at least a half-dozen e-mails to city staff and other prominent community members containing racist jokes aimed at President Barack Obama, his wife and black people in general.

In all, the Sun-Star obtained seven e-mails that Frago sent from October 2008 to February 2009 from an anonymous source.

Some compared Obama to O.J. Simpson while others suggested that "nigger rigs" should now be called "presidential solutions."

Perhaps the most overboard e-mail was sent on Jan. 15. It read: "Breaking News Playboy just offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in the January issue. Michelle Obama got the same offer from National Geographic."
And:Most of the recipients said they do not recall receiving the e-mails and several of the senders either do not remember sending them or claim they were not meant to be harmful.

Still, a few of the senders and a recipient said they saw no harm in any of the jokes sent.

Black community leaders called the e-mails outrageous, revealing that American society has not left behind some of its racist past.

While recent racial barriers have been broken--such as the election of a black president--and most outright racial and prejudice is not acceptable in public, local civil rights activists and others believe the e-mails illustrate the racism that lingers behind some doors assumed to be closed in Atwater and America.
Why this story is relevant to this blog:While racial barriers such as segregation and Jim Crow have been overcome, e-mails like these remind some that America's racial divisions are alive and well, said Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

Jensen, who is also author of "The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege," said that the disappearance of overt racism in polite society only means it has gone underground. Racial jokes for instance, may be meant in jest, but they are not just jokes. "They are a sign of a deeply entrenched white supremacist ideology in this country," Jensen said.

Racist jokes reinforce this world view cloaked in humor, he said. But they are also expressions of power in and of themselves, he said.

They essentially communicate that the teller can say denigrating things with impunity. If you feel comfortable saying such things in a private setting, he said, that fact signals an implicit understanding among your compatriots that it is OK to say such things.
Comment:  This story is an excellent example of the racism in America. Like the example in Right-Wing Racism Against Obama, it shows the racism bubbling under the seemingly calm surface.

True, only a minority of Americans (perhaps 20-30%) are overtly racist. Only they would send e-mails like this. But these racists benefit from "a deeply entrenched white supremacist ideology in this country"--which is another way of saying "white privilege." They can act the way they do because the white majority tolerates their behavior.

I assume some of the people who said they didn't read the messages were lying. Others defended the messages. Not a single person challenged the e-mails until an anonymous source sent them to the newspaper.

This is the epitome of unconscious racism. You excuse examples of racism because you think they're minor or inconsequential. You accept or tolerate them as the norm. You express outrage only because it's politically correct to do so, not because you think anything's wrong.

Anybody who says he'd vote for, live next to, or marry a black, but who also excuses these e-mails, is at least partly racist. He may think and say he's not prejudiced, but actions speak louder than words. Racist is as racist does.

Even Frago, the man who forwarded the e-mails, claims he isn't a racist:Frago admitted sending the e-mails, but showed no regret. "If they're from me, then I sent them," he said. "I have no disrespect for the president or anybody, they weren't meant in any bad way or harm."So if someone surveyed him, he'd answer that he wasn't prejudiced against blacks. But his actions would prove he doesn't understand racism or he doesn't understand himself. Either way, he's a racist no matter what he thinks he is.

Indians too

Needless to say, this also applies to Indians and other minorities. How many times have we heard that an offensive "joke" is just a joke? Repeat:Racial jokes for instance, may be meant in jest, but they are not just jokes. "They are a sign of a deeply entrenched white supremacist ideology in this country," Jensen said.'Nuff said. For more on the subject, see Study Shows People Ignore Racism and Everybody Is Racist.


dmarks said...

It's kind of hard to find out what party he is in. But I did find one site that said he is a registered Democrat. If so, then he showing examples of "Left-Wing Racism Against Obama"

Rob said...

I didn't bring politics into this posting, DMarks. I figured the city council position in Atwater was probably a nonpartisan office. I knew a town in central California would be conservative, but I didn't think I needed to say so.

But if you insist on discussing Frago and the rest of the Atwater community, so be it.


Atwater is a small city of 26,000 people in central California. The mayor pro-tem is Gary Frago. Frago, a 63-year old Republican politician serving on the Atwater City Council since 2000, shows himself as another racist wingnut masquerading as a leader.


Median household income

Local  $37,344
National  $41,994


BA or graduate degree

Atwater  12.3%
US  24.4%


Presidential politics: Atwater is in Merced County, which supported George W. Bush in the last two presidential elections. According to unofficial vote totals for 2004, Bush received 29,968 votes and John Kerry received 22,403 votes.

In the November 2000 election, Merced County narrowly supported Bush. Countywide, 26,102 people voted for Bush and 22,726 voted for Gore. Nader received 1,166 votes.

Rob said...

The only reason Atwater isn't as rabidly conservative as some places is because it has a huge Latino population: 41.5% in 2000. Summing it up, 57% of Merced County voted for Bush in 2004. Without the left-leaning Latino vote, the amount would've been 60-70%, at least.

Any questions? You should try not to make everything into a political issue, friend. If you do, you should be prepared to lose the debate. ;-)

dmarks said...

You didn't bring politics into this one, but typically (including in several recent posts) it is a Republican making such statements, you bring the party and politics into it right away.

Thanks for finding Electronic Village. So he is a Republican.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Electronicvillage has it wrong. I have firsthand knowledge of the man and the area, and I can tell you, as much as any of us wish otherwise, Gary Frago is a registered Democrat.

dmarks said...

Well, I know from the past that left-wing Democrats are perfectly capable of people who make the most racist references or tell bigoted jokes when the cameras supposedly are not running. Bob Kerrey, Willy Brown, and Jesse Jackson come to mind.

dmarks said...

