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When is "humor" actually humor and when is it racist?

Submitted by Jakob on 5 May, 2006 - 00:06.My Blog | Politics & Society

Talking to my friend Bexx who lives in this US, and can be seen posting here at my site now and then, she showed a picture of tshirt she perceived as being racist, perpetuating stereotypes about native Americans. This made me recall the recent and similar political debate and media storm regarding the caricatures posted in the press containing a derogatory depiction of the prophet Mohammad. What should be considered racist and what should not?

The shirt in question can be seen here, it has the text "My Indian name is/Running with Beer" printed on the front, making a pun about beer and Indian names, but some would argue also refers to the fact that many native Americans have problems with alcoholism. Some might consider this a harmless pun, a shirt a student might wear. Others may feel insulted, or as in my friend's case, thinking of it as yet another case in a long line of violent and cultural assaults upon the native Americans by the European white population of the US.

The recent debate regarding the Mohammad caricatures was whether freedom of speech includes printing or posting something that violates the customs of a religion and that can be considered derogatory and defamatory. Unfortunately Muslim leaders in several countries took advantage of the situation, demanded that governments should censor the newspapers and riots ensued in several countries in the Middle East. Swedish, Danish and Norwegian embassies were torched, in Lebanon and elsewhere. Reason was the caricatures originated in a Danish newspaper, but were later republished by other newspapers in Europe and there seemed to be some confusion as to which country is which, so perhaps all three embassies were put to the torch just be to sure.

The principle of freedom of speech is a basic foundation of democracy and it is not the government's job to enforce "proper conduct"

While I personally believe that it is a sign of extremely poor judgment to post or publish this form of material I still believe it is not something you should outlaw. The principle of freedom of speech is a basic foundation of democracy and it is not the government's job to enforce "proper conduct".

As for the shirt, I'm more split. I think it depends on the intentions, regardless I wouldn't sell it as it's taking advantage of an underpriveleged minority whose rights have been violated and abused time and time again. Read a book such as "People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn or "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown for a brief history lesson.

What do you think? 

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