My sister texted my brother and I the photo of this shirt. She – and I – both thought it hilarious. But, when I went to post it on Facebook, that little voice in the back of my head that says, “It’s OK to joke about it en famille, but not outside the family because it’d be automatically assumed to be racist.”
But, really, is it? So, why is it in my over-socialized mind, that I fear being yelled at by both those of color AND those of European descent (which, by the way, would technically make Italians, Greeks, Russians and Spaniards part of the supposed “white” race, but not those of South American or Central American descent)?
One of the reasons it’s funny to us is because our brother is both Puerto Rican and part African-American. So, in some ways he is “living while brown” – particularly since he lives in a larger, more urban area. I’ve said before that in my teen years, I had to do some “being protective” of him, when I could. And I don’t think he even was aware of some of the things I had to do (just like I wasn’t aware of the things my parents did to protect me as a child (recent discussions about some of the sexual assault/sexual harassment experiences have shown that particularly Dad did do some things I never knew he did – not all of them, but enough to know he tried his best).
It’s both worrying that someone who is similar in coloring to my brother will be offended, AS WELL AS someone more similar to my own coloring will be offended. It’s very much a concern of not only being considered “racist,” but also being accused of being so-called “reverse-racist.”
I’m not trying to be “politically correct.” Humor is often used to point out ways that someone is being unintentionally harmful. At least that is what humor is SUPPOSED to do. For example, Johnathan Swift’s satire on the poor in Ireland (Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick[sic].” 1729. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 19 Dec 2007. 19 Feb 2016 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/swift/modest_proposal/> is just this kind of humor. Sadly, not everyone understands satire or parody as humor. In my example here (A Modest Proposal – which I was forced to read in high school, as an example of satire), there were MANY of Swift’s contemporaries who did NOT understand his intent was to make you feel sympathetic to the plight of the poor, and ANGRY with the writer. It was an attempt to show those of the aristocracy in England that their so-called ideas about helping end poverty and over-reproduction in Ireland were just as stupid and in-humane as his essay.
Think about it this way. Essays like this were the “blog posts” of the Industrial Revolution and the time all the way up to the Technological Revolution (the time in which we find ourselves, usually described as starting in the 1980s). Whether they were satirical, like Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, Ambrose Bierce, the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, Mark Twain or even with George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm or more factual essays, they were a comment upon their times and their political and social issues, just like blog posts are for us.
The issue is that many of us, in the willing desire to live in a world where people truly are judged on their merits, or to say it differently, “by their fruits” (for those Christians reading along), sometimes fear too much that we will harm others and therefore keep our mouths shut about issues we SHOULD be standing up and pointing out to others.
The issue here is “living while brown” is a huge problem in this country. It’s the other side of the elephant in the room. And using satire, as in the case of this sweatshirt, to point out the uselessness of the idea of “deporting” people based on one single label. In order to get rid of those people (whether it’s illegal immigrants, Muslims or just people you don’t think have a right to live), you have to define what makes them “bad” or “evil,” AND how someone can tell they are this label. We’ve already had things like this backfire on us because legal citizens of assorted southern states have been harassed simply because of the color of their skin and a Spanish accent. So, you want to get rid of Muslims? What if the person next to you on the bus is white, of European descent and shows NO outward signs of his or her religious affiliation – would you think he or she could even POSSIBLY be a Muslim? Or is it just the ones “living while brown” who are the problem?