I sometimes wonder if America is becoming a nation of paranoiacs. There are some people who are so wrapped up in their own perceived victimization, they are looking for things that offend them. They see offense in places that it may not exist.
A Phoenix writer, Rashaad Thomas, was offended by a photo in a downtown Phoenix restaurant of what he said were men in blackface. He said the photo made him feel unwelcome and said it made the restaurant look like it was for whites only. He demanded the management remove the photo.
The photo, in fact, was a century-old image of Welsh coal miners relaxing after work. Naturally, their faces would be covered with grime. It wasn’t blackface at all.
Incredibly, Thomas said he knew the photo was of coal miners. However, that didn’t matter because, to him, it looked like blackface and was offensive.
More recently, I saw a case in Palmdale, Calif., where four teachers and the principal at an elementary school were suspended because the teachers posed for a photo with a noose while smiling and laughing.
The outrage level went off the meter. African-American parents said this reminded them of lynching, and they questioned how the district treated African-American students. Some parents pulled their children from school, saying they were no longer safe there. There are demands the teachers be fired. The Palmdale school district has launched an investigation, claiming the noose violated their policies of inclusivity and respect.
I’ll be the first to state the photo should never have been circulated. It is tasteless. However, I believe this is more a case of teacher humor than racism.
Every profession has its own “inside” humor, humor that those in the profession would understand while others might not. It comes from making light of shared experiences. It helps to relieve the stresses of the profession, and create bonding between people in that profession.
A while back, the Pioneer received a press release from the Parker Police Department about an accident. It included a tasteless line that I could tell was supposed to be sarcastic humor. I immediately surmised it was a “cop joke,” something police officers would understand.
I called Parker’s Police Chief at the time (not the current chief) and he confirmed that’s what the line was. He was also apologizing all over the place because he had intended to delete that line before the press release went out to general audiences.
As for the teachers with the noose, it looks to me like it was a teacher joke. They were poking fun at the unruly students in their classes. As someone who has spent time around teachers, I know none who would actually do something violent to one of their students. However, they would get a laugh out of a joke about something being done to their students.
For the record, hanging was a very common form of execution in the United States and around the world for centuries. A lot of people, not just African-Americans, were hanged. One can assume that many people have been hanged unjustly.
This is not to make light of the history of lynching in this country. Lynching was clearly intended to terrify African-Americans and “keep them in their place.” However, I feel we need to have some perspective when considering a photo of laughing teachers with a noose.
There are people in this country who need to see beyond their own perceived victimization. There’s a big world out there, and not everyone is out to get them.
Maybe these people need to get out and see other people. That wouldn’t hurt.