Almost forgot the Hillary Clinton primary campaign: a left-wing Democrat who did make racist statements against Obama.

Rob said...

I'd like to see the evidence of Frago's party affiliation, Anonymous. I searched the Web and couldn't find anything official. People can change parties, you know.

Anyway, I spent more time writing about the people who received the e-mail than about Frago. Regardless of Frago's affiliation, they are predominantly conservative. I doubt these e-mails would've proliferated in a place such as West Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, if I had meant to bash conservatives only, I would've done so. Regular readers know I have no problem doing that. But this posting wasn't about party affiliation, so Atwater's beliefs are largely irrelevant.

I intended this to be an example of racism in America as a whole--not in a particular place or party. An example of how people make "jokes" that aren't really jokes. That's not a phenomenon limited to conservatives.

As reader Stephen can tell you, I often generalize about America's racial attitudes. I don't single out conservative supporters of racism or stereotyping while excusing liberal supporters. I blame everyone who perpetuates the problem without regard to religion, race, or creed.

Rob said...

Is that the best you can do, DMarks? Three instances of Democrats making racist remarks in the last 25 years? (I'm not counting Hillary because her remarks were questionable, not blatant like Jackson's "Hymietown.")

If I limited myself to major Republican figures, I probably could find a dozen examples of racism in the last year or two. If I broadened my search to state and local Republicans, I probably could find a hundred or more. If I looked back over the last 25 years, I probably could find a thousand.

Are you seriously arguing that Democrats are exactly as racist as Republicans? That's hysterically funny as well as flat-out wrong. Anyone who believes that doesn't know much about recent American politics.

If you disagree, feel free to put your money where your mouth is. I'll bet I can find more examples of Republican racism than you can find of Democratic racism over any period since 1980. Deal?

Stephen said...

How interesting that you failed to mention the rabid anti-semitism of the the left; von Brunn (who's actually not a conservative what with his anti-Iraq war stance, his hatred of bush, his hatred of fox, his hatred of McCain etc.) is an example. Another example:


Other examples include, Chomsky, AIM, George Galloway, Ken Livingstone, Jan Marijnissen (the dutch socialist party leader) etc.

Stephen said...

"But these racists benefit from "a deeply entrenched white supremacist ideology in this country"--which is another way of saying "white privilege."

If racists are all white then explain the million man marches and the vile bigotry of CAIR? These revolting cartoons were drawn by the very non-White Khalil Bendib:





"They can act the way they do because the white majority tolerates their behavior."

What would you have the majority do? Initiate draconian 'hate crime' laws? Personally I think such things are best ignored, if there's one thing you don't wanna do it's giving dumb crap like those jokes attention, racists thrive on that.

" Not a single person challenged the e-mails until an anonymous source sent them to the newspaper."

Probably because they didn't think it was worth their time, if I recieved an email like that I'd just roll my eyes and delete it.

Also there's the matter of this post:


"For those who think racial prejudice isn't deeply ingrained in our society, here's a sobering news item. From the LA Times, 4/25/01:

After a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet along the coast of southeast China earlier this month, a rash of talk show hosts and radio personalities called for the internment of people of Chinese ancestry. Some even urged a boycott of Chinese restaurants and made fun of Asian accents."

The only thing that proves is that this country has moronic and bigoted talk show hosts, that doesn't really make us any worse than other countries. And the idea that only the US has racism 'deeply ingrained' into it is absurd, every country has a sorid history of bigotry that often makes even worse chapters of American history look tame.

"The statistics on America's marriage preferences are especially revealing. It's relatively easy to tolerate "those people" when they live in another town or neighborhood. It's harder if you're intimately involved with them, sharing the same house and bed. If a third of Americans say they wouldn't marry certain people because of their skin color, then a third of Americans are racist."

Once again those stats show a minority of people.

"Further showing that this is no aberration, a poll in the Washington Post (6/21/01) reported: "Nearly half of African-Americans said they have been the victims of discrimination in the past 10 years."

That isn't exactly solid proof, people have lied about hate crimes before, it would have been better if you had included stats of actual hate crimes.

"Racism occurs almost daily to minorities in America. Police shootings (Amadou Diallo, Margaret Mitchell, Tyisha Miller), beatings (Rodney King, Abner Louima)"

Those incidents as deplorable as they are not exactly happening 'almost every day'.

"and racial profiling are only the most obvious examples."


"As Professor Wellman concludes, "Although whites sound racially tolerant, in the end their actions and attitudes often maintain white privilege."

Thank you prof for telling us what every single white american thinks!

dmarks said...

"Are you seriously arguing that Democrats are exactly as racist as Republicans?"

Perhaps more so, if you get away from the jokes and look at explicitly racist policies.

California's Prop. 209 prohibited public institutions from discriminating against people on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity. There was a major division on this along party lines, with Democrats opposing this reform and Republicans supporting it.

Whenever similar proposals in other states come up, the Democrats arise and loudly speak out in favor of the necessity of public institutions discriminating against people for their skin color.

That's a major example of a policy issue where the Democrats take the racist side. As according to the second definition of racism in Merriam-Webster's dictionary: "racial prejudice or discrimination"

To his credit, while President Obama sometimes seems on the fence about this, he has shied away from the usual Democratic support of this particular racist policy. Perhaps he realizes that there are forms of affirmative action that do not require blatant racial discrimination and are actually more effective.

As for the jokes and blatant racial jabs, the Dems are probably better at keeping the racist jokes among friends, rather than sending them out to the public. But sometimes they do blurt things out. I also recall Mayor Daley in Chicago (a white Democrat) saying during his campaign "This city needs a white mayor".