April 03, 2015

Daily Cavalier mocks black student's arrest

A University of Virginia newspaper "satirized" a black student's arrest with an April Fools' Day story about a Native student's arrest:

People are outraged at UVA newspaper's April Fools' issue satirizing a black student's bloody arrest

By Peter JacobsUniversity of Virginia students are calling on the school's student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, to apologize for a seemingly insensitive April Fools' Day article.

The Cavalier Daily's April Fools' Day front page is dominated by a story with the headline "ABC agents tackle Native American student outside Bodo's Bagels," which appears to satirize the controversial arrest of UVa student Martese Johnson last month.

The story's tagline reads "Students decry 'Trail of Schmears' as marginalization of minorities reaches new low," a reference to the "Trail of Tears" that followed the US government's Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The student newspaper has since apologized for the article.
UVA's Latest Nightmare: Bad Racist 'Satire,' An Even Worse Apology

By Jia TolentinoHere’s a closer look at the first one, which “satirizes” the racism that led to Martese Johnson’s police brutalization and night in chains. Note the names of the imaginary Native American students in the piece (“Dances With Wolves,” “Strong Buffalo,” “Rabbit in the Grass,” “Insect Humming”)—which mainly offend me because the jokes are so painfully fucking weak.

I too am deeply concerned by the fact that what’s actually satirized here is not police brutality but the idea of a sincere institutional response, on the part of administration or students. This is racism so stupid it doesn’t know it’s racist—by far, the most troubling kind.

The most interesting part of this incident is this letter from The Declaration, another campus publication:

An Open Letter to The Cavalier DailySatire is a radical comedic tradition wherein the abuses of the overculture are deconstructed and critiqued. This comprehensive deconstruction is what makes stuff like The Colbert Show (sweet angel, rest in peace) and The Onion work where other attempts at satire fall flat—they make clear the issues that plague society-at-large.

This means that good satire at UVa should speak to the not-so-hidden truths that undercut student life: Greek culture’s gaping wound at UVa’s nucleus; the entitlement complex shared by a majority-white student body; the fetishistic hero-worship of Our Mr. Jefferson; the awkward, elephantine disparity between rich students and poor students; the racism, pervasive and terrifying, woven tightly into this school’s very fabric.

It seems so simple, really, a slice of Culture 101 you’d expect UVa students to have studied long before they entered the university: the “bad guys” look stupid because they are; readers and viewers laugh, duh, but they also question why those “bad guys” are in power in the first place!

As the student publication with the “richest history” and the most influence on grounds, the Cav Daily shouldn’t need this lesson, but when its annual “satirical issue” frames damaging racial stereotypes as funny and trivializes blatantly the marginalized groups satire is supposed to work for, not against, it makes two things clear: 1) UVa works for the overculture, “The Man,” the lived-in, overarching structure that tells you it’s okay to reframe acts of erasure and violence as comedy and call it a day, and 2) UVa is home to a cadre of students who are dumb as hell and didn’t do their homework for Intro to Comedy and Society: or, How to Be a Decent Human Being.
Comment:  This excellent commentary applies to every attempt to "satirize" racism by using stereotypes--chiefs, teepees, braves, buckskins, tomahawks, etc.--uncritically. That is, by simply emulating a racist work but claiming you're doing it "ironically," to mock the stereotypes.

Again, in satire, "the abuses of the overculture are deconstructed and critiqued." Simply displaying examples of abusive racism or stereotyping isn't deconstructing or critiquing them. A "satire" isn't a satire unless you actively attack the target of your ire.

For more on the subject, see Stereotyping Explained to South Park Apologists and The Dudesons, Polish Jokes, and Minstrel Shows.

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