Racism is not a punchline


Let’s take a moment to applaud those who are still living proof of the phrase “ignorance is bliss” in the year 2015.

Social media exploded after a Facebook user posted a photo of himself with his co-worker’s African American son. The man, Gerod Roth, posed for a selfie with the child, and the comments his friends left on the photo went viral.

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Their comments, “I didn’t know you were a slave master” and “But Massuh, I dindu nuffin” were somehow considered amusing to not only his friends, but also some people on social media. People genuinely thought making a mockery of the physical and mental torture that slaves endured at the hands of white supremacists was funny. Roth’s friends called it “hilarious,” but here’s the kicker: When the backlash went viral, the response from each person was, “I’m not a racist, it was just a joke.”

“I don’t know why everyone is freaking out over the comments, we aren’t racist and neither is Gerod, just joking here,” one of the users wrote on Facebook.

The phrase “I’m not a racist, it was just a joke” is an oxymoron. Those comments are direct racism and they are offensive to African Americans. The color of the boy’s skin was the basis of those “jokes.” People who are criticized for making racist comments try to justify it by calling it a joke. They claim that because they have black friends and went to see “Straight Outta Compton” they couldn’t possibly be a racist. Somehow, people think being a supporter of black culture gives them the right to make a mockery of its people.

In order for those comments on the Gerod Roth photo to be a joke, they would have to be humorous. How is a group of people plundered from their homes and families and forced into slavery funny? I’m curious to know which part of slavery was the funny part. If you make racist comments, justify racist comments and laugh at racist comments, you are essentially a racist. You know what they say, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then what is it? A racist duck.

I took it upon myself to post the Gerod Roth photo on three SF State Facebook pages and my own personal Facebook, just looking for feedback. While everyone agreed that the comments were racist, there was one Facebook user who claimed that what he found just as offensive as the comments was the backlash over the comments. He told me that “people need to have a stronger backbone.” I think I felt every bone in my body cringe after seeing that comment.

He was essentially telling me that black people should just have a thicker skin when it comes to these “jokes,” because they are only “jokes.” I do not need to acquire a better “backbone” to accommodate those who feel it is necessary to make these kinds of comments.

This is not the first racial outburst that has taken over my news feed. In March, a video surfaced on the Internet, showing a group of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members from University of Oklahoma chanting a song full of racial slurs against African Americans. The video showed the members laughing and chanting, “There will never be a n*** in SAE, you can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me, there will never be n*** in SAE.” I was shocked to see how many people found the video “funny.”

In the end, I was pleased to see the University shut down the chapter. It showed there is zero tolerance for racism. People Magazine reported that Gerod Roth and his friends were  fired from their jobs, and it serves them right. Joking about this horrific time in history does not make you a comic – it makes you racist.